Friday, 15 July 2016

Mabel Florence Lethbridge, OBE (1900 - 1968) - British businesswoman

Mabel was born on 7th July 1900 in Luccombe, Somerset.   Her parents were John Acklund Musgrove Lethbridge (1869 – 1934) and his wife, American-born Florence Martin (Mary) nee Cooper (? – 1931).  John Lethbridge came from a family of wealthy Somerset landed gentry.

Mabel’s father worked abroad and the family travelled extensively with him, visiting South Africa, Kenya, Italy and Ireland.  He went bankrupt in 1907 and left his family who returned to England.

Mabel was educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for girls in Hertfordshire.   In 1917, she became a VAD and worked in a hospital in Bradford, Yorkshire.   Mabel then falsified her age in order to work at the National Munitions Filling Factory in Hayes, Middlesex, the minimum age at the time being 18.

On 23rd October 1917, an explosion at the factory killed several co-workers and Mabel lost her left leg, sustained serious injuries to the other leg and was temporarily blinded.   After recovering, she was not allowed to claim a disability pension because she had lied about her age!   Mabel had many further operations on her right leg.

After the war, Mabel worked first as a maid then began entertaining theatre and cinema queues with a barrel organ.  She also rented out seats to people waiting in queues.

In 1922 Mabel married Noel Eric Sproule Kalenberg and they had a daughter – Suzanne.   The marriage did not last and they divorced.  Mabel began an affair with artist Colin Gill who painted her portrait and she gave him space in her home for his studio.   Noticing a need for rented accommodation, Mabel opened an estate agency in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea.

During the Second World War both Mabel and Suzanne volunteered for the Ambulance Service and worked in London during the Blitz.
Source:  Wikipedia;  photo taken by Colin Gill, artist.

Mabel moved to St. Ives in Cornwall in 1945.   She died in London following yet another operation and is buried in Longstone Cemetery, Cabis Bay, Cornwall.   Mabel had three volumes of her biography published – “Fortune Grass” in 1934, “Against the Tide” in 1936 and “Homeward Bound” in 1967 by G. Bles Publishers, London.

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