Madame Mallet

Chatelaine of Le Bois des Moutiers 1905-2004

Mary Mallet was the grande dame who for 40 years tirelessly presided over Le Bois des Moutiers, the house at Varengeville-sur-Mer, near Dieppe, transformed by the young Edwin Lutyens for her father-in-law Guillaume Mallet.

One of Lutyens’s most interesting early essays in the Arts and Crafts style, it was completed in 1898. Guillaume Mallet, of a Protestant banking family, and a friend of Marcel Proust, subsequently engaged Lutyens to design two other houses in Varengeville, though only one – to a “butterfly” plan – was actually constructed, and a mansion in the South of France near Mougins. As theosophists, the Mallets introduced their odd religion to Lutyens’s wife Lady Emily, which created ructions in their marital harmony.

Le Bois des Moutiers stands high up overlooking the English Channel with vertiginous views through its wooded park down to the sea. Close to the house is a series of intimate walled gardens from which Gertrude Jekyll, Lutyens’s mentor, provided planting schemes.

Throughout the turbulent events of the 20th century, Le Bois des Moutiers survived in the hands of the Mallet family. Mary Mallet, born Mary de Luze, of a French father, Henri de Luze of Bordeaux, and an American mother, Leonie Haviland (of French descent) established a porcelain manufactory in 1864 in this city long renowned for its ceramic production, and was succeeded there by his son Theodore.

Mary married André Mallet in 1930 in Limoges, but it was not until after the Second World War when, on the death of Guillaume in 1946, André inherited and came to Varengeville to take possession of a house spoilt by German occupation that Mary came into her own. André died in 1964 and initially Mary came regularly from Paris to supervise works, moving fully into the house with her three children in 1973.

They began the great adventure of restoring the 12-hectare park with the particularity of its acid sub-soil, unusual in the region, which made possible the planting of certain rare species from far and wide in the world. Inheriting her father-in-law’s passion for planting, although self-taught, Mary Mallet went beyond mere restoration to her very personal and energetic creation of what has become one of the most visited gardens in France. (It was opened to the public in 1970.)

Whenever one arrived, the elegantly dressed Mary always seemed to be there to greet, ever welcoming and friendly, but her distinguished air left no one in any doubt that she was the chatelaine and in full charge of her domain. In her own circles she was remembered for her regular telephone calls and frequent letters.

At the centenary in 1998 of the rebuilding of Le Bois des Moutiers, Mary Mallet, surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, stood, despite her great age, throughout the lengthy speeches. The future of Le Bois des Moutiers is assured by the creation of an association; the house is now managed by Mary’s grandson Antoine Bouchayer-Mallet.

By kind permission from Michael Barker’s obituary in The Independent.