Lilla, The Countess of Chichester & The Chichester Memorial Hall

Lilla, baptised Elizabeth Mary Bligh, was born in Stockholm, Sweden on 22nd March 1837. She died aged 47 on 7th December 1911 at Enbrook. Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir John Duncan Bligh and his first wife Elizabeth Mary Gisborne. Sadly, Lilla’s mother died on 22nd July 1837 aged 22 just four months after giving birth whilst living in Stockholm. Lilla’s father Sir John Duncan Bligh then tendered his resignation from his post at the Embassy to the Court of Stockholm.

On the 18th June 1861, aged 24, Lilla married Walter John Pelham (Lord Pelham and 4th Earl of Chichester) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square in London.

Lord Pelham held the office of Deputy Lieutenant of Sussex and in 1865 was elected to the House of Commons for Lewes as a Liberal MP. Their home in Sandgate was at Enbrook built on land owned by John Bligh, 4th Earl of Darnley, Lilla’s grandfather. His son, Sir John Duncan Bligh, inherited the house and land. He rebuilt the house in the 1850s and after his death in 1872 the property passed to Lilla, Countess of Chichester.

1861 Census shows Lilla living at Enbrook with her father just before her marriage. This census lists five relatives staying at Enbrook and also eleven members of staff ie house-keeper, ladies maid x 2, upper housemaid, kitchen maid, dairy maid, housemaid, butler x 2, coachman and footman.

Information about the Countess of Chichester has been researched through several newspaper articles from which we can discover something of her kind character and good deeds which led ultimately to the Chichester Hall being built in her memory.

The following is from theThe Dover Express and East Kent News, Friday 15th December 1911. The obituary article in this newspaper reports on the death of the Countess of Chichester and tells us a little more about Lilla. She was often in Dover in connection with religious work and how she was held in great esteem in Sandgate with the poor having lost a true friend.  Lilla also had no family.

“The death occurred early on Friday morning last of Elizabeth Mary, Countess of Chichester, at her residence, Enbrook, Sandgate, Kent. The late Countess, who was often at Dover in connection with religious work was the widow of the fourth Earl of Chichester who died in 1902. Before her marriage, in 1861, she was Elizabeth Mary Bligh, only daughter of the late Hon. Sir John D Bligh, K.C.B., son of the fourth Earl of Darnley.  Lady Chichester had no family, and on the death of her husband, his brother, the late Earl succeeded,  He died in 1905, and was succeeded by Jocelyn Brudenell Pelham, the present peer. The Countess was greatly esteemed in the Sandgate district, and in her the poor have lost a true friend. A memorial service was held at Sandgate on Monday and the funeral took place at Stanmer on Tuesday.”

The Folkestone Express, Sandgate, Shorncliffe & Hythe Advertiser dated 16th December 1911 gives us more information about Lilla. The paper reports that “the death of Elizabeth Mary (known as Lilla) Countess of Chichester will be the cause of deep sorrow among a large section of the community in Folkestone and Sandgate, where she had, during her long widowhood’ taken a deep interest in what may be termed the higher life of the people. The various societies which have as their main objective the improvement of the lot of young women have lost by the death of the Countess one who was a tower of strength to them, not only by her sympathy but by her sound practical assistance. At the time when she was ill (only a few days ago) she was announced to take part in various functions having for their object the assistance of those who needed aid. Her last appearance in public was, we believe, on November 18th, when she distributed prizes to the pupils in the Girls’ County School, and gave a most encouraging address to the girls.

The memorial service was held at St Paul’s Church, Sandgate. The coffin, on which rested a number of beautiful wreaths, was taken from Enbrook to St Paul’s by members of the Sandgate Fire Brigade by the private entrance. The firemen, who were commanded by the Capt W H Jacob and Lieut J S Clark, wore their uniforms and helmets. Drawn up outside the church was the Sandgate detachment of the Red Cross Society and also the members of the St John Ambulance Brigade, both contingents being in uniform. The service was attended by a large and representative congregation. One floral wreath from members of the household ‘desired that this floral harp may express their deep attachment and respect for their beloved lady’. The coffin, after being removed from the church, was placed on the funeral car and taken to Shorncliffe Station, to be conveyed to Lewes by train, and thence to Stanmer, where the family mausoleum is situated.”

The Whitstable Times & Herne Bay Herald, dated 16th December 1911 informs us that the memorial service was held in Sandgate Church.  On 2nd March 1912 the same newspaper tells us about the estate left by Lilla. “The estate left by the late Right Hon, Elizabeth Mary Countess of Chichester of Enbrook, Sandgate, widow of the fourth Earl of Chichester, has been sworn at £31,613 gross. Testator left the residue of her estate to the Central Branch of the Y.W.C.A. Brighton, the Police Convalescent Home at Hove, the Girls’ Shelter, Buckingham Road Brighton, the Connaught Institute, Lewes Road, Brighton, and the C.M.S.” Y.W.C.A. is the Young Women’s Christian Association C.M.S. is the Church Missionary Society

The Folkestone Express, Sandgate, Shorncliffe & Hythe Advertiser dated 28th February tells us a little more details of Lady Chichester’s Will. Lilla bequeathed many personal items and monetary gifts to a long list of recipients. Some examples of bequeathed items are listed herewith: to Lady Dorothy Bligh, an opal and ruby pendant and twelve books: to Lady Kathleen Brownlow, a band bracelet with diamond buckle and sapphire and diamond ring: to Lady Alice Bligh, a pearl ring: to Lady Ruth Pelham, a group of Chelsea china: £6,000 to the Earl of Chichester: £10,000 to Miss Mary Louisa Pelham: £1,000 to her god daughter, Lilla Morris and so on. The residue of the estate divided between charitable institutions.

The Chichester Memorial Hall

The Chichester Hall was built as a lasting memorial to Lilla (Elizabeth) with funds raised through public subscriptions by residents who wished her to be remembered for all the support she had given to Sandgate over the years. The Folkestone Express, Sandgate, Shorncliffe & Hythe Advertiser dated 20th December 1913 reports on the stone laying ceremony for the Chichester Hall.

“There was a large attendance, on Monday, at the memorial stone-laying of the working men’s club, which is being erected in the High Street, Sandgate, in memory of the late Lilla Countess of Chichester, whose interest in Sandgate and its residents will not be forgotten for many, many years.  Mr C H Master, Chairman of the Chichester Memorial Committee, presided over the proceedings and the ceremony was performed by Sir Squire Bancroft.”

Mr Master went on to say that “the Gough Home was first of all suggested, and it was almost purchased. They were just about to settle the purchase, when it was sold over their heads. He, however, did not regret that fact now. He thought the Gough Home would not have suited their purpose in every way, and it would not have been sufficiently good enough or capable of being used for the purpose. They then tackled the question of buying the site, and the imposing old ruins which stood there were bought for £400. The contract for the building was £1,200, and there would be some odds and ends which would cost about £200.

Towards the total they had got £800, and the consequence was that they wanted £600 more, and he appealed to everyone who had the interest of Sandgate at heart help that matter on, so that they could get the debt paid off…they wanted a big room, a place where they could have evening entertainments, and which could be used for a hundred other things……Mr Conquest, the architect , then stepped forward and presented to Sir Squire Bancroft a handsome silver trowel with ivory handle, as a memento of the occasion. The trowel bore the following inscription ‘Presented to Sir Squire Bancroft on the occasion of his laying the foundation stone of the Chichester Memorial Hall, Sandgate, December 15th, 1913.’ In Sir Squire Bancroft’s speech he “yielded to none in his sincere regard for all the acts of kindness shown to Sandgate by the late Lady of Enbrook. His wife and he enjoyed the privilege of Lady Chichester’s acquaintance and shared the true regret in her loss which they all felt. The Contractor was Otto Marx and the Architect C J Conquest. Copies of local papers will be placed in the cavity at the back of the memorial stone which was inscribed Chichester Memorial Hall. This stone was laid by Sir Squire Bancroft, 15th December, 1913.’”

NB The silver engraved trowel was the work of Messrs Oclee & Sons of Folkestone.

Mr Arnold H Ullyett (Hon. Sec. & Treasurer) advised in a letter dated 22nd  January 1914 that the committee received a generous offer from Mr Master and Mr Burke who promised to give jointly a cheque for £250, provided a similar sum of £250 is subscribed within 6 months.

The clock was relocated to the Chichester Memorial Hall but was originally installed on the J B Gough Soldiers Home at 56 – 60 Sandgate High Street.  It was renovated in 1981 again in 2009 and is due a further renovation this year.

The Dowager Countess of Guildford unlocked the entrance door to the Chichester Memorial Hall and declared the building officially open on 10 June 1914. The Chichester Hall has been at the centre of village life and events for over 100 years and the main hall is hired and used regularly by clubs, groups, meetings, music events and organisations on a regular basis including a Farmers’ Market. Sadly the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, and which is continuing into 2021, has meant that the Chichester Hall was closed but is gradually reopening as lockdown restrictions are lifted by the Government.

It has been interesting to try and discover more about Lilla Countess of Chichester, however, if you have any documents or photographs that we can copy/add to the records in our archives please do contact us via website at:

Christine Bleach – Archive Team/2021

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