Queer Places:
15 Stanhope Gardens, Kensington, London SW7 5RG, UK
Castletown House, Rockcliffe, Carlisle, Cumbria, CA6 4BN -
52 Scarsdale Villas, Kensington, London W8 6PP, UK

Sybil Mounsey-Heysham (December, 1875 - March 23, 1949) was born in Kensington, London, and raised in Dorset. Sybil had cropped hair and wore a collar and tie and tweeds, and bound the lower part of her trousers with puttees. She had a gaunt, sharp featured face. She was generally unkempt with buttons missing and shoelaces trailing. It was frequently said of her that she should have been a man. She never married.

Sybil Mounsey-Heysham was the daughter of George William Mounsey-Heysham (1831-1910) and Agnes Cope (1840-1920). George W.M. Heysham was a barrister in practice, living at No 15 Stanhope Gardens S.W., London. George was a J.P. and D.L. for Cumberland. An alderman of the Cumberland County Council and High Sheriff of Cumberland in 1893. His seat was Castletown, Carlisle, while he also maintained a residence in London. He belonged to the Oxford and Cambridge Club. In the 1901 census, as George W. Munsey-Heysham, he was living on own means, in Parkstone parish, Dorset. Living with him were his wife, Agnes, and daughters Millicent, and Sibyl.

Sybil Mounsey-Heysham, known to her friends as "Ba," became a friend of the Soames family in about 1900. Her father owned Branksome Park - a magnificent house in Bournemouth - and a substantial estate in Cumberland [Castletown] where Olave Soames, future wife of Robert Baden-Powell, went to stay for the first time in 1903. In that year Katherine Soames wrote of Sybil as 'a clever, original, gentle, manly, astonishing and altogether delightful thing called Ba, who charms equally, sportsmen, child, and critical woman - to which sex she officially belongs! This is, however, only a fact she care to emphasize on rare occasions.' In that psychologically unsophisticated era, even women as prettily feminine as Katherine Soames could accept without embarassment members of that stalwart breed of English women whose collars and ties, cropped hair and tweeds made them instantly recognizable during the first two decades of the present century. 'Ba' would add to this basic masculine equipment webbing puttees like those later worn in the trenches. When Olave met her, she was widely reputed to be one of the three finest duck shots in the country - the others being the Earl of Leicester and Lord William Percy, who once stayed out all night with her on the Solway marshes bagging with her a record 64 geese before morning. She used to say that her father's head gamekeeper had taught her all she knew - and she was undoubtedly a knowledgeable ornithologist. An accomplished amateur violinist, she would swear volubly when she played false notes. Among other eccentricities she used to stuff her pockets with cigarettes, so that she could give them to any soldiers she happened to encounter at railway stations. 'Ba' struck everyone as a vivid and unique character of whom people would say quite matter-of-factly that she ought to have been a man. Indeed, in her house there is to this day an attractive portrait of her dressed in a naval officer's uniform."

An amateur musician and collector, Sybil owned two outstanding musical instruments; a Giovanni Battista Guadagnini cello, made circa 1783 in Turin, which she held for a year, in 1913, and, from 1935 to 1949, an Andrea Amati violin, made circa 1566 in Cremona. Built for King Charles IX of France, the latter is now in the Tullie House museum in Carlisle. Sibyl died on 23 March 1949.


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