A lecture to Molesey History Society: Part 4
Another formidable Victoria woman selected with her family for The Elmbridge Hundred, is Helen Carte [née;] 1852-1913, theatre impresario. In 1875, whilst a young actress, Susan Helen Couper Black, whose stage name was Helen Lenoir, met Richard D'Oyly Carte and became his assistant and business manager, co-producing with him all of the Savoy Operas. To counter unauthorized productions, and control performance copyrights of the operas in the USA she arranged profitable overseas productions and tours of Gilbert and Sullivan operas in America. Her eye for detail, organisational skills, and management of the often-difficult relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan was acknowledged by Richard to be the mainstay of the company's success. She married Richard D'Oyly Carte in 1888, and by the 1890s, with Carte's health declining, took sole responsibility for the businesses, assuming full control upon his death in 1901. Her husband, Richard D'Oyly Carte (1844-1901) had brought Gilbert and Sullivan back together in 1875 to provide him with a curtain raiser for Offenbach's La Perichole. Their one-act drama Trial by Jury was a huge success, as was his next commission, The Sorcerer in 1877, followed by HMS Pinafore in 1878. Following this success, he formed Mr D'Oyly Carte's Opera Company, and over the next two decades, they produced a succession of famous operas together. Managed the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company from 1913 to 1948. On the death of Helen D'Oyly Carte in 1913, the family business passed to their son Rupert D'Oyly Carte (1876-1948), who continued the company through both world wars, until his death in 1948. Dame Bridget Cicely D'Oyly Carte (1908-1985) kept the Savoy Theatre going following the expiry of The Savoy Operas copyright in 1961.
Another great Elmbridge businesswoman selected for The Hundred is Hilda Hewlett. Her nickname in childhood was 'Billy' and in later life 'Old Bird'. Hilda Beatrice Herbert was educated at home and attended the National Art Training School, South Kensington, which is where I currently work at the V&A, and where she subsequently exhibited her work. Hilda, rather like Mr. Toad in Wind in the Willows, loved speed: first bicycles, then motorcars, and ultimately airplanes. She attended the first English flying meeting at Blackpool in 1909 with her husband Maurice Henry Hewlett, who was born at Oatlands, in Elmbridge circa 1861. Hilda fell in love with flying, and met Frenchman Gustave Blondeau, an engineer who worked on aeroplanes for Farman Brothers. They formed a business partnership establishing a Flying School at Brooklands, Hilda was one of the first students. She took her Royal Aero Club (RAC) test on 18 August 1911 explaining later that, ' I did not feel a bit nervous then, only very happy...' Hilda seemed to have found her niche, 'I did the simple necessary turns, altitude and landing tests. Everyone was so glad and happy.....my dream was fulfilled.' The Hewlett-Blondeau Flying School advertised itself as , 'The only School which has never had a crash nor damaged an aeroplane.' The fee for learning to fly was, '£75 inc. of breakages.' On 29 August 1911, Hilda Beatrice Hewlett, then aged 47 , received Ticket No. 122 and became Britain's first woman pilot. Later as 'Hewlett & Blondeau Ltd' they built aircraft under licence. Several famous male aviators were taught by Hilda, including, as Hilda recalled, 'One boy… walked from Walton, 8 miles or so, at 4am for his lessons. He threw stones at my window...' Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith (1888-1989) had his first flying lesson at the Hewlett-Blondeau School. Thomas Sopwith, who was also selected for The Elmbridge Hundred, became one of the great pioneers of aviation and aircraft design and manufacture, he founded Sopwith Aviation Company Ltd, and then H. G. Hawker Engineering Company Ltd, which became the Hawker Siddeley group. In 1977, Hawker Siddeley became a founding component of the nationalized British Aerospace.
Another woman, associated both with sport and aviation on The Elmbridge Hundred is Amy Constance Gentry (1903-1976). Amy was a formidable oarswoman, and was British single sculls champion in 1932, 1933, and 1934, before retiring undefeated. She pioneered women's rowing in England, becoming a founder member, captain, and chair of Weybridge Ladies' Rowing Club. In 1960, she achieved her greatest success for women's rowing by persuading the International Rowing Federation to stage the women's European championships on the Welsh Harp in London, which marked the beginning of the acceptance of women's rowing at full international level, and led to its inclusion in the 1976 Olympics. Amy Gentry worked as a secretary for Vickers Aviation at Brooklands, where she became personal secretary to Barnes Wallis, the chief designer. She worked for him between 1941-3 whilst developed the 'bouncing bomb', and she witnessed the first trials on Burwood Park Lake.
Amy's boss, Barnes Neville Wallis (1887 - 1979) always regretted not serving in World War One. He was unable to join the RAF because he worked in the 'vital industry' of aeronautical engineering. In 1928, Wallis was appointed chief designer of Vickers aeroplane design team at Weybridge. His 'Wellington Bomber' was a key plane in World War Two. Wallis' famous development was 'the bouncing bombs', dropped by 617 Squadron on 17 May 1943. These were designed to bounce along the water, to avoid torpedo nets. The aim was to destroy the industrial heart of Germany. Another, Elmbridge resident R. C. Sherriff wrote the screenplay 'The Dam Busters' (1955), the popular film depicting these events.
In total, thirteen of The Elmbridge Hundred associated with Brooklands. I will quickly list a few of them now, and urge anyone who wants to know more to visit Brooklands Museum. Hugh Fortescue Locke-King (1848-1926) was a local landowner and motor-racing promoter, born in Chertsey. In 1906, he built Brooklands Automobile Racing Club on the heath of his Brooklands estate. It cost Locke King around £150,000, which he raised by mortgaging his properties. Loans from his wife's family saved him from bankruptcy in July 1907. His wife Ethel Locke-King (1864-1956) established 14 auxiliary hospitals in Surrey. George Edwards (1908-2003) was an aircraft designer and industrialist who began his aviation career in 1935 with Vickers at Weybridge under Barnes Wallis. He eventually became Chairman of British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), overseeing the development of Concorde, and the Jaguar and Tornado military aircraft. He was also a leading figure in the foundation of the University of Surrey. Sir Malcolm Campbell (1885-1948) lived in Walton-on-Thames, and John Rhodes Cobb (1899-1952) lived in Esher, both held both the land and water speed records. John Godfrey Parry Thomas (1884-1927) was also holder of two land speed records, and Paul Wyand, the newsreel cameraman I mentioned earlier, was his mechanic. Paul Wyand quit motor-racing to become a cameraman when Parry Thomas was killed attempting to break the record on Pendine Sands in Wales in 1927. Reid Anthony Railton (1895-1977) began his career as an assistant to Parry Thomas, and became one of Britain's most famous motor sport engineers. After Thomas died in in 1927, Railton joined Thompson & Taylor. He designed John Cobb's 'Napier-Railton' and 'Railton Mobil Special', and his boat 'Crusader'. Railton also modified Malcolm Campbell's 'Bluebird' in which he set five Land Speed Records.
The one Brooklands figure I would like to say a bit more about, because he is a fascinating figure, and more research is needed, is Dr Eric Gardner. Gardner was a pathologist, archaeologist, and historian as well as a GP in Weybridge. In 1909, he persuaded Weybridge UDC to open a msueum for the town, and this was originally situated in the Council Offices at the bottom of Baker Street. Dr. Gardner was Honorary Curator of the museum from 1909 until his death. The core of the current museum owes much to him. Anyone who wants to know more about Elmbridge I would urge to visit 'your' local museum, and to campaign to ensure the council never closes it. If local government has any central function at all, it is to safeguard and promote the history of a place, which is the foundation of every community, alongside essential services, like Weybridge Hospital and medical practice, which Eric Gardner founded. After qualifying as a doctor, he worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, before starting the medical practice at Weybridge in 1906. When the Brooklands became a motor racing track he was appointed medical officer there, and his experience with head injuries in motor accidents led him to develop the modern crash helmet. When the RFC (later RAF) took over Brooklands in 1914 he was involved in developing the means still used for selecting and assessing the medical and psychological fitness and suitability of pilots for flying. You would think that is enough highflying achievement, but in 1936, he became pathologist to he Surrey County Coroner and was involved in numerous important and pioneering forensic pathology cases, including the gruesome 'chalk pit' murder of 1946.
Many doctors in history are polymaths; perhaps they need the distraction from the fact that doctoring and death inevitably go together. This has never been truer than in the fascinating figure of Molesey's own, Sir Henry Thompson (1820-1904). Thompson was one of the 1st surgeons to operate successfully for the removal of gallstones, operating on both Leopold 1st King of the Belgians and Napoleon 3rd. Under the pseudonym Pen Oliver he published two best-selling medical novels: Charley Kingston's Aunt in 1885, and All But, A Chronicle of Laxenford Life in 1886. He experimented with and wrote about photography, or rather daguerreotypes, only two years after their introduction in 1839 by Louis Daguerre. He was a fine illustrator, illustrating his own medical textbooks, and painted, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and counting many well-known artists and writers amongst his friends. He painted portraits of Millais and Thackeray. He lived at Hurtside House in East Molesey from 1880, where he built an observatory. His telescopes were later donated to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. He was a famous gastronome; his book Food and Feeding (1880) went through twelve editions. In 1872, he began his famous 'Octaves', (male only) dinners of eight simple dishes, beginning at eight o'clock, for eight guests. He hosted 301 Octaves before he died in 1904, attended by famous men of art and literature, politicians, and royalty. However, (and here come the bit about doctors and death) his greatest legacy was the introduction of cremation to England. Cocerned about the mid-Victorian population boom, and having seen an incinerator at the International Exhibition in Vienna in 1873, he began to experiment by burning animal corpses, all in the interests of science and the good of society of course. In 1874, he published a book, Cremation: the Treatment of the Body after Death, and founded the Cremation Society, becoming its first president. He helped establish the crematorium at Woking, but due to religious and local opposition, it was not until 26th March 1885 that the 1st cremation was carried out there. His interest in cremation was perhaps also driven by his bitter opposition to the extension of the cemetery at West Molesey, which he feared would bring graves almost to his backdoor!
Continuing the theme, there are two notable deaths amongst The Elmbridge Hundred, one a mystery, the other a murder. Robert George Collier Proctor (1868-1903) was one of the world's greatest bibliographers. Librarians and incunabulists chiefly remember him for the Proctor Order, a method of organizing pre-1500 printed books, and his work at the British Museum's incunabula - that is old pamphlets by the way! His diaries, started in 1899, are in the British Library. There were originally four volumes, but volume three is now lost. They discuss his bibliographic work, his home life with his mother, and his views on current affairs. Interest in the work of the Kelmscott Press led him to meet and become friends with William Morris, who influenced him both politically and culturally, and, encouraged by Morris, translated Icelandic literature, and became a passionate activist for the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings. He fiercely opposed the Boer war, and was a fervent anti-monarchist. Most of the world's major libraries today still use the Proctor Order. Books are arranged and described in chronological order, first by country (in order of the spread of the movable type printing press, beginning with Germany), then by town, and then printer. Proctor order is still used in the incunabula catalogues of the British Library, Cambridge University Library, and Harvard University. In the summer of 1897, Proctor moved with his mother to a new house in Oxshott. However, it is his tragic and mysterious death on a walking holiday in the Austrian Alps that really endears Proctor to the nonprofessional. He never married, and always lived with his mother, and often went on long walking tours with her. On 29th August 1903, he went on a walking tour alone in the Austrian Tyrol. Having reached the Taschach hut in the Pitzthal on 5th September, he left to cross the glacier pass without a guide, and was never seen again. He probably fell into a crevasse. By the time his disappearance was noted in Britain, the winter weather had set in, which prevented a search, and his body was never found. It will no doubt turn up quite soon as global warming increases. There was speculation that he had committed suicide in distress at the onset of gradual blindness, a terrible prospect for a man that loved old pamphlets.
The murder is that of William Whiteley (1831-1907), a department store owner, whose Whiteley's store in Bayswater was hugely successful, with Queen Victoria and the royal family as regular clients. Despite the grand reputation of his shop, his personal life was in sullied by rumours of his affairs with young girls at his store, and a mistress in Brighton. On 24th January 1907, a young man named Horace Rayner confronted the 75-year-old Whiteley claiming to be his son and demanding money. Whitely treated him as a common blackmailer, and tried to summon the police but Rayner shot him dead. His estate was valued at almost £1.5 million, and provided for £1 million towards the construction and maintenance of retirement homes for store workers on a 225-acre estate at Burhill, which became known as the Whiteley village.
Perhaps, Henry Thompson's most illustrious patient, as I mentioned, was Leopold 1st, king of the Belgians (1790 - 1865). Leopold and his first wife Princess Charlotte are also part of The Elmbridge Hundred. Leopold married Charlotte Princess of Wales in May 1816. She was the only legitimate child of the Prince Regent, who later became George IV. After the marriage, Leopold and his new bride honeymooned at Oatlands House in Weybridge, then home to the Duke and Duchess of York (the Grand Old Duke of York of nursery rhyme fame). They then travelled the short distance to Claremont House in Esher, where they lived happily until Charlotte's tragic death in November 1817. Despite the publicity that surrounded their marriage, and the hope that they would bring decorum to the British monarchy (plus ça change as they say in Belgium), they chose to spend time alone at their Claremont home. Local historian Lisa Hutchins writes, "They loved the quiet and privacy of Claremont and in turn the people of Esher marked their arrival at the estate with a triumphal arch and laid a huge celebration for Charlotte's twenty-first birthday in February 1817. The couple revelled in their country hideaway, patronising local tradesmen, and supporting local charities" (Esher and Claygate Past, 2001). Claremont was a gift to the newlyweds from the British people, and despite the tragic death of Princess Charlotte, Leopold retained ownership until his death in 1865. However, in 1831 Leopold became 1st king of the Belgians and never lived there again. His favourite niece, Queen Victoria, who eventually became queen because of Charlotte's death, used Claremontin his absence and eventually bought it for her son, and her uncle's namesake, Leopold, Duke of Albany. Leopold arranged Victoria's marriage to his nephew, and her cousin, Albert.?After the Charlotte's death, Leopold was briefly married to a German actress Caroline Bauer in 1829 (although there are some doubts about its validity). This ended in 1831. When Belgium declared their independence in October 1830, there were several candidates for the new leader of this small rapidly industrializing nation, but on the 4th of June 1831 Leopold was elected King of the Belgians. It was eight years however before the Netherlands were finally forced to recognize the sovereignty of Leopold and the independent Belgian nation at he Treaty of London in 1839. To secure his position, Leopold married Louise-Marie of France.
It was through this marriage that Louis-Philippe (1773-1850) king of France, and his queen consort, Marie-Amélie Thérèse (1782-1866), ended their lives in exile in Elmbridge. He died at Claremont on 26th August 1850, and their remains were interred at St Charles Borromeo Catholic chapel in Weybridge, which is Elmbridge's greatest hidden architectural gem. Following the 1848 Revolution in Paris the Orleans monarchy were given refuge, against the advice of Lord Melbourne, by Queen Victoria, who housed them at Claremont. The nearest Catholic chapel was St Charles Borromeo chapel in Weybridge, which was the 2nd built in Britain after the emancipation in 1829, by James Taylor. I urge you all to visit it on Mondays when the Korean Presbyterian Church, its current stewards, opens it to the public. Various members of the Orleans monarchy who died in exile were interred there until 1958 when they were moved to the family mausoleum at Dreux, Eure-et-Loir. St Charles Borromeo is a beautiful building in need of repair and care, which curiously resembles the Chapelle Royale at Dreux. One of those interred there was Victoire Auguste Antoinette of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Duchesse de Nemours (1822-1857), the beloved cousin of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She was a childhood playmate of the Prince's at Rosenau, and considered by the Queen to be "like a dear sister to us", "my beloved Vic". When Victoire died aged only 35 in childbirth Queen Victoria commissioned the French sculptor Henri Michel Antoine Chapu (1833 - 1891) to sculpt a life-sized sepulchral effigy of Victoire for St Charles Borrommeo chapel. Victoire was only reunited with her family at Dreux in 1979, when the Catholics sold the chapel to the Korean Presbyterians, and the Chapu sculpture was removed, for no apparent reason other than conservation, to the Walker Gallery in Liverpool.
Queen Victoria (1819 - 1901) always retained a great fondness for Claremont. Victoria had visited her uncle Leopold at the house many times during her childhood and early adulthood whereupon Leopold effectively gave it to her. The queen writes of 'dear Claremont' many times in her letters. Writing to King Leopold on 16th January 1844, she confessed, "We leave dear Claremont, as usual, with the greatest regret; we are so peaceable here; Windsor is beautiful and comfortable, but it is a palace, and God knows how willingly I would always live with my beloved Albert and our children in the quiet and retirement of private life".
Claremont's illustrious history began before it became a royal palace when Thomas Pelham-Holles (1693- 1768) bought the estate in 1714. Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) playwright and architect (architect of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard) had designed th eoriginal Palladian mansion at Claremont in 1708, which stood in front of the present house. 1714 was the year in which George 1st raised Thomas Pelham-Holles to the peerage. The new Earl of Clare commissioned Sir John Vanbrugh to add two large wings to the house, as well as a Belvedere Tower, or 'prospect house', on a nearby knoll so he and his guests could enjoy views of Elmbridge and the Mole valley. The following year, in 1715 he was made Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Thomas Pelham-Holles initially renamed his estate 'Clare-mount', which was later shortened to 'Claremont'. Newcastle spent much time at Claremont during his final years, and lavished money on his house and landscaped gardens. When Newcastle died in 1768 his widow sold Claremont to Robert Clive because of the huge debts she had inherited. Clive demolished Newcastle's house and commissioned Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and Henry Holland to build the present house on a higher and dryer site. This later Palladian mansion now houses Claremont Fan Court School, and the gardens are owned and run by the National Trust. Newcastle served Prime Minister for six years in two separate terms. He as was often caricatured as a muddled aristocratic buffoon, uncomprehending of the business of government. He was one of the most ridiculed politicians of the 18th century. In truth, he formed a fruitful partnership with William Pitt, who was known as 'The Great Commoner', because of his refusal to accept a peerage until 1766. Under Pitt and Newcastle Britain became a truly dominant global power after France's navy was crippled by the Seven Years War.
After his recent unsuccessful bid for the leadership of the Labour party, David Milliband could have learnt lessons from the Duke of Newcastle. Before Newcastle served as Prime Minister, he had enjoyed a successful political partnership with his younger brother Henry Pelham (1694-1754), who had preceded him as Prime Minister from 1743 until his death in 1754. Much of the public lampooning endured by the older Duke of Newcastle was due to his able younger brother attaining the highest office before him. Like the Millibands, the brother's political relationship seemed to upset the 'natural' social and familial order. The Duke of Newcastle's higher aristocratic rank, age, and influence made him very powerful in the Cabinet, and there were occasional personal disagreements. Nevertheless, Henry Pelham was close to his older brother, and in 1729, he purchased Esher Place because it was adjacent to Claremont. Henry employed William Kent to demolish most of the Tudor mansion, and renovate the house and gardens as a family country retreat. In 1805, a wealthy stockbroker, named John Spicer, demolished Pelham's house to build the current mansion, which is now owned by the trade union Unite.