Greystones History: Mile High Club


It is the equivalent climbing the Big Sugar Loaf in high heels. Tackling the peaks winter Alps in long skirts was no mean feat. It just wasn’t done by the Victorian aristocratic set especially if you were young and female. Not even if you were wearing flats.

But Mrs Aubrey Le Blond was no ordinary woman. She was both the founder and first president of the Ladys Alpine Club during the golden age of climbing. Not one to let any gender expectations hold her back she was the first conqueror of up to 20 virgin Alpine peaks and a pioneer of winter mountaineering. Her activities clashed somewhat with the upper echelons and a fashionably pale Lady Bentinck, her aunt, once remarked that her sunburnt face made her look like a red Indian and that she was a disgrace to London. Her long skirt was admonished as being too short as it barely covered the knee.

Mrs Le Blond didn’t flaunt all conventions as she was accompanied by a maid who did up her boots. Up at the higher altitudes she did however remove her short skirt to reveal proper walking breeches. There is no doubt this beguiling and formidable lady would have looked quite a sight.

Old Greystonians would definitely recognise Mrs Le Blond’s birth name – Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed – there is the road in the Burnaby called Whitshed and there is Hawkins Lane too. She was born in London and distantly related to the great aristocratic Bentinck family and the Dukes of Portland, but spent most of her childhood in Killingcarrig House as her father died when she was young.

The soldier Col Fred Burnaby was her first husband and they married when she was 17.
If as claimed he married her to inherit the estate and land, then his legacy is that they have remained a dominant Greystonian landowner name and the estate with that family name remains the most sought after real estate in the town.

Mrs Burnaby wrote under three different names, as she married thrice: Mrs Fred Burnaby, Mrs Elizabeth Main her second husband was the physician J.F. Main, and the wonderfully exotic Mrs Aubrey Le Blond, which is her most famous name.

For health reasons, she relocated to Chamonix in France to convalesce and ironically discovered her passion for climbing in the Alps.

As a resident of Switzerland Mrs Le Blond became a renowned photographer and travel guide writer. Although she kept it modestly quiet she was also a film-maker and one of the first to capture the sports of tobogganing and bobsleighing on vinyl. As another affront to her behaviour, her writing was criticised as flimsy and trivial.

Just as many of the aristocratic set during WW 1 she volunteered as an orderly in Dieppe and set up a ‘meals on wheels’ for soldiers. She died at the age of 65 on 8 July 1934.

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