Archive | June, 2013

The Last Will and Testament of the Right Honourable Maurice

26 Jun

I’m spending a few days with my family in Somerset but I’ve taken a mountain of papers with me to try and stay on track. Today I’ve been looking at Maurice’s will, made in 1954 (four years before his death), and the copy of the lease made between the National Trust and Cheshire Council when they took over the running of Tatton Park in 1960. It’s interesting to see his priorities in his will, and the extent to which his wishes were honoured (or ignored!) after his death with the new estate management.

The Will begins by listing the gross value of the Tatton estate, which was £1,717,572: 18s: 4d. If I use a calculator to estimate what that would be in today’s money it is around £39,886,831. I’m not sure how accurate or useful these figures are, but the scale of it surprised me somewhat as I believed that Maurice had sold off a lot of his land to fund his businesses and property in Kenya. The value of his Kenyan interests are not listed in the will. The story has always been told that the National Trust were reluctant to take Tatton as there was no cash endowment. I’ve also heard that Maurice was in the bad books with his British bank as he argued that all his money was in Kenya. I will make it my goal to better understand the truth of his financial situation, as stories would paint him either as a prince or a pauper. As so many local estates in Cheshire were leased or demolished in Maurice’s time, it is no mean feat that Maurice held on to Tatton and was able to invest in new land and property abroad.

Another interesting feature of the will is that he makes surprisingly few personal bequests, and that none of these are family members. Of the 8 people mentioned, 5 were men who lived either locally or on the estate, and two were his land agents in Manchester. The largest sum given was £2000 to Kenneth Selwood, who Maurice originally befriended as a boy on a ship journey in 1920 (another example of his close/strange/generous/spontaneous relationships with boys). Selwood acted as a trustee, and theirs was arguably one of the closest friendships forged in Maurice’s lifetime. It could be said that these bequests show that Maurice was closest to ordinary men and was keen to reward service, and that his own family were somewhat distant from him. As he had no children or neices and nephews, his closest family were cousins, and Maurice was satisfied for the occupation of Tatton to come to an end with the end of his direct line. This seems hard to believe, but I really feel that Maurice knew he had been lucky to hold onto Tatton for as long as he had, and that he knew the time of genuine aristocratic power had come to an end. However, this didn’t stop the newspapers from speculating ‘who will inherit the Tatton Millions?’ after his death in 1958

Something that came up from my wider reading was the variations of the fate of private collections after the death of their owner. Whilst some owners were keen for their children to inherit the collection, they often recognised that their children did not have the same passion for it as themselves, and would make reluctant heirs of collections they cared little for. It was more likely that private collectors collected with the end goal being museum acquisition either in their lifetime (signalling recognition of their taste and skill) or posthumously (to ensure that their name and legacy would be remembered). The third, and least likely, option was that private collectors wished their collection to end with their death, and be dispersed or disposed of, enabling the ‘sacred’ objects to re-enter the commodity market and be re-collected by others.

For me, the most interesting part of Maurice’s will is that he specifies his wishes for his collection before that of the wider historic mansion collection and the garden and grounds. It is the first issue he addresses. He makes it very clear that the fate of the collection was foremost in his mind and that it was the most important part of what he had to leave behind. He wished for the collection to be ‘permanently maintained as a museum collection and should be houses at my said mansion house’. As Maurice had kept his collection privately in his lifetime, it had become a monument to his own prestige and identity. If he had gifted it privately to a nominated heir, this sense of identity might have been lost, superceded, or tampered with. Similarly, if he had given it to a museum, it was likely that the collection would have been broken up to be stored and displayed separately, thus losing connections with the collector. By insisting that it remained at Tatton, Maurice ensured that the collection would be kept as he had ordered it, and that his legacy would be preserved in the best way possible.

In the end, his generous act allowed a wide variety of people to marvel at his collection, but it has also offered Maurice up for mass interpretation and speculation, when in his own lifetime he tried so hard to live discretely.

Mingling with the Greats

18 Jun

One of four main points I am looking out for in Maurice’s diaries is his relationships with people- including who he met, their status and the nature of their relationship. My supervisors want me to have a full understanding of what other people were doing the things he did, and what people were helping him and shaping him as a collector. Every time a name pops up I am highlighting it, and trying to figure out who they were and what they offered Maurice. From doing this, I have noticed a great variation in the status of his friendships, from children to the elderly, and from working class to aristocracy, and yet much consistency in the types of relationships he has with them.

One of my favourite stories is Maurice taking a ship from Buffalo to Detroit on August 30th 1918. The ship is crowded and many are without berths. Maurice offers his spare bunk to a 12 year old boy, Freemont Allen, of Detroit. A few weekends later he takes Freemont away on a fishing trip weekend, teaching him how to cast and reel. This sparks a friendship between the two, and every weekend Maurice picks up Freemont for more fishing adventures. When Maurice returns to the USA in 1919, he renews his friendship with Freemont and continues to take him fishing. I won’t speculate now about his relationships with boys (perhaps this will be another post one day, or come talk to me about it for all the mysterious and creepy details!), but this relationship with a working class boy seems harmoniously simple and mutually beneficial for Maurice and Freemont, despite the gulfs in age, status and nationality.

And now to the Greats. I am looking up every name mentioned, which is largely unfruitful as many people were land agents, landowners or acquaintances not worthy of much notice or remembrance in the internet era. So it is always rewarding when I get a hit on certain names that make my hair stand on edge. These relationships show me the high circles that Maurice could penetrate and his equality of status with great men of renown. They re-affirm my sense of incredulity that Maurice is not as well known as his contemporaries, and not more celebrated for his achievements.

Here are some notable acquaintances that I would like to share with you from my glossary:

– Cecil Rhodes, 1853-1902, business man, mining magnate, politician

– Melton Prior, 1845-1910, Victorian artist and war correspondent for illustrated London news.

– Carl Ethan Akeley, 1864-1926, taxidermist, conservationist, sculptor, wildlife photographer. Considered the father of modern taxidermy. Made specimens for the great American Museums including Natural History Museum.

– Robert Abram Bartlett, 1875-1946, Newfoundland navigator and artic explorer

– Poultney Bigelow, 1855-1954, American journalist and author. A correspondent with many notables of the day including Kaiser of Germany. Wrote several books on colonial administration. Was an early supporter of Mussolini and Hitler. Founded first magazine devoted to amateur sports- Outing.

– William Thomas Brownlow Cecil, 5th Earl of Exeter, 1876-1956, very close in age and status to Maurice and owned neighbouring ranches in British Columbia.

– George Eastman, 1854-1932, founder of Eastman Kodak company.

– Madison Grant, 1865-1937, American lawyer, famous for racist eugenics policies on immigration and conservation work for animals. Very influential with New York elite, including Theodore Roosevelt

– Colonel Hoare (Francis Richard Gurney Hoare) British Born South African Military Commander. Served with British army in RFC in 1917, awarded OBE.

– Ian Donald Roy MacDonald,1898-1920, WW1 flying ace

– Ernest Thompson Seton, 1860-1946, American who was a notable author, wildlife artist and founder of the Woodcraft Indians, and one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America. Influenced Baden-Powell

– Orville and Katherine Wright- 1871-1948, and 1874-1929 brother and sister. American aviation pioneers.

These are just some of the names that have cropped up on my readings so far up until 1919. I am still frantically reading the diaries, still recording more that I need to because they are just so interesting. I really can’t help myself! I’m just beginning the 1920’s where focus shifts away from British Columbia to Africa, and the real meaty details of his collecting are about to emerge.

In other news, I had an enjoyable weekend at my first 2 day conference. ‘Unofficial Histories’ was hosted by the Manchester Centre for Regional History, which is where I am based at MMU. I regretted that I only attended as a delegate and didn’t submit a paper, as it was a friendly conference and would have eased me in nicely to the scary world of speaking and presenting.

It was the second event I’ve been to where multiple sessions run simultaneously and you pick which ones you go to. I always worry I will pick badly and miss something more relevant to me. I listened to a variety of papers, a lot from PhD students like me, ranging from the portrayal of Mary Pickford, a history of the portrayal of disability, a re-display at the Tower of London, Victorian Imperialism in pantomimes and the history of the Manchester ‘Toast Rack’ (I’m guessing most Manchester people know this building!). It’s useful for me to see how others go about their research, what approaches they take, how they interpret their findings and so on. It’s always nice to see the variety of topics being researched, and it’s funny how they can relate to your own in ways you never guessed they could! For example, Maurice has just mentioned seeing some American silent movies, and I would probably not have understood the reference before hearing the paper on the era of Mary Pickford, who I had never heard of before the conference!

As always, stay tuned for more stories, and thanks for staying with me so far.

The wrong Billy

8 Jun

After enjoying a naughty but nice week off in the sunshine and neglecting both blog and research, it’s time to get back down to business.

I’m still enjoying reading Maurice’s diaries and am getting better at staying focused on only noting down what I decided was needed for my research. However, this hasn’t stopped me from laughing out loud at some of Maurice’s random thoughts and acts. I’ve just narrowly avoided snorting out my drink at reading:

July 14 1918: ‘went to a trance medium, who however found that she was unable to get into a trance with me. A humbug probably’

Poor Maurice, I wonder what he was hoping to find out?

Maurice’s early diaries are sporadic and brief, and although I can pick up clues from past reminiscences, I wont be able to build up a very full timeline of his activities between 1900-1920. After this date, there is a diary for almost every year and his collecting becomes much more organised and dedicated. However, despite a lack of description, I’m starting to pick out objects that I will look at in more depth as case studies. The selection, collection, and interpretation of these objects will show Maurice’s progression and growth as a collector.

From having read bits and pieces of the diaries before I began my PhD, I became fascinated with Maurice’s relationships with his ‘boys’, or as Roald Dahl would say ‘one’s native servant’. I want to know more about how these relationships and the involvement of ‘boys’ in the act of collection. For Roald Dahl during his time in Tanzania, an outsider to the race of ’empire builders’, his ‘boy’ became a friend and an ally in a strange environment. Maurice’s relationships with his boys are a chaotic blend: fraught, complex, humorous and tender.

In general, it is easy to translate a sense of superiority where his boys are concerned. Sebastian, his guide in Sardinia, is frequently blamed for Maurice not finding good quality hunting ground, not having his ammunition loaded fast enough, missing his shot and for giving him bad information about the breed, size and quality of the target. He is blamed when his tent falls down in the night and for forgetting to wake him up at a certain time. Later in Africa, I remember him nicknaming a boy ‘lumpy head’. Yet ‘boys’ were also generally well respected and renowned by colonial travellers and settlers. Maurice often writes down recommended names in certain regions. in 1902 Maurice wishes to hire a guide for fishing on the Campbell River in British Columbia. He is told by his acquaintances to use ‘Billy’ and so he sends word to the Indian village for them to send him Billy. A man duly arrives and says that he is ‘Billy’. After a day or two with his guide, a friend points out that he has the wrong ‘Billy’. He promptly dismisses him and tells him to come back with the real Billy. Unlike poor Sebastian, Maurice seems to have a bit more respect for Billy and admires his skills and equipment.

The diary for 1902 has been the most fascinating yet as Maurice follows prospectors up the Yukon to the Klondike during the Gold Rush. Daylight hours are scarce and the weather is treacherous. He misses the last scheduled boat by a day, then finds another boat that attempts to make the journey out of season. After struggling for several days and having abandoned most of the luggage, the boat admits defeat and limps home.

I’m currently reading the diary from the year 1918 when Maurice was in New York and Canada overseeing the contract for H-16 planes during the war. In typical Maurice style he manages to spend most of his time on fishing trips, and even acknowledges that most of his days are spent ‘skrimshanking’ (avoiding duties and obligations). That is another word added to my glossary, and one aptly relevant to me this past week!