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THE LEWISHAM PLAYBOY AND HIS FATAL ATTRACTION

Located underneath a sylvan canopy in one of the inner pathways of Ladywell cemetery lies the final resting place of Valentine Gadesden. The sadly broken headstone is just visible and is inscribed with his date of death - September, 1896 - and his place of death - Bad Nauheim (the German health spa town made famous more recently when Elvis Presley stayed there from 1958 to 1960). 




This serendipitous headstone find offered on further enquiry a truly remarkable story of a tragic love affair, untimely death and madness, that propelled Valentine Gadesden (1857-1896) to becoming briefly a ‘worldwide celebrity’ – As the following lurid newspaper stories reveal.

'VALENTINE GADESDEN DEAD’.
Well Known in San Francisco and Co-respondent in the Yarde-Buller Divorce Suit.
LONDON, Eng., Sept. 21. — A dispatch from Bad Nauheim, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse, announces the death there on Sunday of Valentine Gadasden. He died suddenly of heart disease.

Gadesden was formerly of San Francisco and was made co-respondent in the high profile divorce brought by Walter Yarde-Buller, against his wife, the daughter of the late General Kirkham of Oakland. The case against Gadesden was dismissed. He was allowed the costs. The verdict rendered was that Mrs. Yarde-Buller was not guilty of cruelty or infidelity and that a decree of judicial separation be granted to her with costs.

Gadesden was quite prominent in certain circles in San Francisco. He was always a hail fellow well met and was quite fond of athletics. “His favourite pastime was playing cricket or tennis. He was quite an adept in both games. He never seemed to have any particular business affairs to attend to, yet he was always dressed and well supplied with money. In the trial of ' the divorce case Gadesden was very active in the defence of Mrs.Yarde-Buller.
 San Francisco Call, 22nd September 1896
 

What do we know of Valentine? It was noted in contemporary accounts that Valentine was a graduate of an English university, an accomplished linguist and a scholar, and belonged to a very respectable family in England. But his name is forever linked to his doomed love affair with the remarkable socialite, Leilah Yarde-Buller. It was whilst singing at the piano to his paramour in their Germanic ‘love nest’ that Valentine tragically fell dead. Four months later in April 1897 he was buried ‘without ceremony’ in Ladywell cemetery. Distraught by grief, she was shortly thereafter committed to an asylum in Paris, the ‘loveliest woman of the west ‘now a ‘pitiable wreck ‘at the ‘madhouse’ as one newspaper described her decline. She later returned to America and died in a sanatorium in 1904. 


Lady Mary Leilah Kirkham Yarde-Buller (1849 – 1904), was one of the daughters of General Ralph Kirkham and Kate Kirkham. Growing up, Leilah was a known as a free spirit. She married Walter Yard-Buller in 1886. Yard-Buller was brother of Lord Churchston; after his death, he inherited the title and Leilah became Lady Leilah Yard-Buller. But it was not a happy marriage. They separated, and Leilah fell in love with Valentine who some thought a 'designing fellow’ who successfully preyed upon Leilah! But she was very much in love in him, and her divorce suit named him.

Footnote :
I am grateful to local historian Julie Robinson for drawing my attention to Valentine's remarkable sister Florence Gadesden  (1853-1934) who was headteacher of Blackheath Girls High School. For readers who might be interested in her life and work this recent article from the Greenwich100 website is recommended.