Lady Emily Fortescue
Person Female Born 1856 Died 12/7/1929
Born as Emily Ormsby-Gore, in 1886 she married Hugh Fortescue (1854 - 1932) and they had 3 sons, one of which, Geoffrey, died aged 9, in 1900. On her father-in-law's death in 1905 her husband became the 4th Earl Fortescue and she the Countess Fortescue.
The Botanical Society and Exchange Club Report for 1929 carries a (rather plant-centric) obituary. On her death (in Devon) there was no 'Lady Fortescue' until 1932 when her husband died and their married eldest son inherited the title. The Listing entry for the Elfin tree states that the sculpture work was done 1928-30 and that the tree was donated (which we interpret as "funded") by 'Lady Fortescue' and we think this Lady Emily must be that Lady Fortescue.
Her death, aged 72, coincided with the creation of the Elfin Oak and we think it very likely that her family chose to donate the tree in her name, rather than her doing it herself.
Our interest in this lady relates not solely to the Elfin Oak but particularly to the other memorial at this site - the impressive Time Flies clock tower, which we researched at length. Given one clue from a Council document we searched high and low for a "Mrs Galpin" who could have been the donor but reached no conclusion.
We now wonder, if that Council document were mistaken (perhaps Mrs Galpin donated something else to the Gardens and the paperwork got confused), could the Fortescue family be the donor of both the Elfin Oak and, 20 years earlier, the Time Flies clock tower?
Firstly, Kensington Gardens is very closely connected with royalty and Lady Emily, holding the office of Extra Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Mary, also had royal connections and, from her obituary we know she was interested in gardens.
To recap: the clock tower commemorates two people: a “beloved son” and “one who loved little children”, so to identify the donor we have to identify those two people.
In 1909, when the clock tower was erected, Lady Emily and Lord Hugh had both, 4 years previously, lost their fathers. And 9 years previously they had lost a 9-year old son. The Lord’s father had had 14 children (his wife having died giving birth to the last one in 1866) so it seems likely that he may have “loved little children”. We suggest that the Fortescue couple erected the clock tower in memory of their dead son and of the late Lord Fortescue.
In 1930, when the Elfin Oak was unveiled, Lady Emily’s family were mourning her death the year before. We suggest that the family chose to follow the lead set by their parents, and erected a memorial in Lady Emily’s name alongside the one created over 20 years previously.
All speculation, but it hangs together, we hope you agree. If you have anything to add, either in support of our theory or opposed to it, please contact us.
But then we discovered that the Lady Fortescue who gave the Elfin Oak was present at the unveiling in 1930, so our Emily, who died in 1929, cannot be the one. See this page for other candidates.