Thursday 12 January 2023

(533) Beit of Russborough House, baronets

Beit of Russborough, baronets 
The Beits were a prosperous middle-class Jewish family of merchants from Hamburg (Germany); an account of their earlier generations can be found here. However, Siegfried Beit (1818-81) and his wife Laura Hahn became Christians soon after their marriage. Their eldest son, Alfred Beit (1853-1906), founded the family fortune through diamond and gold mining activities in southern Africa. He moved to London in 1888 and built a mansion on Park Lane (Aldford House, designed by Eustace Balfour and Thackeray Turner), for which he accumulated an important art collection. In the 1890s he acquired a country house in Hertfordshire, Tewin Water, which he leased from the Cowper family. He was unmarried and most of his wealth passed to his younger brother, Sir Otto John Beit (1865-1930), who had followed him to South Africa and also settled in London, where he had a house in Belgrave Square. He sold Aldford House in 1912, but retained Tewin Water, buying the freehold in 1919. Like his brother, Otto was a philanthropist across a wide field, and in 1920 he was knighted and in 1924 raised to a baronetcy for his services to charity. He married and had two sons and two daughters. His eldest son joined the Dragoon Guards in 1916 but shot himself the following February, apparently because of apprehension about bullying by his fellow officers. 

The younger son, Sir Alfred Lane Beit (1903-94), 2nd bt., succeded his father in 1930, and was MP for St. Pancras, 1931-45. He bought a large Victorian house in Kensington Palace Gardens, London, which he had remodelled by Gerald Wellesley and Trenwith Wells in 1939. After losing his seat in the landslide general election of 1945, Sir Alfred moved to South Africa and made his home there until 1952, when the distaste he and his wife felt for the Apartheid policies of the South African government caused him to move back to Europe. Sir Alfred had been made aware of Russborough House in Co. Wicklow by the Country Life article about it of 1937, and he had copied some features of it in his remodelling of his London home. Coincidentally, it came on the market at just the time when he decided to leave South Africa, and he bought it in 1952 and carried out an extensive restoration over the next few years. Neither Sir Alfred nor his wife, Lady Clementine, had any close Irish connections, but they remained at Russborough until their deaths in 1994 and 2005 respectively, undeterred by two daring art robberies from the house, in the first of which they were badly maltreated. In 1976 the house and its surrounding land were made over to the Alfred Beit Foundation, a charitable trust charged with preserving the house and its collections for the benefit of the people of Ireland. The Foundation is the present owner of Russborough, although its stewardship has occasionally been controversial.

Tewin Water, Hertfordshire

From the late 13th century the manor of Tewin belonged to St Bartholomew's Priory, Smithfield, London, but soon after the priory was dissolved in 1540 the estate was sold to the Wrothe family, who probably had a house of some consequence here. After they sold it, c.1623, the owners were apparently non-resident until the time of James Fleet, 'a gentleman of great fortune' and the son of a Lord Mayor of London, who acquired the estate in 1713, 'repaired and beautified the capital messuage', and created a formal landscape around the house, the chief feature of which was an ornamental canal that extended eastward from the house, leading the eye to 'a very fine dove house' placed so as to act as an eyecatcher. 

Fleet died in 1733 and left the estate to his widow, who married next Gen. Joseph Sabine (for whom Tewin House was built), then Charles Cathcart, 8th Lord Cathcart, and finally in 1745 an unscrupulous Irish soldier of fortune, Robert Maguire, who, when she refused to hand over her jewels and the deeds of her properties to him, imprisoned her in his house in Ireland for more than twenty years. This remarkable and romantic story sounds like the plot of a novel, which is what it became at the hands of Maria Edgeworth, who based her Castlerackrent (1800) on the story. Lady Cathcart survived the ordeal and returned to Tewin Water, where she died aged 97 in 1789. 

Tewin Water: view of the house in c.1790 from the Oldfield Collection [Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies, DE/Of/6/226]
The house then passed to her neighbour, the 3rd Earl Cowper, who had bought the reversion of the property in 1785. He is said to have pulled the old house down and built another, but the dates don't work as the 3rd Earl died in December 1789 - just a few months after he gained possession - leaving as his heir a son of 13. The new 4th Earl was in the guardianship of his kinsman, Henry Cowper (1758-1840), a lawyer who was deputy clerk of the parliaments 1785-1826. In his view of c.1790, Oldfield shows a three storey house with a front of seven bays and narrow projecting wings at either end, which must have been the remodelling of the Tudor/Jacobean house carried out for James Field in the early 18th century and perhaps a little updated later: the porch in particular is likely to have been late 18th century. 

When the 4th Earl Cowper came of age in 1797 he gave the Tewin Water estate to his former guardian, who promptly called in John Thomas Groves to remodel it in Greek Revival style. This was a radical scheme which totally transformed the appearance of the house. Humphry Repton, who was brought in to remodel the grounds in 1799, remarked that the alterations to the house 'may almost be deemed an entire new building', although 'he [i.e. Groves] was confined by the old house to the present level of his floors'. Repton produced one of his famous 'Red Books' for Tewin Water in 1799, which includes several views of the house as altered by Groves. A modern plan of the house suggests it may still preserve elements of its 16th or 17th century predecessor, such as the large chimney-stack at the back of the entrance hall, but no fabric earlier than the 1790s is now visible. The narrow wings depicted by Oldfield seem to have been incorporated in the larger blocks either side of the portico. The east front now has seven wide bays, with a recessed centre adorned by two pairs of coupled giant Ionic columns, while the wings have Ionic angle pilasters, with an entablature between then and the low attic storey. The ground-floor windows are set in shallow segmental-headed recesses. A new three-bay south front was also created, overlooking the River Mimram, with two shallow bow windows between pilasters and attached coupled giant Ionic columns in front of a recess in the centre, which was later made into a new entrance.

Tewin Water: drawing by Humphry Repton, 1799, showing the house after its remodelling by J.T. Groves
[Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies, DZ/42]

Tewin Water: the house in the early 20th century, after enlargement and remodelling for Lord Limerick and Alfred Beit.
The estate was tenanted in the second half of the 19th century, but in 1892-96 extensive repairs and improvements were made by the 7th Earl Cowper for his tenant, the Earl of Limerick. Later it passed into the hands of Alfred Beit (1853-1906), for whom further alterations were made. Between them, Lord Limerick and Beit moved the entrance to the west side and enlarged and renovated the house so thoroughly that hardly a single earlier fitting remains inside. Alfred Beit also laid out a riverside walk along the River Mimram, with a series of small waterfalls made of artificial rock (probably Pulhamite). The house became a County Council school for deaf children in 1953 and after this closed, was sold and converted into flats in 1997-2001.

Descent: Crown granted by 1544 to John Cock of Broxbourne, who sold 1544 to his brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Wrothe (d. 1572/3); to widow, Mary and then to son Robert Wrothe (d. 1606); to son, Robert Wrothe (d. by 1617); to ?brother, John Wrothe; sold 1620 to Beckingham Butler; sold c.1623 to Richard Hale; sold to William Cecil (1591-1668), 2nd Earl of Salisbury; to younger son, Hon. William Cecil (fl. 1687); to son, Robert Cecil; to son, William Cecil, who sold 1713 to James Fleet (d. 1733); to widow, Lady Cathcart (c.1692-1789); reversion sold 1785 to George Nassau Clavering-Cowper, 3rd Earl Cowper; to son, George Augustus Clavering-Cowper (1776-99), 4th Earl Cowper; given 1797 to his cousin and former guardian, Henry Cowper (1758-1840); to kinsman, George Augustus Frederick Cowper (1806-56), 6th Earl Cowper; to son, Francis Thomas de Grey Cowper (1834-1905). The house was tenanted in the late 19th century by Lord Limerick and, from c.1895, by Alfred Beit (1853-1906), whose younger brother, Sir Otto John Beit (1865-1930), 1st bt., bought the freehold; to widow, Lilian Beit (1873-1946); sold after her death for use as a country club; sold c. 1952 to Hertfordshire County Council for use as a School for the Deaf; sold 1997 and converted to flats.

Russborough House, Blessington, Co. Wicklow

Russborough is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful and important houses in Ireland, both because of the richness of its internal decoration and because it has survived with remarkably little alteration since it was built. Fires in 1965 and 2010 caused significant damage to the saloon and the rooms above, and to the west wing, but the damage has been reinstated. The house was built for Joseph Leeson (1711-83), the son of a wealthy Dublin brewer and property developer, who inherited his father's wealth in 1739 and acquired the estate in 1741. He was MP in the Irish parliament for Rathcormack, 1743-56, when he was raised to the peerage as Lord Russborough, and he was subsequently advanced to a viscountcy in 1760 and to the Earldom of Milltown in 1763. Russborough was a remarkably pretentious house for him to build as a commoner, but was more in keeping with his eventual status as an earl: clearly he was a man who thought ahead and was determined to climb the social ladder.

Russborough House: the vast extent of the main front of the house
The designer of Russborough was Richard Cassels or Castle (d. 1751), an engineer and architect who made his career in Ireland, but who was born David Riccardo and was brought up in Dresden (Germany) as one of the four sons of an English-born military engineer of Jewish extraction called Joseph Riccardo. After serving for some years as a military engineer in Germany, France and the Netherlands, Castle came to England to study architecture and waterworks, and evidently had some contact with Lord Burlington's circle. By 1728 he was in Ireland, reputedly having been brought over by Sir Gustavus Hume to design Castle Hume (Co. Fermanagh). He was subsequently employed as a draughtsman and assistant by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, and after Pearce's untimely death in 1733 he took over some of the latter's contracts for public works and rapidly built a private practice as an architect. By the 1740s he was the most fashionable architect in Ireland, and the obvious person for a rich and socially ambitious client like Leeson to employ.

Unfortunately, no documentation of the building process at Russborough survives, so very little is known for certain about its construction and decoration, although the importance of the house means that architectural historians have pored over the stylistic evidence for clues with great care. Work seems to have begun fairly soon after Leeson acquired the property, perhaps in 1742 or 1743, and to have proceeded quite slowly, as the house was still incomplete in 1748, when it was said that 'artificers from most parts of Europe...[are] employed in this great new work' and it was called 'a noble new house now forming into perfection'. Leeson made two long visits to Italy in 1744 and 1751, largely for the purpose of acquiring art works to decorate the house. It was reported in 1745 that a ship containing sculpture and pictures he had bought on his first visit had been captured by the French, but not all of his treasures were lost, for his portrait by Pompeo Batoni, painted in 1744, was at Russborough later. Leeson's second visit to Italy in 1751 was probably occasioned by the need to acquire further works to replace those he had lost. While he was abroad, Castle died suddenly, and it is thought that the completion of the house thereafter was in the hands of Francis Bindon (1690-1765), a gentleman amateur architect who was associated with several of Castle's later works. Close analysis of the interior decoration of the house suggests that it is the product of several different hands, but only the decoration of the saloon can be attributed with any confidence to an identifiable name - in this case the Lafranchini brothers.

Russborough House: engraving by J.P. Neale, 1826
Castle and Leeson obviously believed that first impressions were important. The house is approached down a straight avenue set not on the axis of the main south front but to one side, with the result that immense width of the mansion bursts upon the eye suddenly as one enters the parade-ground sized forecourt. In fact, the house proper - the central block of seven bays by six - is not unusually large, but the Palladian layout with curved Doric colonnades linking it to pavilion wings of seven broadly-spaced bays is undeniably impressive, and beyond the wings there are arched entrances to the former farm and stable courts which extend the total width of the building to some 700 feet (for comparison, Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire, often called the longest house in England, is only 606 feet). The front commands a fine view south to the Wicklow mountains and the Poulaphouca reservoir, best appreciated from the broad flight of steps leading up to the front door on the piano nobile. 

Russborough House: the entrance front of the main block.
The central block has a fairly high basement storey surmounted by the piano nobile and an attic storey set above the cornice; a parapet with urns partially conceals the hipped roof. The centrepiece of the facade frames the central three bays of the principal floor and has a pediment supported on Corinthian pilasters set against the attic storey. Perhaps deliberately, the centrepiece is not visually strong enough to dominate the composition, so that the eye darts away to the framing colonnades and is constantly reminded of the wider context of the central block. On the north front of the house there are no flanking wings and the backs of those on the entrance front are cleverly concealed, so that from this side the house appears as a modest and demure seven-bay block with a somewhat attenuated Ionic portico and a flight of steps bridging the area around the basement for central emphasis.

Russborough House: garden front. Image: Irish Historic Houses

Russborough House: piano nobile plan of the main block, colonnades and wings.

The main block of the house is a triple pile, with the spinal walls running north to south. On the principal floor, the centre is occupied by just two large rooms, the entrance hall facing south and the saloon facing north. The west and east sides of the house are divided into three: on the west side the drawing room, tapestry room and music room; and on the east the dining room, staircase and library. The rooms are all about twenty feet high, although several of them have coved ceilings which make them feel rather less Brobdingnagian, and have panelled dados which at about four feet high are much taller than usual. Throughout the house there are splendid mahogany doorcases and fine sculpted fireplaces. The house was designed and decorated to provide a setting for the collection of pictures and sculpture which Leeson brought back from his visits to Italy in 1744 and 1751, and although the collection is no longer in the house (having been bequeathed to the Irish National Gallery by the last Lady Milltown in 1901), a series of photographs of the main rooms in the 1860s show how it was originally arranged. Today the walls are occupied by the Beit collection, which despite some recent sales remains an impressive assembly of old masters. 

Russborough House: entrance hall. 
The entrance hall has a massive fireplace of black Kilkenny marble (now slightly lower than originally intended after alteration in the 1950s) and five niches, intended to hold antique sculptures and casts after the antique collected by Leeson. The ceiling is very similar to an unexecuted design by Castle for Leinster House in Dublin, and so can confidently be attributed to him. This accounts for the contrast between its controlled and Palladian style and the more riotous Rococo forms found elsewhere in the house. 

Russborough House: the dining room in 1937, with the Kentian picture frames
for Barret's classical landscapes still in place. Image: Country Life.
To the right (east) of the hall is the dining room, which as constructed had Kentian-style rectangular stucco frames on the walls containing a series of nine classical landscapes by the Irish painter, George Barret. These frames were regrettably removed in the 1950s, but the coved ceiling survives. The rectangular centre of the ceiling is surrounded by a plain Greek key motif, within which is a single plaster wreath of shells and ribbons; but the coving has more elaborate decoration comparable with that in the drawing room on the other side of the hall. The plasterwork of both rooms is attributed by Joseph McDonnell to an unidentified continental stuccadore who worked at St Peter's church, Drogheda and on several houses in Dublin, and whose work is to be distinguished from that of the Lafranchini brothers in the saloon and elsewhere by its more baroque character, even though it is likely to be later in date than the Lafranchini work at Russborough.

Russborough House: drawing room with the Vernet paintings in the frames made for them.
The drawing room is now the only room in the house to have rich plasterwork on both the walls and the ceiling. The wall decoration here consists of four vigorously-modelled baroque stucco frames, designed to accommodate a set of four landscapes symbolising the times of the day by Claude Joseph Vernet, which were commissioned in Rome on Leeson's behalf in December 1749. The Vernets were sold in the early 20th century, but happily Sir Alfred Beit was able to buy them back and return them to their original stucco frames in 1971. The room also has the other rich coved ceiling which is attributed to the 'St Peter's Drogheda stuccodore'. The other rooms on the west side of the house are the Tapestry Room and Music Room, both of which have ceilings with rich plasterwork decoration. The Tapestry Room (also known as the Tea Room and Small Drawing Room), has a coffered barrel vault and a white marble chimneypiece, while the Music Room has a somewhat simpler ceiling with a coffered saucer dome. The plasterers working in these rooms have not been identified, but the greater formality of their design suggests that they may also have been designed by Richard Castle, like the entrance hall ceiling. 

Russborough House: tapestry room ceiling. Image: Steve Shriver (art+works)

Russborough House: music room ceiling. Image: Steve Shriver (art+works)
The great saloon is widely regarded as one of the most impressive rooms of its time anywhere in Britain or Ireland. The elaborate Rococo decoration of the coved ceiling is attributed to the Lafranchini brothers, and is both more delicate and more sparing than in many of the other rooms. The walls are hung with crimson cut velvet (formerly also used in several other rooms but preserved only here), which makes a good background for the display of pictures. 

Russborough House: the saloon.

Russborough House: saloon ceiling. Image: Steve Shriver (art+works)

Russborough House: detail of carved panel on the chimneypiece. 
The fireplace has a relief of Androcles and the Lion and is similar to a fireplace supplied to Uppark (Sussex) by Thomas Carter the younger of London. His client at Uppark was Sir Matthew Featherstonhaugh, who was one of Joseph Leeson's companions in Rome, so it seems overwhelmingly probable that Carter supplied the chimneypiece at Russborough too. 

The north-east corner of the house is occupied by the Library (formerly the Small Dining Room but made into a library for the Beits in the 1950s). Here again there is a coved plaster ceiling with elaborate decoration on the cusp between the baroque and rococo styles. However, the palate of motifs is rather different to that in the other rooms, and includes a form of diapering not seen elsewhere in the house, so it may be the work of yet another stuccodore.

Russborough House: the former dining room was converted into a library for Sir Alfred Beit in the 1950s. 

Russborough House: library ceiling, attributed to the Lanfranchini brothers. Image: Steve Shriver (art+works)
Next to the library and opposite the Tapestry Room is the principal staircase. This rises in two flights to the first-floor landing in a narrow space just twelve feet wide. The sober mahogany balustrade has balusters in the form of Doric columns, typical of Richard Castle's work, but contrasts strongly with the joyous Rococo plasterwork on the walls. 

Russborough House: staircase balustrade.
Image: Steve Shriver (art+works)
Russborough House: staircase hall.
Image: Elle Decor.

The stuccowork here feels very different to that in the other rooms, not so much because of an variation in the quality of execution but because of the unrestrained exuberance with which the walls are decorated. It has been suggested that it might be the work of assistants - perhaps Irish assistants - to the Lanfranchini brothers, who were here allowed to show what they could do, but although this sounds rather improbable, it must surely be by a different hand to the other rooms in the house. The staircase rises to an upper landing which fills the centre of the house on the upper floor and is lit by an oval lantern, the idea of which probably came from Edward Lovett Pierce's Bellamont Forest (Co. Cavan). The ceiling here was originally unsupported, but in the 19th century structural weaknesses became evident and two iron columns were inserted to support the lantern. These were encased in the present Ionic columns after the Beits acquired the house in 1952.

Russborough House: the first floor landing. The columns were introduced for structural support in the 19th century and clad in Ionic dress
by Sir Alfred Beit in the 1950s. Image: Steve Shriver (art+works).
The landscape around Russborough was developed alongside the construction and decoration of the house; indeed the house stands on an artificial terrace partly formed of clay dug out to create the lakes. John Rocque's map of 1760 shows a formal layout with an irregular lake south of the house, a formal pond north of the house and on axis with it, woodland cut through with rides or walks, and a geometrical arrangement of the landscape near the house. Analysis of aerial photographs shows that these features were set amongst extensive terracing, which was no doubt intended to be decorated with sculpture and decorative buildings, but it would seem that these elements of the project were never carried out, perhaps because tastes were beginning to change before work on the house was complete.
The Poulaphouca waterfall and bridge
on the Russborough estate, 1839. 
Image: National Library of Ireland
By the end of the 18th century it was not the rather flat surroundings of the house which attracted attention, but the romantic Poul-a-phouca waterfall near the source of the River Liffey in the Wicklow Mountains, which lay on the estate. Already in 1791 the 2nd Earl had created 'walks and palings in the most dangerous passages... moss-houses, caves and grottoes'. In 1822-27 a dramatic bridge across the Poul-a-phouca ravine was designed by Alexander Nimmo, with an elegant pointed arch and flanking crenellated turrets. By the 1840s, the amenities provided for visits by the 4th Earl and his neighbour, Col. Wolfe, who owned the opposite bank of the ravine, included 'covered seats, cool walks, grottoes [and] a ballroom', the latter being used for dancing in the season. The bridge survives, but all these picturesque amenities have disappeared, and the once-famous cataract has been reduced to a trickle by the construction of the Poulaphouca reservoir for water supply and hydroelectric purposes in 1937-47.

Descent: built for Joseph Leeson (1711-83), 1st Baron Russborough, 1st Viscount Russborough and 1st Earl of Milltown; to son, Joseph Leeson (1730-1801), 2nd Earl of Milltown; to brother, Brice Leeson (1735-1807), 3rd Earl of Milltown; to grandson, Joseph Leeson (1799-1866), 4th Earl of Milltown; to son, Joseph Henry Leeson (1829-71), 5th Earl of Milltown; to brother, Edward Nugent Leeson (1835-90), 6th Earl of Milltown; to widow, Geraldine Evelyn (1841-1914), Countess of Milltown for life and then to his nephew, Sir Edward Russborough Turton (1857-1929), 1st bt.; to widow, Clementina (1859-1934), who sold 1931 to Capt. Denis Bowes Daly (1894-1964); sold 1952 to Sir Alfred Beit (1903-94), 2nd bt., who gave it in 1976 to the Alfred Beit Foundation.

Beit family of Russborough, baronets

Alfred Beit (1853-1906) 
Beit, Alfred (1853-1906).
Eldest son of 
Seigfried Beit (1818-81) of Hamburg (Germany), silk merchant, and his wife Laura Caroline Hahn (1824-1918), born 15 February 1853. Apprenticed to Jules Porgès et Cie, diamond merchants of Amsterdam (Netherlands), where he developed a talent for examining and evaluating stones. In 1875, he was sent to Kimberley (South Africa) by his firm to buy stones, but once there he teamed up with Cecil Rhodes to buy out other prospectors and became one of a group of financiers who gained control of the diamond-mining claims in the Central, Dutoitspan, and De Beers mines, and he rapidly developed the Kimberley Central Company. In 1886 he extended his activities to the Witwatersrand goldfields, establishing the Robertson syndicate and (with Julius Wernher), Wernher Beit & Co., and bringing in American mining expertise to enable deep-level gold mining. He became life Governor of the De Beers Mining Company and a director of many other concerns, such as Rand Mines, Rhodesia Railways and the Beira Railway Company. In 1888 he moved to London, where he felt he was better able to manage his financial empire and to support his friend Cecil Rhodes' political ambitions. His South African assets were later structured around the so-called Corner House Group, which through its holdings in various companies controlled 37 per cent of the gold produced at the Witwatersrand's goldfields in Johannesburg in 1913. In 1895 he was involved with Rhodes in the planning and financing of the Jameson Raid, a disastrous attempt to trigger a coup in the Transvaal, and after a subsequent enquiry by the House of Commons he was obliged to resign as a director of the British South Africa Company, although he was re-elected a vice-president a few years later. He became a British subject in 1898. During his lifetime he made generous donations for scientific work and education in England and Germany, notably to the Royal School of Mines and the Universities of Oxford and Hamburg. Through his will he endowed the Beit Trust for infrastructure and later educational projects in Zimbabwe, Zambria and Malawi. He was unmarried and without issue.
He built Aldford House, Park Lane, as a London residence in 1894-97 and leased Tewin Water near Welwyn (Herts) from the Earl Cowper as a country seat. At his death his property was bequeathed to his younger brother Otto.
He died 16 July 1906 and was buried at Tewin (Herts); his will was proved 28 July 1906 (estate in England & Wales £3,000,000), but his total wealth, including his South African interests, has been calculated as £8,049,886.

Sir Otto John Beit (1865-1930), 1st bt.
Image: National Portrait Gallery 
Beit, Sir Otto John (1865-1930), 1st bt. 
Third son of Seigfried Beit (1818-81) of Hamburg (Germany), silk merchant, and his wife Laura Caroline Hahn (1824-1918), born 7 December 1865. After completing his education he joined the London branch of Jules Porgès & Co.
 in 1888, which from 1890 became Wernher, Beit & Co. He was sent to Kimberley (South Africa) to learn the diamond business and then to Wernher Beit's Johannesburg branch, H. Eckstein & Co., to handle the firm's share business. He was a member of the Johannesburg stock exchange and was elected its deputy chairman in March 1896. He became a naturalised citizen of the Cape of Good Hope in 1895 but returned to London the following year and became a British subject in 1905. He was made a partner in the stockbroking firm L. Hirsch & Co. which represented Wernher Beit on the Paris bourse. Surprisingly, he never became a partner in his brother's company nor a director of its successor, the Central Mining and Investment Corporation Ltd, despite being a major shareholder.  Like his brother Alfred, Beit was a staunch supporter of Cecil Rhodes and a close friend of Leander Starr Jameson (1853-1917), prime minister of the Cape Colony. However, he was not implicated in the Jameson raid which occurred while he was staying with Rhodes. He succeeded his brother as a Rhodes trustee as well as director of the British South Africa Company and of Rhodesia Railways Ltd, and in 1925 succeeded Lord Milner as chairman of the Rhodes Trust. In 1906 he inherited the fortune and picture collection of his brother Alfred and retired from business to devote himself to the management of the Beit Trust in South Africa and enhancing the family's collection of European paintings. He was a benefactor and governor of Imperial College, London, and founded the Beit Memorial Fellowships for Medical Research. In recognition of his philanthropy he was appointed KCMG, 1920, and created a baronet, 25 February 1924. He was awarded honorary degrees by the Universities of Edinburgh (LLD) and Cape Town (LLD), and was made an Officer of the Order of St John and a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, 1924. He married, 27 May 1897 at the Church of the Annunciation, Chislehurst (Kent), Lillian (1873-1946), daughter of Thomas Lane Carter of New Orleans (USA), and had issue:
(1) Theodore Hamilton Beit (1898-1917), born 29 April 1898; an officer in the Dragoon Guards (2nd Lt., 1916); committed suicide, 27 January 1917;
(2) Alice Angela Beit (1899-1982), born 30 September 1899; Master of the Hertfordshire Hunt, 1926; married, 2 June 1927 at St Paul, Knightsbridge (Middx), Arthur Clifford Howie Bull MBE (1899-1982), schoolmaster and later stockbroker, of Brynderwen Court, Bettws Newydd, Usk (Mon.), younger son of Rev. Reginald Bull of Heatherlands, East Grinstead (Sussex), schoolmaster, and had issue one son and three daughters; died 23 April 1982; will proved 16 July 1982 (estate £648,515);
(3) Sir Alfred Lane Beit (1903-94), 2nd bt. (q.v.);
(4) Lilian Muriel Beit (1904-76), born 25 June 1904; married, 22 March 1934, as his second wife, Sir (Richard) Gordon Munro KCMG MC (1895-1967), High Commissioner for Southern Rhodesia, son of Richard Gordon Munro, and had issue two sons; lived at Wepham Lodge, Burpham (Sussex); died 16 May and was buried at Burpham, 21 May 1976; will proved 31 August 1976 (effects in England & Wales £258,528).
He lived at 49 Belgrave Sq., London. He inherited Aldford House and the lease of Tewin Water (Herts) from his brother in 1906, but sold Aldford House in 1912 and bought the freehold of Tewin Water in 1919. It was sold after the death of his widow in 1946.
He died 7 December 1930 and was buried at Tewin (Herts); his will was proved 26 January 1931 (estate in England & Wales, £3,784,342). His widow died 7 November 1946 and was also buried at Tewin; her will was proved 26 February 1947 (estate £601,315).

Sir Alfred Lane Beit (1903-94), 2nd bt. 
Beit, Sir Alfred Lane (1903-94), 2nd bt.
Younger, but only surviving, son of Sir Otto John Beit (1865-1930), 1st bt., and his wife Lillian, daughter of Thomas Lane Carter of New Orleans (USA), born 19 January 1903. Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford (MA 1933). 
He succeeded his father as 2nd baronet, 7 December 1930, and inherited a fortune and an impressive art collection. He obtained a private pilot's licence in 1932 and served as an officer in the RAF Volunteer Reserve (Sq. Ldr.); Conservative MP for St Pancras South-East, 1931-45; PPS to Secretary of State for the Colonies, 1944-45; Trustee of Beit Trust; director of Nyasaland Hotels and Brewery Ltd. He continued to have strong links with Africa through the 1950s and 1960s and paid for schools, libraries and health clinics in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Botswana, although much of his investment was squandered by the post-colonial governments of those countries. After settling in Ireland he became a significant patron of the arts, but robberies at Russborough in 1974 (by the IRA) and 1986, in the former of which he and Lady Beit were ill-treated, led him to donate seventeen important paintings to the National Gallery of Ireland, of which he and his wife were trustees, in 1987; the Beit wing of the gallery was named in his honour. Although all but two of the stolen paintings were eventually recovered, the robberies understandably made the Beits nervous, and it says much for their strength of character that they remained at Russborough. He was awarded honorary degrees by the National University of Ireland, 1979 and Trinity College, Dublin, 1993, and in 1993 Sir Alfred and Lady Beit were made honorary Irish citizens. Sir Alfred married, 20 April 1939 at Northaw (Herts), Clementine Mabel Kitty (1915-2005), younger daughter of Maj. the Hon. Clement Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford DSO, but had no issue.
He lived at 49 Belgrave Sq., London and later at 15 Kensington Palace Gardens until 1945. After the war he moved to Wynberg (South Africa) but decided to leave South Africa because of the government's racial policies and bought Russborough House in 1952 and restored it. In 1976 he established the Alfred Beit Foundation to continue his work and to care for Russborough House, which was opened to the public. There were further art robberies from the house in 2001 and 2002, prompting the move of some of the more valuable pictures to the National Gallery in Dublin. The Foundation sold bronzes from the collection in 2006; Chinese porcelain in 2013; and a number of important pictures including two works by Rubens in 2015; the latter sale proving particularly controversial.
He died at Mount Carmel Hospital, Dublin, 12 May 1994 and was buried at Blessington (Co. Wicklow); the baronetcy became extinct on his death. His widow died 17 August 2005.

Principal sources

Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 1967, p. 218; B. Fitzgerald, 'Russborough', Country Life, 23-30 January 1937; J. Cornforth, 'Russborough House', Country Life, 5-19 December 1963; J.T. Smith, Hertfordshire Houses: Selective Inventory, 1993, p. 186; Russborough, County Wicklow: Conservation Plan, 2005; A. O'Boyle, 'The Milltown Collection: reconstructing an eighteenth-century picture hang', Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies, vol. 13, 2010, pp. 30-59; H. Albrecht, Alfred Beit: the Hamburg diamond king, c.2012; W. Laffan & K.V. Mulligan, Russborough: a great Irish house, its families and collections, 2014; C. Casey, 'Art and architecture in the long eighteenth century', in J. Kelly (ed.), Cambridge History of Ireland, vol. 3, 2018, pp. 422-26; S. Flood & T. Williamson, Humphry Repton in Hertfordshire, 2018, pp. 159-84; J. Bettley, Sir N. Pevsner & B. Cherry, The buildings of England: Hertfordshire, 3rd edn., 2019, p. 555; ODNB entries on Sir Otto John Beit and Sir Alfred Lane Beit; 

Location of archives

No significant accumulation is known; some records are likely to be held by the Alfred Beit Foundation.

Coat of arms

Azure, on a bend argent, three tents of the field, garnished or.

Can you help?

  • Can anyone direct me to other early views of Tewin Water, prior to the remodelling of 1797-99?
  • If anyone can offer further information or corrections to any part of this article I should be most grateful. I am always particularly pleased to hear from the descendants of families associated with a property who can supply information from their own research or personal knowledge for inclusion.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 12 January 2023.