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Lowther, Claude William Henrylocked

(1870–1929)
  • Keith Grieves

Claude William Henry Lowther (1870–1929)

by Walter Stoneman, 1919

Lowther, Claude William Henry (1870–1929), politician and art connoisseur, was born at Binstead on the Isle of Wight on 26 June 1870, the third child and only son of Francis William Lowther (1841–1908), an officer in the Royal Navy, and his wife, Louise Beatrice de Fonblanque. His father was an illegitimate son of William Lowther, the second earl of Lonsdale, and received a legacy of £125,000 on the latter's death in 1872. Educated at Rugby School, Lowther entered the diplomatic service and was honorary attaché at Madrid in 1894. Early in 1900 he joined the eighth battalion, imperial yeomanry, an irregular force of mounted infantrymen who embodied the national resolve to defeat the Boers. On 30 March 1900 he was a member of a composite force, commanded by Sir Charles Warren, defending Faber's Put farmhouse. During the Boer attack Lowther, assisted by two troopers, rescued two severely wounded men under heavy fire, an action which led Warren to recommend him, unsuccessfully, for the Victoria Cross.

In the ‘khaki’ election of October 1900 Lowther was elected the Unionist MP for North Cumberland, a constituency which included part of the family's estate. He was defeated in the general election in 1906 and, dismayed by his rejection by the voters, spoke out against the threat which socialism posed, in his view, to the survival of the crown, Lords, and empire. He was an enthusiastic tariff reformer and asserted the cause of 'national efficiency', including provision for infant welfare and pensions. Defence of empire and functional privilege, interest in selective social reform, and indictment of collectivism were sustained themes of his political life. As chairman of the Anti-Socialist Union, in 1908–11, he made bitter, forthright, and often personalized attacks on the leaders of parliamentary Labour. After a further defeat in January 1910, he regained the North Cumberland seat in December 1910, and from 1918 to 1922 he was MP for the Lonsdale division of Lancashire as a coalition Unionist.

Although Lowther made politics his profession, he cultivated wider interests in the theatre and connoisseurship. Out of friendship Herbert Beerbohm Tree presented his play The Gordian Knot at His Majesty's Theatre in 1903. The text does not survive. It was heartily booed on its first performance and, courageously, Tree came before the curtain at the end of the performance to mollify the audience. Their friendship survived. Max Beerbohm, brother of Tree, drew two caricatures of Lowther.

In 1910 Lowther bought Herstmonceux Castle, near Hailsham, Sussex, which was the picturesque ruin of one of the finest domestic buildings of the fifteenth century. He rebuilt the great gateway tower, south front, and large parts of the banqueting hall. The inhabitable parts of the castle were refurnished. Lowther collected Flemish tapestries, Jacobean oak furniture, and old English glass to recreate an enchanted twilight castle where he met his guests 'dressed in black knee breeches, black silk stockings and buckled shoes as though for a Court Ball' (Carter, 462–3).

Lowther owned only 183 acres and was barely capable of obtaining squirearchical influence over the fiercely independent trug makers of Herstmonceux. However, this 'Sussex man' (Sussex Daily News, 13 Nov 1914) received official sanction to raise new battalions of the Royal Sussex regiment in September 1914 which quickly overtook, in efficiency and popularity, the efforts of traditional raisers of manpower in the county. His three Southdown battalions acquired a distinctive character as ‘Lowther's own’. Among the small villages and seaside resorts of Sussex he successfully applied the ‘pals’ principle which ensured that men who enlisted together, trained, fought (and died) alongside each other. It echoed the imperial yeomanry of 1900 as an expression of active citizenship in time of national crisis. The raisers of service battalions rarely, however, commanded their own formations in France and Lieutenant-Colonel Lowther was no exception. He returned to Herstmonceux Castle a disappointed man.

In 1916 Lowther clamoured for conscription for both military and industrial purposes. He identified with the powerful sacrificial impulse in wartime Britain. Early in 1918 he urged the creation of an army of veterans above military age because it was 'the tragedy of their lives' for fit older men not to be able to fight for their country (Hansard 5C, 101, 24 Jan 1918, 1242). He had a Milnerite regard for the uniformed patriotic working man.

At the end of the war Lowther's preoccupations were those of an anti-modernist. He expressed dissatisfaction with the design of the victory medal and hoped that Kipling would become poet laureate. His voice was among those which demanded massive financial compensation from Germany. At home his attachment to national efficiency was not translated into a vision of social reconstruction but ended in the mire of the ‘anti-waste’ movement. His support for Horatio Bottomley's 'Economy with Efficiency' campaign confirmed his hostility to Lloyd George. He was among the majority of Unionist MPs who voted to end the coalition with Lloyd George at the celebrated meeting held at the Carlton Club on 19 October 1922. In declining health, he withdrew from politics at the general election held in November 1922.

Lowther's letters to political allies reveal a pungent and witty observer of high politics. His intellectual arrogance, poetic instinct, mild eccentricities, and hostility to coalition unionism damaged his parliamentary career but conveyed his insistence on remaining an independent-minded country gentleman. His capacity for friendship was demonstrated in his correspondence with Winston Churchill, who in August 1916, at a low point in his political career, was lent a cottage in the grounds of the castle. Lowther died, unmarried, at his London home, 43 Catherine Street, Westminster, on 16 June 1929. No parliamentary colleagues were present at his memorial service. His two sisters erected a plaque in his memory in All Saints' Church, Herstmonceux. In his partial restoration of Herstmonceux Castle, Lowther created a monument of beauty but the contents were auctioned at his death; restoration work at the castle was resumed in 1932 by Sir Paul Latham and his architect, Walter H. Godfrey.

Sources

  • The Times (18 June 1929)
  • b. cert.
  • H. Owen, The Lowther family: eight hundred years of ‘A family of ancient gentry and worship’ (1990)
  • K. Grieves, ‘“Lowther's lambs”: rural paternalism and voluntary recruitment in the First World War’, Rural History, 4 (1993), 55–75
  • W. W. Williams, The life of General Sir Charles Warren (1941)
  • H. Pearson, Beerbohm Tree: his life and laughter (1956)
  • M. Beerbohm, A book of caricatures (1907)
  • K. D. Brown, ‘The anti-socialist union, 1908–49’, Essays in anti-labour history, ed. K. D. Brown (1974)
  • G. D. Martineau, A history of the royal Sussex regiment [1955]
  • Sussex Daily News (Aug 1914–April 1915)
  • Sussex marching song, ‘Lowther's own’, W. Sussex RO, RSR 11/60
  • V. B. Carter, Winston Churchill as I knew him (1965)
  • Viscountess Wolseley, ‘Herstmonceux Castle’, Sussex County Magazine, 2 (1928), 180–84
  • sale catalogues (1929) [Christie, Manson & Woods]
  • The valuable contents of Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex [sale catalogue, 5–6 Nov 1929]
  • inscription to the memory of Lt. Col Claude Lowther, All Saints' Church, Herstmonceux
  • sale particulars, Herstmonceux Castle Estate, 1910, E. Sussex RO, CHR 21/4

Likenesses

  • B. Stone, photograph, 1902, NPG
  • M. Beerbohm, caricature, exh. Carfax Gallery 1907, repro. in Beerbohm, A book of caricatures
  • W. Stoneman, bromide print, 1919, NPG [see illus.]
  • M. Beerbohm, caricature, repro. in The Sketch (20 May 1903)

Wealth at Death

£100,554 2s. 1d.: probate, 17 Aug 1929, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

West Sussex Record Office, Chichester