One of the most striking memorials at Lawnswood Cemetery – indeed, at any cemetery in Leeds – is the Preston Memorial, popularly known as ‘Ethel at the Gate’. It depicts a life-size white marble statue of Ethel Preston (1861 – 1911) standing beneath a columned porch, outside a black marble door which is slightly ajar. It is said to be a replica of the entrance to her earthly home at (the now-demolished) Beeston Grange.
Ethel’s likeness is wearing a flowing dress which reaches to the floor and is holding a bouquet of flowers. Her hair is up and she is wearing her best jewellery. She looks wistfully into the near-distance, with an expression which hasn’t changed for more than 100 years.
Ethel was the wife of successful chemical manufacturer, Walter Preston. Legend has it that she would be waiting for her husband at the door every day on his return to work and that, when Walter died and joined his deceased wife, the door of the monument would close for the final time. A more cynical interpretation is that Walter was an incorrigible womaniser and Ethel’s expression is one of weary disapproval – in fact, there used to be a local expression, “as glum as Lawnswood Ethel”.
According to this version of the legend, Walter had the statue erected out of remorse.
The latter interpretation is given credence by the fact that, within a year of Ethel’s death, Walter had remarried his 24-year old housekeeper. He died in 1930 and is buried beside his former wife.
Whatever the truth of Ethel and Walter’s relationship, the monument became a popular attraction in its early years, with tram loads of visitors paying 3d a time to view it.