|Asquith of Mells|
The story really begins with Herbert Henry Asquith (1852-1928), who came from a modest middle-class nonconformist background in Yorkshire and rose to the highest office in the land, being Prime Minister from 1908-16. Despite a successful practice at the Chancery bar and three decades at the forefront of British politics, Asquith was never personally wealthy, and although his second wife brought some money into the marriage and introduced him to more exalted social circles, in his later years both 'H.H.' and his wife found it helpful to write semi-professionally to supplement their income. After leaving office in 1916, Asquith initially turned down the offer an earldom, preferring to remain in the Commons and to continue as Leader of the Liberal Party, but he accepted the peerage when the offer was renewed in 1925. He wished to take 'Earl of Oxford' as his title, but the Harley family - who had had this title in earlier centuries - complained and a compromise was reached when his peerage was gazetted as 'Earl of Oxford and Asquith'.
|Archerfield House, East Lothian, rented by Asquith, 1907-11|
|The Wharf, Sutton Courtenay, built in 1912 |
by Walter Cave for the Asquiths.
His eldest son, Raymond Asquith (1878-1916) showed every sign of having a career as prominent and successful as his father, but the outbreak of the First World War saw him join the army rather than entering Parliament and in 1916 he was killed on the Somme. It was Raymond's marriage to Katharine Horner in 1907 which ultimately brought the Horners' home, Mells Manor House in Somerset, into the Asquith family.
The second son, Herbert ('Beb') was like his elder brother President of the Oxford Union, but pursued a literary career after the war rather than entering politics. Arthur, the third son, was a career soldier (and twice wounded during the war), while Cyril, who became a judge and ultimately one of the law lords, was an assiduous correspondent in The Times and sought diversion from severer disciplines in translating A.E. Housman's A Shropshire lad into Latin. The only daughter of Asquith's first marriage was Lady Violet, who married Sir Maurice Bonham Carter. Of all his children, she pursued the most political career, and in 1964 she became one of the first women appointed to the House of Lords when she was made a life peer as Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury. The surviving children of
|The Hon. Anthony Asquith (1902-68), |
When 'H.H.' died on 15 February 1928 he was succeeded as 2nd Earl of Oxford & Asquith by his grandson, Julian Edward George Asquith (1916-2011), then a schoolboy at Ampleforth. The 2nd Earl's mother had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1923 and he and his siblings were brought up in that faith, which along with the intellectual and artistic interests so many members of the family have exhibited, has been a key part of their identity, and has given a particular character to their life at Mells Manor House. The 2nd Earl's mother (1885-1976) and his sister, Lady Helen Asquith (1908-2000) made Mells Manor House a hospitable centre for Catholic intellectuals, and numbered among their friends Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957), who made his home at Mells for the last ten years of his life, and other prominent Catholic converts, including Evelyn Waugh (1903-66) and Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), who like Knox is buried in the churchyard. Another friend was Conrad Russell (1878-1947), whose deathbed conversion to Catholicism took place at Mells Manor House.
The Dowager Countess of Oxford and Asquith moved out of Mells Manor House in the 1960s, and the house was let to tenants while the 2nd Earl was serving overseas as a colonial administrator. By the early 1970s, Britain was running out of colonies to administer and he retired to Mells in 1975 "to cultivate my garden", both literally and metaphorically. The 2nd Earl never lost his intellectual curiosity, or his wide-ranging interests in politics, philosophy and religion, and he and his wife (d. 1998), maintained the reputation of Mells Manor for hospitality. Their two sons both became career diplomats, and their daughter, Lady Clare has sustained the family's literary tradition as a stalwart of The Spectator.
When the 2nd Earl died aged 94 in 2011 he was succeeded by his elder son, Raymond Benedict Bartholomew Michael Asquith (b. 1952), 3rd Earl of Oxford & Asquith, who with his wife has since restored the house. The present Lord Oxford, like his father and younger brother, was a career diplomat until 1997, when he went into the private sector. On inheriting the title he was rapidly elected to one of the seats in the House of Lords reserved for hereditary peers, where he sits as a Liberal Democrat. His wife, the author Clare Asquith, is noted chiefly for her book Shadowplay (2005), which claims Shakespeare was a crypto-Catholic, and which attracted praise and ridicule in almost equal measure. They have five children who show early promise of continuing the Asquith traditions of intellectual ability in diverse fields.
Mells Manor House, Somerset
|Mells Manor House: entrance front showing the close proximity to the church.|
|Mells Manor House: sketch of 1852, The house became a training college for craftsmen at about this time.|
In 1901 the Horners sold Mells Park and moved back to the Manor House, which was restored for them by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1901-05, although additions and alterations continued into the 1920s. The parlour at the west end has a geometrical ceiling made c.1905 based on a lost ceiling of 1650 at Merchant's Barton, Frome (Somerset). The drawing room at the east end has an early 16th century fireplace with a big frieze of five quatrefoils containing shields and fleurons, brought from a house in the village in the 1920s, and also a 17th century ceiling with simple corner sprays which is perhaps also an import. To the east of the drawing room is a single-storey extension by Lutyens containing a music room and adjoining garden room of c.1922. This has a neo-Tudor facade on the entrance front to keep in keeping, but glazed round arches opening south onto a Tuscan pergola. Lutyens planned a wing running west from the north-west corner of the house, but this was never built and instead a low kitchen range was added to the south by Owen Little in 1912.
|Mells Manor House: garden front, 1994. Image: Nicholas Kingsley. Some rights reserved.|
Since the 3rd Earl of Oxford & Asquith and his wife, the historian Clare Asquith, inherited the house in 2011, it has been gently and carefully restored while its romantic atmosphere has been carefully preserved. The restoration was celebrated by an account in Country Life in 2015, which was extensively illustrated with photographs of the interior.
Descent: Thomas Horner; to nephew, Sir John Horner (d. 1587); to son, Thomas Horner (c.1547-1612); to son, Sir John Horner (1576-1659); to son, Sir George Horner (b. 1604); to son, George Horner (b. 1646); to son, Thomas Horner (1688-1741); to brother, John Horner (1689-1746); to son, Thomas Horner (1737-1804); to son, Col. Thomas Strangways Horner (1762-1840); to son, Rev. John Stuart Hippisley Horner (1810-74); to son, Sir John Francis Fortescue Horner, KCVO (1842-1927); to daughter, Katharine Frances (1885-1976), widow of Raymond Asquith (1878-1916); to son, Sir Julian Edward George Asquith (1916-2011), 2nd Earl of Oxford & Asquith; to son, Raymond Benedict Bartholomew Michael Asquith (b. 1952), 3rd Earl of Oxford & Asquith.
Asquith family, Earls of Oxford and Asquith
Asquith, Joseph Dixon (1825-60). Son of Joseph Asquith (1778-1855), clothier, of Morley (Yorks WR) and his wife Esther Dixon (1794-1856), born 10 February and baptised 29 March 1825. Wool merchant at Morley (Yorks WR). He married, Jul-Sep 1850, Emily (1828-88), daughter of William Willans JP, of Huddersfield, and had issue:
(1) William Willans Asquith (1851-1918), born 23 June 1851; educated at Balliol College, Oxford (admitted 1871; BA 1875; MA 1879); school housemaster at Clifton College, Bristol; died unmarried, 7 November 1918; will proved 2 January 1918 (estate £13,576);
(2) Sir Herbert Henry Asquith (1852-1928), 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith (q.v.);
(3) Emily Evelyn Asquith (1855-1937), born 20 May 1855; married, Jul-Sep 1878, Rev. William Wooding of Stoke Newington (Middx), Unitarian minister, and had issue four sons and one daughter; died 16 December 1937; will proved 25 January 1938 (estate £7,474);
(4) Lillian Josephine Asquith (1860-65), born 6 May 1860; died young and was buried at Rehoboth Chapel, Morley, 31 March 1865.
He lived at Croft House, Morley.
He died 16 June 1860 and was buried at the Rehoboth Chapel, Morley (Yorks WR); administration of his goods was granted to his widow, 16 April 1861 (effects under £450). His widow died 12 December 1888; her will was proved 8 January 1889 (effects £1,019).
|Sir Herbert Henry Asquith,|
1st Earl of Oxford & Asquith
(1.1) Raymond Asquith (1878-1916) (q.v.);
(1.2) Hon. Herbert (k/a Beb) Asquith (1881-1947), born 11 March 1981; educated at Winchester, Balliol College, Oxford and Lincolns Inn (called to bar, 1907); President of the Oxford Union, 1901; author and poet; served in Royal Field Artillery (Capt.) in First World War; lived at Claverton Lodge, Bathwick Hill, Bath (Somerset); married, 28 July 1910, Lady Cynthia Charteris (1887-1960), daughter of 11th Earl of Wemyss & March and had issue three sons; died 5 August 1947; will proved 24 October 1947 (estate £4,622);
(1.3) Brig-Gen. the Hon. Arthur Melland (k/a Oc) Asquith (1883-1939), born 24 April 1883; educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford; an official in the Sudan civil service, 1906-11; served with Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and Royal Navy Division in First World War (Hon. Brig-Gen., 1918) and was wounded, mentioned in despatches and awarded the DSO and the Croix de Guerre; controller of Appointments Dept. and member of council of Ministry of Labour, 1918-20; chairman of Kassala Cotton Co. and director of Westminster Bank and Sudan Plantation Syndicate; he married, 30 April 1918, Hon. Betty Constance (d. 1962), second daughter of John Thomas Manners-Sutton, 3rd Baron Manners and had issue four daughters; died 25 August 1939; will proved 24 October 1939 (estate £37,924);
(1.4) Lady (Helen) Violet Asquith (1887-1969), Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, born 15 April 1887; President of Women's Liberal Federation, 1923-25, 1939-45 and of Liberal Party organisation, 1947-66; President of Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1964; a Governor of the BBC, 1941-46 and of the Old Vic Theatre, 1945; Vice-Chairman of United Europe Movement, 1947; member of the Royal Commission on the Press, 1947-49; patron of the United Nations Association and Trustee of the Glyndebourne Arts Trust, 1955; appointed DBE 1953 and created a life peer as Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, 21 December 1964; awarded honorary degree by Sussex University (LLD 1963); author of Winston Churchill as I knew him, 1965; married, 30 November 1915, Sir Maurice Bonham Carter KCB KCVO (1880-1960), youngest son of Henry Bonham Carter, and had issue two sons and two daughters; died 19 February 1969; will proved 16 June 1969 (estate £49,742) [I will write more about the Bonham Carters in a future post on that family];
(1.5) Sir Cyril Asquith (1890-1954), Baron Asquith of Bishopstone (q.v.);
He rented Archerfield (East Lothian) from 1907-11 and in 1912 had Walter Cave rebuild The Wharf, Sutton Courtenay (Berks, now Oxon) where he lived until his death. Margot Asquith sold The Wharf in 1932 and lived thereafter in London, at various addresses of gradually declining grandeur as her resources diminished.
|Raymond Asquith (1878-1916)|
(1) Lady Helen Frances Asquith (1908-2000), born 1908; educated at St Paul's Girls School and Somerville College, Oxford (BA 1930); granted rank of an earl's daughter, 1928; teacher and schools inspector in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire; trustee of Girls' Public Day Schools Trust; appointed OBE 1965 and awarded the papal medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, 1989; died unmarried, 25 May 2000; will proved 13 September 2000;
(2) Lady Perdita Rose Mary Asquith (1910-96), born 1910; granted rank of an earl's daughter, 1928; suffered from acute depression; married, 14 January 1931, William George Hervey Jolliffe (1898-1967), 4th Baron Hylton and had issue two sons and one daughter; died 17 May 1996; will proved 11 October 1996;
(3) Sir Julian Edward George Asquith (1916-2011), 2nd Earl of Oxford and Asquith (q.v.).
His widow inherited Mells Manor House from her father in 1927.
He was killed in action at the Battle of the Somme, 15 September 1916, and buried in France, but he is commemorated by monuments in Amiens Cathedral (France) and in Mells church designed by Lutyens, with lettering by Eric Gill; administration of his goods (with will annexed) was granted to his widow 18 November 1916 (estate £3,189). His widow died 9 July 1976; her will was proved 14 January 1977 (estate £39,003).
|Julian, 2nd Earl of Oxford & Asquith|
(1) Lady (Mary) Annunziata Asquith (b. 1948), born 28 July 1948; educated at Mayfield (Sussex) and Somerville College, Oxford; former model for Burberry Ltd; partner of Patrick John Anson (1939-2005), 5th Earl of Lichfield, who left her the bulk of his personal fortune;
(2) Lady Katharine Rose Celestine Asquith (b. 1949), born 16 October 1949; educated at Mayfield and King's College, London; married 1st, 18 July 1970 (div. 1976) Sir Adam Nicholas Ridley (b. 1942) (who m2, 1981, Margaret Anne Passmore) and 2nd, 16 February 1985, (John) Nathaniel Micklem Page, second son of Sir (Arthur) John Page MP, but had no issue;
(3) Raymond Benedict Bartholomew Michael Asquith (b. 1952), 3rd Earl of Oxford & Asquith (q.v.);
(4) Lady Clare Perpetua Frances Asquith (b. 1955), born 28 March 1955; deputy literary editor of The Spectator; partner of James Crain Mitchie (1927-2007) by whom she had issue one son;
(5) Hon. Sir Dominic Anthony Gerard Asquith (b. 1957), born in Zanzibar, 7 February 1957; educated at Ampleforth; an officer in the diplomatic service 1983-2013, 2016-date (Minister, Argentina, 1997-2001; Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission, Saudi Arabia, 2001-2004; Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission, Iraq, 2004; Director, Iraq, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2004-2006; ambassador to Iraq, 2006-07, Egypt, 2007-11 and Libya, 2011-13 (where he narrowly escaped assassination in 2012); High Commissioner in India, 2016); appointed CMG, 2004 and KCMG, 2012; senior adviser, Dentons LLP, 2013-date; married, May 1988, Louise E., only daughter of John E. Cotton of Wollaton (Notts) and had issue two sons and two daughters.
He inherited Mells Manor House from his mother in 1976.
He died 16 January 2011, aged 94. His wife died 19 August 1998.
Asquith, Raymond Benedict Bartholomew Michael (b. 1952), 3rd Earl of Oxford and Asquith. Elder son of Sir Julian Edward George Asquith (1916-2011), 2nd Earl of Oxford & Asquith, and his wife Anne Mary Celestine, only daughter of Sir (Charles) Michael Palairet KCMG, born 24 August 1952. Educated at Ampleforth and Balliol College, Oxford (MA). An officer in the diplomatic service, 1980-97 (First Secretary at Moscow, 1983-85; Counsellor in Kiev, 1992-97); he was appointed OBE 1992. Director of Dessna Co. Ltd., 1997-date, JKX Oil and Gas Ltd, 1977-2016; Executive Chairman of Zander Corporation Ltd., 2006-date (Chief Executive, 2002-06); Chairman of Meteor Asset Management Ltd; Director of Ferravale Ltd; non-executive director of Hansa Trust plc and Group DF, a Ukranian-based international corporate group. Director of the British Ukranian Society and a Trustee of the Ukranian Catholic Foundation. He succeeded his father as 3rd Earl of Oxford and Asquith, 16 January 2011. A Liberal Democrat in politics, he was elected by his peers to be a member of the House of Lords, October 2014. He married, 2 August 1978, (Mary) Clare (b. 1951), literary historian, elder daughter of Francis Anthony Baring Pollen, the Catholic architect, and had issue:
(1) Mark Julian Asquith (b. 1979), Viscount Asquith, born 13 May 1979; educated at St. Andrews University (MA 2001); investment banker; married, May 2008, Dr. Helen Sonia Clary (b. 1984), daughter of Christopher Norman Russell Prentice, and has issue one son;
(2) Lady Magdalen Katharine Asquith (b. 1981), born 30 December 1981; married, 4 July 2015 at Mells, Robert Picton Seymour Howard (b. 1971), elder son and heir of Sir David Howarth Seymour Howard, 3rd bt.;
(3) Lady Frances Sophia Asquith (b. 1984), born 27 April 1984; educated at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford; Russian picture expert with Sothebys, 2007-date, currently as Senior International Specialist in New York (USA);
(4) Lady Celia Rose Asquith (b. 1989), born 9 August 1989; educated at Bristol University (BA, 1st class hons.; John Gould Greek prize); administrator and lecturer at Free University of Georgia, Tbilisi;
(5) Lady Isabel Anne Asquith (b. 1991), born 31 May 1991.
He inherited Mells Manor House from his father in 2011 and restored the house.
Baron Asquith of Bishopstone
(1) Hon. Luke Asquith (1919-94), born 18 November 1919; educated at Winchester; served in WW2 as Capt. in 60th Rifles; with Kleinwort Benson, merchant bankers, 1947-79; married, 2 July 1954, (Ethel) Meriel (1934-2003), ballet dancer, elder daughter of Maurice Cann Evans, and had issue two daughters; died 26 August 1994; will proved 12 January 1995 (estate £152,519);
(2) Hon. Jane Asquith (1922-78), born 3 July 1922; lived in London; died unmarried, 4 January 1978 and was buried at Bishopstone (Sussex); will proved 16 March 1978 (estate £109,245);
(3) Hon. Frances Rose Asquith (b. 1925), born 4 October 1925; married, 8 December 1951, Sir John Frederick Eustace Stephenson (1910-98), kt., Lord Justice of Appeal, second son of Sir Guy Stephenson CB, and had issue two sons and two daughters;
(4) Hon. Paul Asquith (1927-84), born 4 January 1927; educated at Eton; served in Coldstream Guards, 1945-48; married 1st, 18 July 1953 (div. 1963), Helena Mary (1932-2014) (who married 2nd, 15 July 1963, James Francis Leslie Bayley, son of Thomas Eliot Bayley and had further issue one son and one daughter), elder daughter of Hon. Geoffrey John Orlando Bridgeman MC and had issue one son and one daughter; married 2nd, 16 July 1963, Caroline Anne (b. 1933), younger daughter of Sir John Gawen Carew Pole, 12th bt., and had issue a further son and daughter; died 12 November 1984; will proved 29 March 1985 (estate £71,526).
He lived in London and had a holiday house at Bishopstone (Sussex).
He died 24 August 1954 and was buried at Bishopstone (Sussex), where he is commemorated by a tombstone; administration of his goods was granted 25 October 1954 (estate £12,064). His widow died 19 February 1964 and was also buried at Bishopstone; her will was proved 19 March 1964 (estate £32,719).
Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 2003, vol. 2, pp. 3036-39; A. Foyle & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Somerset - North and Bristol, 2011, p. 556; C. Aslet, 'The Souls' delight: Mells Manor, Somerset', Country Life, 11 February 2015, pp. 56-63; ODNB entries on H.H. Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford & Asquith; Julian Asquith, 2nd Earl of Oxford & Asquith, Margot Asquith, Countess of Oxford & Asquith; Anthony Asquith and Raymond Asquith; Wikipedia articles on the above and Sir Dominic Asquith.
Location of archives
Asquith family, Earls of Oxford and Asquith: family letters and papers, 19th-20th cents. [Private Collection: enquiries to Archives Sector Development, The National Archives]
Asquith, Anthony (1902-68), film director: correspondence, papers and film scripts, 20th cent. [British Film Institute Special Collections]
Asquith (later Bibesco), Elizabeth Charlotte Lucy (1897-1945): correspondence and papers, 1901-41 [Bodleian Library, Oxford: MSS. Eng. c.6718-19, d.3316, e.3292, d.3205, d.3207, d.3283, d.3287, c.6693-4, d.3308, c.6714, d.3318]
Asquith, Emma Alice Margaret ("Margot"), 1864-1945, Countess of Oxford & Asquith: diaries, 1876-1945 [Bodleian Library, Oxford, MSS. Eng. c.6665-6720, c.6729, d.3198-3218, d.3262-3319, e.3256-7, e.3280-92]
Asquith (later Bonham Carter), Lady Helen Violet (1887-1969), Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury: correspondence and papers, 20th cent. [Bodleian Library, Oxford]
Asquith, Herbert Henry (1852-1928), 1st Earl of Oxford & Asquith: political correspondence and papers, 1886-1929 [Bodleian Library, Oxford, MSS. Asquith]
Coat of arms
Sable, on a fess between three cross-crosslets argent, a portcullis of the field.