The Russian Princess

Jewell Hose, one time home of Natasha

Eunice Doswell recalls her exotic neighbour in the Jewell House

This is not necessarily a tale of Marden, but more of a Russian tale which came to Marden. How much has been improved by the usual way of story telling I’m not sure.

Upon first coming to the village we found our neighbour to be a petite, brown skinned & black haired Russian lady named Natasha (Natalia in documents). She was married to George Walton – a shadowy figure whom my memory fails to recall. Her first warning was for the children to beware her ferrets & the little pug dog. These ferrets had their freedom – and also piles of newspaper around the house for their convenience. One workman in our house nearly had a heart attack when one appeared and he thought it was an enormous rat. Inside the house the atmosphere and impression was of darkness with overwhelming furniture. At the back of the house were numerous small rooms which had been the butler’s pantry etc. A broken-down Broadwood piano graced one room.

However none of this was as strange as the tales she told. Natasha was a Russian princess, the daughter of a prince who had married a gypsy girl (her colouring may have backed this up) He evidently met her when she was 15 and sent her to Paris to be educated. The family lived in Moscow but also had an estate near the Black Sea. She remembered a black bear coming in to drink oil from the lamps. Natasha became a ballerina, but was later imprisoned by the Bolsheviks.

As an adult she met a British diplomat on a train out of Moscow. Terrified that the Bolsheviks would take her again, she asked him not to leave her for one second. This resulted in a friendship such as was forbidden by the authorities. Consequently George lost his job, but they still married & returned to London.

Somewhere along the line she became friendly with Elsie Eltringham who lived in White Lyon House. On a visit to Elsie, the two friends went for a walk which took them down Albion Road. Peering through the trees Natasha spied a large old house through the trees which was for sale. “That’s the house I saw in my dreams!” was the amazing remark she made. Being a woman of decision she made arrangements to buy the Jewell House before returning to London to inform George. He had some money from a quarter interest in a boat which had sunk and so, as they say, the rest was history. The sale was dated June 1954 for the sum of £3,600.

However there was a further fascinating tale from Russian history. Rasputin was a self-professed religious healer. He had become invaluable to the Tsar Nicholas’ wife Alexandra, as he seemed to be able to soothe their haemophiliac son Alexis. With these royal connections and stories of his interests in drink and sex, he had many enemies who were afraid of his influence on the Royal Family. Revolution was already stirring in Russia. Thus a plot arose. Rasputin was enticed to dine at the Yussopov Palace with a promise to meet Prince Felix Yussopov’s wife Irina, a beauty. Also present were Dr Lazavert, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, Vladamir Purishkevich: a member of the Imperial Duma (parliament) and Lt. Sukhotin. A dining room in the basement was prepared with the meeting being kept a secret. The doctor was supposed to have introduced arsenic into some of the cakes & wine, but with no effect. (The latest thinking is that he might have been too scared to actually do this & traces of arsenic could be attributed to other reasons.) Yussopov then panicked, drew his gun and fired shots. When approaching the body, Rasputin started to move. There was more panic and the plotters wrapped him, having beaten him and eventually threw him into the Neva, expecting his body to be washed away. Unfortunately for them he was trapped under the ice and discovered the next day. An autopsy gave the cause of death as drowning. Natasha declared that her cousin had been one of those involved in this murder. It has to be said that accounts of this 1916 event are varied. The plotters were never brought to trial, but suffered under the Bolsheviks with the Yussopovs being sent into exile.

Eventually the house became too big to manage and they moved to a flat in Tunbridge Wells, with a radiator installed in the cupboard under the stairs – for guess what!! I gather a Belgian hare which watched TV joined the menagerie and Laika, another dog became a seeing dog as Natasha’s vision deteriorated. Some years later a jeweller had a beautiful amethyst bracelet for sale which he stated came from the Russian Royal Jewels.

Surely it must have been Natasha’s.

How I regret not having taken interest in the finer details of her story.

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