A Belgian Count in
Joseph de L'Arbre de Malander (1909-1991)
Joseph Pierre Angèle Etienne de L'Arbre de Malander
was one of twin brothers born on 17 July 1909 in Ronse, a small town in East-Flanders,
Belgium1. Joseph's parents were:
Louis Joseph Ghislain Justin de L'Arbre (b.
Zuléma Jeanne Euphrasie de Malander (b. Ronse;
Between 1922 and 1926 Joseph was educated at
College Paters Jozefieten,2
a school situated in Melle in the beautiful Scheldt Valley nine kilometres southeast of Gent,
offering primary and secondary Catholic education. The school, which is run by
Josephites, a group of Roman Catholic priests and brothers founded in
Belgium in 1817, offer pupils a Christian upbringing and a solid education. What happened
in Joseph's life between leaving school in 1926 and 1948 largely remains a mystery.
Crossed channel in 1944
During the war, Joseph crossed the English Channel in a fishing boat and later
met Daisy May Aberdeen (née Clark) who at that time was in charge of the
Red Cross. Daisy May, who was born in the London suburb of Tottenham, had
been a stage actress3 in London, was still the wife of accountant Ernest
Aberdeen in September 19444 when she left London and moved to the safety and
seclusion of Cornwall, to buy Zimapan.
She lived there with Ernest until 1946, after which Daisy May and Ernest
Three years later, Joseph Pierre de L'Arbre
(39) married divorcée
Daisy May Aberdeen
on 2 June 1949 at the Registry Office in Truro, Cornwall. Daisy May was 19 years his senior.
The couple had already been living together at Zimapan before they married, as their
marriage certificate shows both their addresses as "Zimapan, St Agnes".6 Joseph is described as a
"bachelor of independent means".7
De Malander Castle
After leaving Belgium, Joseph rarely talked about his Belgian roots or family ties. "Joseph was
very much a gentleman and rarely spoke about his Belgian background. He never mentioned that he
was brought up as a Catholic or that he had a twin brother".8 However, in the 1950s
and '60s, Joseph did reveal to a young, impressionable girl that his family had once lived in a
There was indeed a family castle. Joseph's grandfather, Ephrem Prudent Louis de Malander, a civil-law notary, sheet
manufacturer and prominent burgomaster of Ronse, owned a large, neoclassical country house at
the top of a hill in Ronse, from 1900-1930, now known as De Malander Castle. Built in 1842, it was originally a
hunting lodge designed by Hercule Fostier. It had its own Catholic chapel.
The De Malander Castle was full of priceless antique
furniture, porcelain, paintings and hanging tapestries.
Joseph's father, Louis de L'Arbre, inherited the
house and contents, including many antiques, when Ephrem died in 1930. There is little doubt
that Joseph would have been to his grandfather's house on several occasions as a child, and
later as an adult, after his father inherited the property and made it his second home between
1930 and 1965.10
: The Malander Castle, Ronse, Belgium, 2011
Family name change
On marriage, Joseph's surname was just de
L'Arbre.7 In 1939, a Belgian Royal Decree granted Joseph's father the right to
change his name from de L'Arbre to de L'Arbre de Malander. In Belgium, you could apply for this
privilege once the family name had died out11, which it did following the death of
Joseph's mother, Zuléma, in 1922, and finally when the last holder of the family name, Ephrem
P.L. de Malander died in 1930. It was only after Joseph got married that he added the
de Malander suffix to his original family name. From
1950 onwards, Joseph's full name appears in the local telephone
Uncle to a Liechtenstein princess
On 24 November 1949, Joseph de L'Arbre de Malander became the uncle
of Isabelle de L'Arbre de Malander, the daughter of Joseph's
twin brother Jean-Baptiste de L'Arbre de Malander.
On 11 Sep 1971,
married Prince Philippe Erasmus of
Liechtenstein at the Abbaye de Notre Dame de la Cambre, Brussels, Belgium. It is not
known whether Joseph attended the wedding ceremony, but given his background, it is thought
most unlikely that he was invited.
Isabelle de Liechtenstein
no. 1585, 8 December 1978
The De Malanders began calling themselves the Count and Countess de L'Arbre de
Malander. These aristocratic titles were completely fictional and self-bestowed. As
Zimapan was once a Cornish
miner's count house, it seems quite likely
that Joseph and Daisy May thought that calling themselves 'count' and 'countess' was
entirely appropriate. Daisy May's death certificate refers to the deceased as
''Countess Daisy May de L'Arbre de Malander, wife of Count
Joseph DLDM", which goes to show how the couple managed to fool the authorities about their
Joseph's public use of the title 'count' first appeared in the local telephone directory in
Richard Williams, the present owner of
and the 3rd great-grandson of the mining mogul John Williams the 3rd,
described a man who had been living at Zimapan "about 30
years ago" [ed. 1978] as:
"...completely eccentric; his wife was
just as weird..."
Although he did not disclose the precise nature of their eccentricities, he did say that "the
man claimed to be a Belgian baron".14
Another local resident recalls a "Belgian count who
used to live at Zimapan about 40 years ago [ed. 1969]", but added that "little was known
about him".15 Joseph, about whom Mr Williams must have been referring, was certainly
never a Belgian baron or even a count.2
Former tenant, Peter Sincock, recalls: "Although Joseph and Daisy May were certainly eccentric,
my wife and I were never taken in by their titles, and we never inquired, however tactfully,
about their backgrounds''.8
Engineer and entrepreneur
Joseph turned his hand to many kinds of work during his life, from running a shop, breeding and
selling dogs, and manual labour. When Daisy May died in 1982, her death certificate recorded
her husband's profession as mechanical
engineer. Being an engineer would seem a highly credible occupation on the face of it,
given the fact that he was "very good with cars" and used to repair his own and other
Between 1950 and 1951, Joseph ran a "gentleman's clothing store". The shop, located at 21
Kenwyn Street in Truro, was registered in the phone book under the name of J.P. de
L'Arbre.12 After a couple of years, Joseph is no longer listed in the telephone
directory so he must have closed down the shop, presumably because it was no
longer viable business.
Robert Drew remembers that Joseph collected vintage cars.16 According to Peter
Sincock, "Joseph kept a Jowett
Javelin in the grounds outside the garden at Zimapan". Peter and his
wife Anne rented rooms
in the upper floor of Zimapan for fifteen months between 1955 and 1956. Both had
found new jobs in Cornwall and needed somewhere to live while they were having a house
built in Truro.
"The Dees were extremely kind and very generous towards us during those fifteen
Joseph repaired his own cars and even looked after Peter's Vauxhall 4 (LAU 121) together with
Mike Carlyon of Carharrack. Joseph also ran
a local rotavating service:
"He had a rotavating business which took up a great deal of his time, and perhaps conveniently,
got Joseph out of the house. He kept a
Howard Gem rotavator
in the grounds outside the garden wall and would take it around to smallholdings and plough up
their fields, usually shirtless, right up to the first frosts! I think he was more interested
in looking after other people's gardens than his own. He'd go quite far afield to do somebody's
garden, allotment or smallholding".8
bought up second-hand, aluminum tow caravans (Polar Bear; Dutch), repaired
and renovated them on the other side of the front garden wall and then sold them on. "He
once tried to persuade me to buy one of these caravans, but I did not want to because that
would have meant giving up my motorbike!", recalled Alan Adams.9
who once used to race cars as a sport, always drove his cars fast. As a result, he crashed
several times, sometimes while driving Mrs Dee. On one occasion, "Mrs Dee broke her back in
an accident on the A30 Bodmin-Launceston road (before 1954) in a car driven
by Joseph. She always came off worse in these crashes. In those days, cars were not fitted
with seat belts".9
Joseph would sometimes race his Jowett at more than 100 mph down the hill from
Mount Ambrose with Peter as a passenger. Peter
"The Jowett was a normal family saloon car of the day with a flat four cylinders and went like
a bomb. Once past the garage at Mount Ambrose, the road was clear until you reached Scorrier.
There were no roundabouts to slow you down and very little traffic in those days. That gave
Joseph the chance to really let rip. You can guess the rest".8
During the 1950s and 60s, Joseph and Daisy May placed adverts in the Birmingham Evening Mail/Post, offering self-contained holiday
accommodation at Zimapan.24 The house had
its own self-contained flat with its own entrance at the side of the house. It
was usually rented out during the summer to families with young children. The children would
often camp out on the front lawn. The flat did not have a toilet, so guests used the communal
WC on the ground floor.9
Daisy May and Joseph (the Dees) on a swing seat
in front garden at Zimapan,
beside Muriel and Frank Fulford
: Courtesy of Irene Adams, summer
The Fulford, Drew and Straker families all holidayed at Zimapan during this period. Joseph and Daisy May were great
friends of the Straker family from Pinner,
Middlesex, who always referred to Joseph as Mr Dee, while their pet name for Daisy May
was Little Mum.17
Escaping the heat of the kitchen
"Daisy May always kept her kitchen stove permanently stoked up, and a large saucepan of
homemade soup was always bubbling quietly away on a simmering plate".17 "Joseph's
favourite meal was to cook a large (1 pound) steak on the hot-plate of the Aga. No trimmings,
just this very underdone steak! We often wondered how Joseph's digestive system coped with what
to us was virtually raw meat".8
From time to time, when things got too hot in Mrs Dee's kitchen, Mr Dee would "book himself
into a private hospital, alleging breakdowns...in fact, he openly admitted that he did this
purely to escape Little Mum, who, although a tiny lady, could be totally
According to Pauline Fanning, who also spent "many blissful weeks" with her parents holidaying
at Zimapan with the Dees during the 1950s and 60s, Mr Dee was "a very tall, slim and
wealthy man who always walked around without a shirt. His main hobby was
breeding pedigree Old English
Mastiffs under the name of Zimapan".
a pig outside Zimapan
: Malcolm Drew, summer 1956
Mr Dee also kept pigs "in pens in a room next to the outside toilet" at the back of the
original cottage17 [ed. Zimapan]. Peter Sincock, on the other hand, does not
recall any pigs being kept at Zimapan at all during his tenancy there and thinks that
the pigs were probably kept at a farm in Carharrack by Mrs Dee's grand-nephew
The Zimapan dogs
Joseph and Daisy May
surrounded themselves with dogs. Daisy May kept a number of Sealyhams at Zimapan in 1964.9 Pauline recalls some of Mr
Dee's dogs. There was Jesse, the mother of Jason, "an unpredictable brindle"
and Silver who weighed 16 stone (102 kg) and gave birth to a litter of 17 puppies.
''The puppies' feed was supplemented by goat's milk from the Dee's own farm''
[ed. Johnny's farm in Carharrack]. Joseph also used to buy cow's udders from the local
slaughterhouse, hack them up into very large lumps of meat, hang them up in the back garden
and then store them in a large freezer. Later, he boiled them up in the kitchen and
fed them to the [ed. bigger] dogs.9
Eleven of Silver's puppies survived and most of them were sold and shipped off to the
Diane Fulford (L), Trevor (D's boyfriend) and Irene Fulford
leathers bending over Silver (left)
and Sultan, by kitchen gate leading to road, Zimapan 1962
Photo: Courtesy Irene and Alan Adams
"Sultan, an Old English Mastiff, a giant of a dog,
was the most docile dog I have ever met. He would allow children and adults to ride on his back
and was the pride of Zimapan. Sultan made a person of 5' 11'' look small.
Anne and I had the feeling that most of the dog breeding was done in Carharrack rather than at
Zimapan. The line of dogs that Joseph bred was docile, whereas the dogs bred by Mrs
Dee's grand-nephew [ed. John
Dudart-Aberdeen] were much more
with four of the Old English Mastiffs,
bred under the name of Zimapan
Drew, summer 1956
On a couple of occasions during holidays, schoolteacher and one-time Zimapan tenant,
, accompanied Joseph by car to Southampton carrying a number of his dogs in the back. ''Once,
we nearly lost a Newfoundland
somewhere on the A30 en route to Southampton while letting it out for a comfort break!'', Peter
At Southampton, the dogs were hoisted aboard the Queen Mary and shipped to their new
owners in the United States, where some of them were entered in dog-breeding
One of Joseph's most notable Mastiffs was Sheba
which was awarded the "best of opposite sex prize" at the
Mastiff Club of America's National Specialty in
The Dees organised beach parties for their paying guests and took families with children to the
seaside, particularly to Porthtowan Beach, Portreath Beach and Wiggle Cliff, to swim and
On one occasion, in the summer of 1955, the Dees took a group of guests to Porthtowan
Beach. The 11-strong party included Johnny Aberdeen, the Fulfords, the Sincocks and an
unknown couple. There had already been two drownings at Porthtowan that year. Johnny (13) went
swimming and got into difficulties. Diane Fulford (11) went in to help, but Peter
had to go in to save them both.9
Beach party at Porthtowan Beach, CON (summer
Rear: Joseph de
L'Arbre de Malander
Back row (behind Peter, l-r): unknown man (holding sunglasses), unknown woman
(behind Frank, face half hidden)
Middle row (l-r): Francis Peter Sincock,
Frank Fulford (specs)
Front row (l-r): Johnny Aberdeen,
Daisy May (behind Johnny)
Photographer: Muriel Fulford.
Irene Fulford swimming
: Courtesy of Irene Adams.
at Wiggle Cliff, Whitsand Bay, nr Portwrinkle, CON (1956)
Rear (l to r): Unknown man & woman; Daisy May; unknown
de L'Arbre de Malander with cigar
Roger Drew (photographer)
Photo (above): Malcolm Drew, summer
Games evenings and pranks
Although, according to Peter Sincock, the Dees were regarded as not a "very sociable couple" by
the locals because they ''kept themselves very much to themselves'', he and Anne enjoyed many
enjoyable games evenings with the Dees.
"We played canasta, whist and gin rummy in their large sitting-room in the
main part of the house [ed. front]. Joseph was usually shirted during those evenings, although
not so much in the spring and summer months. There was very little drink and a few nibbles. I
remember a good deal of laughter—the result of jokes or general bonhomie. No-one smoked in the
room. Joseph's English, although accented, was easily
Joseph used to play a card game called Zimapanner Swindle,
particularly with the visiting children. While the Sincocks do not remember this game
being played, Robert Drew does recall playing it with Mr Dee when holidaying at
Zimapan in 1956, and Irene Adams also remembers playing the game in the dining
room at Zimapan in the late 1950s.
The Dees loved children.
Joseph particularly liked playing practical jokes on holidaying children, by asking them to do
silly things and catching them out. Irene recalls an occasion when Mr Dee sent her
to his garage to get a "left-handed screwdriver" and how embarrassed she felt
afterwards when she realised she had been tricked, and the time when Joseph asked her
left-handed sister, Diane, to fetch him a "rubber hammer" and a "left-handed
Joseph was apparently a "very kind man and a funny great uncle" who went
sailing with his great nephew Philibert de L'Arbre and his
father Loic Régis Antoine Gérard Marie de L'Arbre de Malander (the son of
Joseph's twin brother) along the coast between the Isle of Wight and Mousehole, near Penzance.
Joseph used to occasionally visit his family in Belgium and "all the family were
always happy to see him", according to Philibert.
Old Time Dancing
In the early 1960s, Pauline Fanning remembers meeting a Spanish lad called Julio Navarro who had
come to Cornwall to study, be near his sister and to "perfect his
lived in Zimapan with the Dees for a couple of years under Joseph's sponsorship and
supervision. In 1960, Penzance-born Sylvia Trewern met Julio one night with the Dees at old time
dancing, which she attended every Friday night in Camborne, and became Julio's girlfriend
for a time.
"Julio went old time dancing every Friday evening with the Dees. I was a shy 16-year-old and so I
found Mr Dee rather remote and severe. Mrs Dee wore fabulous evening clothes to the Special Balls.
They [ed. the dresses] were from another era. The Dees were good dancers, or at least very
Mr Dee collected antiques and shared his passion for collecting with Little Mum. Between them they
had collected some "fabulous pieces and paintings", and used to store many of their antiques and
artwork in the first-floor walk-in attic room in Zimapan.17
On one occasion, Sylvia Trewern remembers visiting Zimapan in 1960 and saw a collection
of African masks on the walls in one of the rooms
there. ''They were very interesting, but the room where they hung seemed very cold, dark and
gloomy to me.''
''Joseph's black lacquered "Ming" fire screen with raised
mother-of-pearl, which was in front of the fireplace in Zimapan's drawing room in 1965, was auctioned by Sotheby’s in the
1960s and carried a reserve price of £75,000! He told us that the majolica fruit bowl was worth £1,000".9,
montage of some of the Dees' antiques
: Courtesy of Irene & Alan Adams
Far left: 5-foot ebony boy statue in drawing room at Zimapan (1965)
Top centre: Majolica fruit bowl, mantelshelf, dining-room fireplace
Bottom centre: Monk's bench, (viewed side-on), one of a pair; other in attic
Top rt. (left of clock): Ornate Indian frame, inset picture of
Taj Mahal (1967)
Top rt. corner: Hunter's clock, depicting horn, powder pouch, pheasant and fox
Middle rt.: The fireplace in drawing room at Zimapan,
with fire screen (1965)
Bottom right: "Ming" fire screen (1965)
When the Dees decided to downsize and sell Zimapan in 1978, Joseph and Daisy May sold off
many of their remaining possessions, including antiques and paintings, at a privately-run auction.
According to one of Sylvia Trewern's old school friends who remained in contact with the Dees and
who attended the auction at Zimapan:
"Mrs Dee was dressed in a tutu and shrewdly kept bidding on various pieces to ensure that lots were
not sold off too cheaply! The African artefacts [ed. masks] were not among the items auctioned. There was
some wonderful china. Quite a few lots did not sell. A caged bird automaton which sang and
flapped its wings, sold for the grand sum of £65. It must be worth thousands
After the Dees sold Zimapan in March 1978, local telephone directories show that Joseph (69)
and Daisy May (87) had moved four miles away to a house called Karenza in Lower Broad Lane,
Illogan, near Redruth. Joseph retained his Zimapan address and telephone number (St
Day 820223) for a further two years after Zimapan was sold to Brian See.22
Joseph in back lounge of 2-storey part of Zimapan, March
Photo: Courtesy of Irene & Alan
Last days in Mawla
Joseph de L'Arbre de Malander died at
, a residential and nursing home being run by the Barron Family in Mawla, Redruth, Cornwall,
on 15 May 1991, aged 81, the same address where Daisy May had passed away nine years
earlier. Coincidentally, both Joseph and Daisy May died from broncho-pneumonia and senility. The
informant was Timothy Michael Mark Barron-Hamilton23, an occupier of The
When Joseph signed his will in August 1982, his address was The Firs. In his will, which he signed just four months after
Daisy May died, Joseph left his entire estate of £40,000—£70,00025 to Peggy Barron, a
care assistant who also lived at The Firs, "in
consideration of the way she looked after me with such generosity and in token of my affection for
her".26 The wording of the will indicates that Joseph had already moved into the nursing
home to join Daisy May there well before August 1982.
Final resting place
Joseph was buried in Charlestown Cemetery (with Daisy May),
near St Austell on the south-coast side of Cornwall, far away from where he used to
live, "probably because there are quite a few Aberdeens and Dudart-Aberdeens living in that
area".9 Despite bequeathing a not-inconsiderable estate, no headstone was
erected in his memory and nothing had marked the spot where he is
buried. In fact, Joseph was buried in Section C, Row 33, grave no.
5. The plot was eventually marked by the Burials Officer in October 2012 after a phone call
from Irene and Alan Adams!
Joseph's funeral took place at Redruth Roman Catholic Church and was attended
by his step-son (Daisy May's son), Mr Maxwell Ernest Aberdeen (70) and by Joseph's two
step-grandsons, Mr Fernand Louis Aberdeen and Mr John
The following obituary was published in the West Briton in
1991.27 Note the heading 'Count', a title that he took to his grave.
Count De L'Arbre, Redruth
Father Daniel Longland conducted the funeral service at Redruth Roman Catholic Church of Count
Joseph Pierre Angele Etienne De L'Arbre De Malander (81) who died at The Firs,
He was born in Belgium into an aristocratic family and came to England during the war. For
many years he lived in London and then moved to St. Day with his late wife Daisy.
He then moved to Illogan [ed. Karenza] and finally was looked after by Peggy
Barron28 and her family of The Firs.
Family mourners: see 'Funeral'.
Some footnote numbers are repeated whenever the source is the same. As a result, the
are not necessarily in numerical order as you would normally expect.
1. DOB confirmed on BC 20 Jul 1909 and DC 17 May 1991.
2. Pierre Luc Joseph Marie Ghislain de L'Arbre.
3. Pauline Fanning (née Straker), 2009.
4. When she bought Zimapan, Daisy May Aberdeen was
referred to in the 1944 Conveyance as the "wife of Ernest Aberdeen".
5. From 1946, the
name of Daisy May's only son, Maxwell, appears in the local telephone book, indicating that he had
replaced his father as the head of the household.
Maxwell lived there with his wife Louisette Fernande Dudart (née Louise
Clark) between 1947 and 1949.
It appears that Zimapan used to be in the civil parish of St Agnes (5 miles from
Scorrier), unless this was a clerical error. Scorrier is now in the parish of St. Day.
Joseph de L'Arbre de Malander's marriage certificate.
Francis Peter Sincock, 2010.
9. Irene Adams
(née Fulford) and Alan Adams, 2011-12. Amsterdam visit, July 2012.
Kasteel de Malander: het verhaal van een feniks [ed. Malander Castle: the story of a phoenix), by Christophe
Deschaumes and Eric Devos, 2003.
After Joseph's grandfather died (1930), Joseph's father, Louis de L'Arbre,
sold his town house in Ronse and moved into the castle, inheriting all its contents. After
Joseph's father died (1965), Joseph's twin brother, Jean-Baptiste, inherited
the castle and lived there with his wife, Guillemette Marie Grassal, until his
death in 1969. GMG left the castle soon afterwards. The castle, situated at Kruisstraat 370, is
now owned by Mr & Mrs Vanfleteren-Verleyen (2011) who have so
far spent 10 years restoring the property. (author)
Joseph's birth certificate contains a note in Dutch stating the date of the Royal Decree that
permitted the de Malander suffix to be added to the
de L'Arbre's family name as of 25 August 1939. Ten years after the decree,
Joseph still refers to himself on his 1949 marriage certificate as de L'Arbre.
Phone Books 1880-1984.
13. Daisy May
de L'Arbre de Malander's death certificate. 20 April 1982.
Richard Williams, Scorrier House,
John Newcombe, chairman of the Parish Council and resident of Tolgullow in the Parish of St
Robert Drew, 2009. The cars at the time were not ''vintage'', but would now be considered as
'vintage' or 'classic'. [author's note].
Mastiff Club of America's website. (This item may no longer be on this website).
19. Malcolm Drew,
Sylvia Trewern (née Freeman),
21. The screen is stylistically
Japanese not Chinese (Ming), possibly of the later Meiji period (late C19),
according to Stephen J. Loakes, Director of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Sotheby's,
British Telephone Books 1880-1984. [ed. Why Joseph was registered under two addresses
is unclear. Perhaps he just forgot to cancel his old number. Perhaps he was still storing
paintings or his rotavating equipment there and keeping an eye on the house while Brian
See was away. From 1981 onwards, Brian See replaces Joseph's name in the local telephone
23. Original surname
was Hamilton. Name changed by deed poll before marrying Susan Victoria Barron in Q2 1985.
Joseph de L'Arbre de Malander's death certificate, 17 May
25. The National Archives' currency
converter. This would have been equivalent to GBP 60,400 to GBP 106,700 in
26. JP DLDM's last will and
27. JP DLDM's obituary, West Briton, 13 June 1991. Peggy Barron is the mother of Susan Victoria Barron, wife of the
informant, Timothy M.M. Barron-Hamilton.