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.

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