A few weeks ago this column was devoted to the two Mallett sisters, Mary and Doris, dressmakers at Number 88 West Street, and I also made brief mention of their “secret” brother who was kept under cover upstairs, only coming out briefly in hours of darkness.

I speculated it might have been connected with service in the Second World War.

Quite a bit of feedback resulted and a lengthy email from Kathryn Day gave more details of the very odd situation at Number 88. Before printing this I made certain that there are no surviving relations of this particular Mallett family, originally from Oxfordshire before moving to Marlow.

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There is however a Mallett family history website for all with this surname (www.mallettfamilyhistory.org) and Mike Mallett who edits this was interested in my original column.

This is what Kathryn Day sent me….. “In your Marlow Free Press column you mentioned the Misses Mallett and their brother.

They were figures that loomed large in our childhood, and in particular the occasion of our first meeting with brother Bill!


I grew up on West Street at what was then labelled no 81 and 83. My parents came to Marlow in the 70’s so my dad could take up the head gardener’s position at Remnantz.

Mum soon befriended the Mallett sisters because they were kindred spirits in terms of a love of country walks, wildflowers and the like.

As far as my parents knew, the two sisters lived at no 88 alone, and they recalled no mention of a brother at this time. When the first sister died, my mum felt a little sorry for the surviving Miss Mallett living alone - or so she thought.

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Mum went to tea with her every Tuesday, taking my twin sister and I with her when we were old enough. One day, we were sitting in the front room, and Miss Mallett had gone out of the room to find some biscuits.

Perhaps this lull in conversation meant that brother Bill did not hear that we were still there, since he came downstairs.

“He entered the room and looked absolutely horrified!

He shouted at Miss Mallett asking her what was going on, and the poor lady’s reaction made my mum realise something strange was afoot.

Miss Mallett managed to get out that the man was her brother and to ask us not to say we had met him.

Naturally, my mum felt this was strange but as Miss Mallett was so upset my mum took us home.

She went and got my dad from the garden as she wanted him to go and check on Miss Mallett.

“In the end she came over to us and asked to speak to my mum alone.

Miss Mallett was crying which was such an extraordinary sight to us children that we decided we did not like this new brother!

Dad remembers that they were shut up together for a couple of hours, and that when mum came out she was crying too as she said poor Miss Mallett had had to make many sacrifices for this brother.

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Bill asked Dad to come and see him so he would give his word that he would not say that he had seen him. Funnily enough, when that was settled, he asked Dad to buy him a daily paper each morning which he did.

“Later mum told me that apparently Bill was wanted by the army and had been in hiding many years.

“Dad can’t remember now whether he had dodged the draft altogether or had gone AWOL while on service.

“He had been living upstairs, and only coming down after any visitors had gone.


More extraordinary was the fact he needed on occasion to visit the dentist and had done so - according to Miss Mallett - dressed as a woman.

Otherwise she said he went out at night, and dad subsequently spoke to people who had seen him doing so.

After the secret was out, Bill began to let himself into Remnantz for exercise, using an unlocked side gate.

Dad saw him on a few occasions doing so, and spoke to the Wethereds about it, and they agreed to turn a blind eye.

“I know that there was considerable trouble when Bill died as no one knew he had been alive!

Mum was always worried that Bill had not told the truth to his sister about why he was wanted and so decided at first that we could no longer come with her into the house for visits.

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However, she got used to him, so I did meet him on a few more occasions.

“I remember mum being surprised that he actually bought a tray of drinks in while we were there and offered us children a biscuit, this being very sociable for him!

Mum told us that Bill had a temper, and I don’t think she ever really liked him.

Miss Mallett (the youngest) died when I was about 5 but I can still picture her perfectly, along with Bill.

Strangely the thing I most remember about Bill is how he always wore sandals in the house.

It’s funny what seems interesting when you are small.


Miss Mallett was eccentric as you know, but my mum also said how kind she was, and how excited she had been when my mum became pregnant with my sister and I late in life.

“She made a large number of our baby clothes and gave mum beautiful pieces of embroidery that sadly we no longer have. I remember her taking us on walks along the old Pound Lane going up to Penn’s

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Place, as she was always pointing out the places to see wildflowers, forage, collect firewood and a particular favourite, old footpaths that she said were forgotten rights of way.

Put it this way, hedge and gate were no boundary to her. I wish I had been old enough to ask her more questions.

The only other thing I remember is that mum told me that the Mallett sisters frugality came because they had suffered a period of real hardship at one point.

They had apparently spent some time living near London, and had come to the Home Counties (or back to them) on foot, with all their possessions in a cart.

I think this was before the girls were born however, as I think it was a family story that Miss Mallett recalled.

“I believe that William was the brother’s middle name, but none of us can recall his first now. He was a woodworker before his disappearance, I believe he continued to do this while hiding, but how any work was sold, if indeed it was, I don’t know.

He had certainly made some of the furniture in the Mallett home.”

Some days later a further email from Kathryn came up with the following...

“The family have recalled a bit more information about Bill Mallett that I thought I should pass on before I forget!

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Most importantly his first name was John - he used his middle name of William / Bill because his dad was also called John.

Dad says he was a cabinet maker and also restored antique furniture.

The items he had bought early in his life were stored in the attic, along with personal belongings so there would be no obvious male presence if someone checked the house.

We also remembered Miss Mallett saying her grandfather was a tailor

so needlework of a kind was in her blood. After the youngest Miss Mallett death, Dad thinks a number of people became aware of Bill’s presence - presumably he needed to claim the estate.

However, when Bill himself died, a doctor came to our house asking for information about his identity. He had employed a lady to do his shopping and housework for the last few years, but whether she was aware of his situation we don’t know.

We wonder if the sisters inherited the problem of Bill from their parents, who were alive during the war.”

Another lifelong Marlow resident Barbara Whitehead emailed me as follows… “I remember going to the Misses Mallets often for dressmaking and altering. Yes, there was always a scuffle when you knocked the door.

The brother had to go upstairs. I heard he was a conscientious objector.

One Miss Mallet was quite slim and always wore very fussy hats and the other was plumper.

The one that wore the hats went for walks and always picked flowers from other people's gardens!!! Very nice genteel ladies.”

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Very grateful to Kathryn and Barbara for the above. Another reader with access to census records provided the fact that John William Mallett was born on May 20, 1905 but no date of death is listed.

The mystery remains as to where he is buried.

It is of course the father that is commemorated on the grave pictured above. Both father and son, as Kathryn tells us, had the same Christian names, but I wonder who arranged the gravestone.

Contact Michael at michael@jazzfans.co or 01628 48657