Thursday, December 27, 2012

Anthony Bingham Mildmay

Now if only Anthony, Lord Mildmay of Flete could have met his distant kinsman Frederick, St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, what a conversation they would have enjoyed.

Anthony Bingham Mildmay, Lord Mildmay of Flete

They could have discussed the pedigree of Frederick's horses, all seventy of them, while admiring the portraits of Hollyhock, Lustre, Turf and Gimcrack painted by George Stubbs. On a tour of the stables at Lydiard they could have discussed the finer points of racing on the flat as opposed to steeplechasing, a sport growing in popularity during the 18th century.

Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke

The Rt Hon Anthony Bingham Mildmay, 2nd Lord Mildmay of Flete, was born on April 14, 1909, the only son of Francis Bingham Mildmay and his wife Alice Grenfell.  Educated at Eton and then Trinity College, Cambridge, Anthony was an amateur jockey, a gentleman rider, just like Frederick.

He was descended from the Farley Chamberlayne branch of the St John family.  His great grandfather was Humphrey St John Mildmay, the son of Henry St John who married wealthy heiress Jane Mildmay and took her surname as part of the marriage contract.  Their daughter Maria married Henry St John, 4th Viscount Bolingbroke, Frederick's grandson.

Frederick's portrait of Gimcrack painted by George Stubbs

With more than 100 winners to his credit, it was always Mildmay's ambition to land the Grand National at Aintree and in 1936 it looked as if he might succeed until the reins broke and his horse, Davy Jones, ran off the course.

During the Second World War Mildmay's career was put on hold while he served with the Welsh Guards. Back in the saddle once again, Mildmay took a serious fall during a race at Folkestone in 1947.  An injury to his neck left him with disabling attacks of cramp, which were to ultimately prove fatal.

Then in 1948 he came within a whisker of winning of the National on his horse Cromwell, but the injury sustained the previous year saw him come in third - with a dislocated spine!

Lord Mildmay on Cromwell

On May 13, 1950 The Times sadly reported that the well known steeplechase rider, Lord Mildmay, "was reported missing yesterday after his usual early morning bathe at the mouth of the River Yealm at Newton Ferrers, Devon."  His clothes and a bucket of fresh water were found on Mothecombe beach close to his Devonshire home.  The search party of estate workers were joined by police, coastguards and a naval craft from Plymouth until the search was eventually called off when darkness fell. It was believed that an attack of cramp had caused the 41 year old Lord Mildmay to drown.

The young Anthony Bingham Mildmay pictured with his parents and sister Helen - painted by Sir Alfred J. Munnings  

Following his death The Times published this tribute from an unnamed friend.

Generosity, courage, sportsmanship, and personal charm were his to an exceptional degree.  There was something more - a complete lack of any form of self conceit, coupled with a superb sense of humour and the most perfect natural manners.  These last were not reserved for special occasions, for whether he was in the company of the highest in the land or the youngest stable boy in the yard he was exactly the same - natural, courteous, and unselfish.  By his valour and integrity on the racecourse he became the hero of many. He will remain an example to us all of what the word 'gentleman' should really mean.

More than 60 years after his death, Lord Mildmay can be seen in action on the British Pathe website.  Riding the favourite Castledermot, Mildmay romps home to an impressive win at the Cheltenham Wills Hunt Chase in 1949.

The Mildmay Course at Aintree was opened in 1953 and named in his honour.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Inside Claridges

You may wonder what a five star Mayfair hotel, popular with Posh and Becks, has got to do with Lydiard House on the outskirts of Swindon.

Claridges is built on the site of 45 - 57 Brook Street - seven properties constructed between 1723 and 1725.  One of the early tenants at number 51 was Sir Gustavus Hume of Castle Hume in County Fermanagh.  The next was John and Anne St John who moved in soon after their marriage in 1729.  For the next ten years the couple divided their time between Brook Street, the manor house at Battersea and building work at Lydiard House.

In 1812 Lord William Beauclerk bought the lease of number 51 and applied to Lord Grosvenor for permission to use the property as a hotel.  Although the request was initially turned down on the grounds that there were already too many hotels in Brook Street, Beauclerk pressed his case.  He stated that he intended to incorporate an existing hotel at number 43 thereby ensuring that the number of hotels on Brook Street would not be increased, and that 51 was already in use as 'a Private and distinct Lodging House.'

During the ensuing objections Beauclerk's tenant, a Mr Mivart, pleaded that the apartments were always held by the month or similar periods of time, and not let by the night to casual comers and that 'there is neither Coffee Room, Club Room, nor any sort of accommodation for Business of a Public Description.' In later decades the hotel had a reputation for supplying discreet accommodation for royalty, quite apt as Lord William Beauclerk descended from Charles Beauclerk, an illegitimate son of  Charles II and Nell Gwyn.

Mivart won his case and soon set the standard for the next 185 years.  In 1827 he numbered distinguished statesman and writer Baron Alexander von Humboldt from Hanover and the Count and Countess Woronzow from St Petersberg among his residents.  By 1838 had acquired the leases on 51-57 Brook Street and 48 Davies Street, a large corner house with stabling.

Within ten years of vacating the property John and Anne's former home at number 51 had undergone considerable internal alterations whilst retaining its old brick facade.

The present hotel takes its name from William Claridge who took over the enterprise following Mivart's retirement in 1853.  Number 49 - 53 received a mini makeover following the grant of a new 30 year lease on John's old home.

In 1881, with William Claridge in failing health, the hotel became a limited company and by the end of the decade there were plans for a comprehensive rebuilding project.  John and Anne's old home was demolished along with it neighbours in November 1894 and shortly before Christmas that year Countess de Grey laid the foundation stone for the new hotel.  Today the site of John and Anne's former home is roughly in the middle of Claridges front door.

In 2012 the BBC spent a year behind the scenes at Claridges where staff make extraordinary efforts to ensure the comfort of their wealthy guests.  The last episode screened this week covered the excitement of the summer Olympics and the arrival of the exclusive Noma restaurant. Celebrated Nordic chef Rene Redzepi opened a pop up restaurant in the ballroom with a menu reading more like a bushtucker trial from I'm a Celebrity ... but the diners seemed to like it.


Staff at Claridges Hotel

John, 2nd Viscount St John

Anne Furnese

The remodelled 18th century Lydiard House.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Snowy scenes at Lydiard Park

Some snowy scenes at Lydiard Park taken earlier this year.


The Ice House

The Ha-Ha

St Mary's Church

Ghostly footprints from the church to the house

Monday, December 10, 2012

Who lived in a house like this?

By the mid 19th century the Palladian mansion house at Lydiard Tregoze was a little the worse for wear. Generations of St John's had chosen to spend their declining fortunes on racehorses, fine porcelain and grand tours rather than a bit of DIY and the ancestral home was beginning to show its age.

Radical politician William Cobbett rode through the parish in September 1826 and later wrote:

'Here is a good old mansion-house and large walled-in garden and a park, belonging, they told me, to Lord Bolingbroke.  I went quite down to the house, close to which stands the large and fine church.  It appears to have been a noble place; the land is some of the finest in the whole country; the trees show that the land is excellent; but, all, except the church, is in a state of irrepair and apparent neglect, if not abandonment.

William had pretty much hit the nail on the head.

The house had served as a holiday home for the family for close on 150 years. Despite a major make over in the mid 18th century subsequent St John's had elected to live in London close to where the action was, popping back to Wiltshire for a spot of shooting and partying.  By the 1830s Henry, 4th Viscount Bolingbroke, was renting out the house and parkland.  His wife, Maria, Lady Bolingbroke was in Aberystwyth at the time of her death in 1836 and Henry was in Scotland at the time of his in 1851.

So, who was living in a house like this?

Not any old family, but one that had extended links to the St John's.  At the time of the 1841 census Thomas Orby Hunter was the tenant at Lydiard House with his daughter and son-in-law Charles and Charlotte Orby Wombwell and their baby daughter.

On June 6, 1841 the servants quarters was pretty much full with sixteen members of staff living in on census night and a further three recorded in the stables.  Most gave their birthplace as out of the parish, so presumably Thomas brought his own staff with him.

Ten years later and Charles Orby Wombwell had taken over the tenancy.  He had cut down on the indoor servants but there were still an impressive eleven in residence on census night, including a governess, butler, housekeeper, cook, kitchen maid, two housemaids, a nursemaid, a footman and a groom. This time there were more local folk on the pay roll - Elizabeth Hiscocks, the daughter of Lydiard gamekeeper Robert Hiscocks, Ann Dobson from Lydiard Tregoze, Richard Weeks from neighbouring Lydiard Millicent and Jesse Turner who would later become butler to Lord Bolingbroke.

So what is the connection with the Wombwell and the St John families?

Charles Orby Wombwell  was the son of Sir George Wombwell and his second wife Eliza Little.  He and his elder half brother George both married daughters of Thomas Orby Hunter.  As we have seen Charles married Charlotte, his brother married Georgiana.

Sir George and Georgiana's son George married Julia Sarah Alice Child Villiers - are you keeping up - now Julia was the daughter of George Augustus Frederick Child Villiers 6th Earl of Jersey and his wife Julia Peel.  The young Mrs Wombwell could trace her ancestry back eight generations to Sir Edward Villiers and his wife Barbara St John who grew up at Lydiard House, one of the six daughters on the magnificent St John polyptych in St Mary's Church.

My work here is done!