By Haydn Brown.
This is a brief account of a family’s links, not only to numerous historical personalities, but also with the seaside resort of Cromer in Norfolk. It pays particular attention to two members of the family line who, despite leading different and extraordinary lives, both had a special and direct link with the town of Cromer.
But we begin by mentioning Sir Curtis Miranda Lampson, who was an American-born self-made millionaire who became a British citizen and was made a baronet in 1866. This reference to him is brief and refers only to his death, on his Sussex estate at Rowfant near Crawley Down in 1885, and the fact that he was succeeded, as a hereditary knight, by eldest son George – who, again, has no relevance to this particular story. Our real starting point is with Sir Curtis Lampson’s only daughter, Hannah Jane, and her husband, Frederick Locker; it was these two who kicked off a fascinating story of the ‘Locker-Lampson’s.
Captain William Locker:
Things will become clearer; but at this point, mention must be made of Frederick Locker’s line and his paternal grandfather – Captain William Locker, He was somewhat famed for being in charge of HMS ‘Lowestoffe’ in the latter part of the 18th century which, on its 1777 voyage to the West Indies, included a very young and newly promoted Lieutenant Horatio Nelson – later to become Admiral Lord Nelson. It would appear that Locker’s influence on young Nelson was immense because, on 9 February 1799, the then Lord Nelson wrote the following to his old captain:
“I have been your scholar; it is you who taught me to board a Frenchman by your conduct when in the Experiment; it is you who always told me ‘Lay a Frenchman close and you will beat him’, and my only merit in my profession is being a good scholar. Our friendship will never end but with my life, but you have always been too partial to me.”
Nelson was also staying with William Locker at Greenwich in 1797 when, at Locker’s behest, Lemuel Francis Abbott came down to make the oil study on which all his Nelson portraits were based. These eventually numbered over forty. William Locker was a noted patron of the arts, having a number of portraits painted. He was also the driving force behind the creation of a National Gallery of Maritime Art; he suggesting the Greenwich hospital:
“…should be appropriated to the service of a National Gallery of Marine Paintings, to commemorate the eminent services of the Royal Navy of England.”
He died before his vision could be realised, but it was subsequently put into effect by his son, Edward Hawke Locker.
Frederick Locker was born in Greenwich Hospital in 1821, the son of Edward Hawke Locker. Frederick would always be poor in health, but he did mature into a distinguished man of letters and poetry. His first marriage, in 1850, was to Lady Charlotte Bruce, daughter of Lord Elgar, the man who famously brought the marbles to England from Athens. The couple had a single child, Eleanor, who later married Lionel Tennyson, a son of Alfred Lord Tennyson. It was Alfred, the poet laureate, who had been a good friend of Sir Curtis Lampson (see above) and it is likely that, through this connection, that Frederick Locker met Hannah Jane Lampson. In 1874 these two married and took on the family surname of ‘Locker-Lampson’. This double-barrelled appellation was the wish of Sir Curtis in his Will, and it enabled the couple to live at Rowfant and to be an integral part of the line’s inheritance. It was on the ‘Rowfant’ estate where Frederick Locker and Hannah Jane produced four children.
Frederick Locker-Lampson, as he now was, became somewhat of a minor figure in the Victorian literary field, but he did publish “London Lyrics” in 1857 – his first book of poetry. However, being well regarded as a convivial host and raconteur, he did become well acquainted with all the big literary names of the age, including Charles Dickens, the Brownings, Thackery and Trollope. One of his observations was: “The world is as ugly as sin – and almost as delightful.” In 1886 he produced “The Rowfant Library”, a catalogue of his much-lauded collection of rare books; then in 1892, this work inspired the founding of the Rowfant Club in Cleveland, USA, for people “interested in the critical study of books to please the mind of man”. Frederick Locker-Lampson died at Rowfant in 1895. Following his death, his youngest son, Oliver Stillingfleet Locker-Lampson inherited the likes of Newhaven Court in Cromer, Norfolk, and was to lead a quite different life from his father, but equally an extraordinary one. – here we come to the crux of this blog.
Newhaven Court, Cromer and Oliver Locker-Lampson:
Newhaven Court at Cromer was built in 1884 by Oliver’s father, Frederick as the family’s summer holiday home. In its time, under the Locker-Lampson’s ownership, Newhaven Court played host to many eminent visitors; they included Oscar Wilde, the King of Greece, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Prince Philip (who, as a boy, stayed in a chalet in the grounds) and, of course, Albert Einstein. It was to become an hotel later in the 20th century, but before it was destroyed by fire on 23 January 1963.
It was Oliver Stillingfleet Locker-Lampson who ended up as a Commander with the awards of CMG and a DSO to his name. But as a young man, he first became a journalist. Then in 1910, at the age of 30 years, he became a Conservative MP. War broke out in 1914 and in the December of that year he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a Lieutenant Commander; this was a post vouched for by Winston Churchill, the then First Lord of the Admiralty. It was Churchill who asked Locker-Lampson to establish an armoured car unit for the Royal Naval Air Service. Following training, Oliver’s No. 15 Squadron went to France but stalemate in the trenches negated the unit’s potential for mobile warfare. Then in 1916, in a show of support for Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his hard-pressed army, Locker-Lampson sailed with his squadron of armoured cars to the arctic port of Murmansk. From there his vehicles ranged as far south as the Caucasus Mountains skirmishing with the invading Germans.
Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson, always the self-promotional sort of figure, never denied talk of his involvement in the Russian court’s plots and schemes – and even of being implicated in the murder of the “mad monk” Rasputin who wielded a malign influence over the Tsarina. Apparently, he also proposed a plan to spirit the Royal Family out of Russia following the Tsar’s abdication in March 1917! Post-war, and as an MP, he warned of communist meddling in Britain’s home affairs – that still rings a bell in recent times! In 1931 he formed the Blue Shirts movement with the intention to “peacefully fight Bolshevism and clear out the Reds”. Their motto was his own family motto: “Fear God! Fear Naught!” In 1932 the Nazi Alfred Rosenberg visited Britain and was introduced to Oliver who was truly shocked to learn that Hitler believed the Blue Shirts to be fellow fascists.
The Locker-Lampson’s always had several houses but their principal home was still ’Rowfant’ in West Sussex; and it was following the death of Oliver’s mother, Hannah, in 1915 when Frederick’s eldest son, Godfrey Locker-Lampson, inherited Rowfant, whilst the younger Oliver, inherited Newhaven Court in Cromer. He married twice; his first wife was Californian Bianca Jacqueline Paget in 1923. Their wedding saw the couple dragged through the streets of Cromer in a car by members of his old armoured car squadron of World War 1 – only for her to die on Christmas day in 1929. His second wife was Barbara Goodall, whom he married in 1935 – it was she who was in his company, as one of the secretaries who guarded the physicist Albert Einstein when he was in residence on Roughton Heath in 1933. Oliver had given refuge to Einstein after the latter had received death threats while living in Belgium; he even took Einstein to meet Winston Churchill. In Norfolk, Oliver is probably only remembered as the person who gave refuge to Albert Einstein – and was the resident of Newhaven Court.
Overall, Oliver Locker-Lampson’s life in Cromer, between 1909 and 1936, was relatively genteel – if one ignores his exploits during the First World War, Russia in particular and his later ‘crusading’ as an MP. In Cromer, he helped to raise funds for an X-ray unit at the local Hospital, and opened a gymkhana to raise funds for lifeboat families who had lost crewmen at sea. It was in August 1925 when Oliver, ‘the commander’ and some of his ‘guests’, whom he used to collect into his ‘celebrity culture group’, organised a fete on Cromer Pier, with stalls, bunting, 500 lights and fancy dress – this was the forerunner of today’s annual carnival in the town.
During his time as an MP, Oliver Locker-Lampson assisted Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie find sanctuary in Sussex and evade the clutches of Mussolini. He also helped scores of ordinary Jewish families fleeing Nazi Germany. Then in the Second World War he joined the Home Guard and gave his full parliamentary support to Prime Minister Churchill. He retired from politics at the 1945 General Election and died in 1954. He is buried along with his father and other family members in Worth churchyard, West Sussex. Unfortunately, he missed the boat to becoming famous himself; and, given his life-long efforts and achievements, he never did receive the recognition that he probably deserved.
On 23 January 1963 Cromer’s Newhaven Court Hotel, formerly ‘Newhaven Court’ was destroyed by fire; more than a century of Locker-Lampson holidays and heritage ended in fierce flames and billowing smoke. The fire was tackled by 40 firemen, who battled through the night, trying to confine the flames to the first floor, but:
‘Flames and sparks leapt high into the night from the roof, 50ft above the ground. Fire gained a good hold till the whole roof was ablaze.’
Gone also were its tennis courts, said to have been the best in England and used by some professional players of the time. Prior to the fire, the hotel was run by Mr and Mrs Donald Stevenson, who had leased it from local building firm A.G. Brown. It was said at the time that Donald Stevenson and his 15-year-old son, ran upstairs to fight the blaze, but were beaten back by smoke. The building was never restored, and was demolished to make way for homes and flats at Newhaven Close and Court Drive.
Sources: Various but includes:
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