To understand the collection of furniture, paintings and other works of art in Torridon House, one must first know the story of the King family and their various homes over the course of the past two hundred years. The auction of Torridon: Home of the Earls of Lovelace on 28th October contains the remnants of that rich history. It makes reference to various people and places in the family story: from the grand portraits and Lord Chancellor’s purses of 1st Lord and Lady King, through the silver dinner service bearing the crest of the 6th Lord and his new wife, to the magnificent dining table probably made for the 7th Lord and Lady. From the important group of gothic furniture which the 1st Earl commissioned for Horsley Towers, to the guns and trophy heads of the 4th Earl, a big game hunter in East Africa before the Second World War, this collection of artefacts is intimately entwined with an illustrious family through the ages. Here Gavin Strang, Head of Sale, tells us more about this remarkable family.
The fortunes of the King family, firstly as Barons King and later Earls of Lovelace, began with a certain Peter King (1669–1734) of Exeter, Devon. He was the son of Jerome King, originally from Glastonbury, and Anne Locke, sister of influential Enlightenment philosopher John Locke (whose portrait is lot 283 in the sale). After his early education Peter joined his father’s grocery business. Peter was a sharp, clever and studious boy and his predilection for learning was soon apparent. He spent most of his spare money on books and his spare time reading them. In 1691, when he was only twenty-two years old, he published his first book: An enquiry into the constitution, discipline, unity, and worship of the Primitive Church that flourished within the three first centuries after Christ. His uncle John Locke was impressed and advised his father to send him to Leiden University to pursue further study, with the aim of joining the higher branches of the legal profession. After three years in Leiden, Peter moved to London and entered himself as a student at the Inner Temple. In 1698 he was called to the Bar and progressed rapidly on the circuit and at Westminster, where he acquired a high reputation for his legal knowledge. In 1699 he was returned to Parliament as the representative for Beer Alston, Devon, which he continued to hold through the five succeeding Parliaments. He made his maiden speech in the house, which was well received, in 1702. In 1704, he married Anne Seys, daughter of Richard Seys of Boverton, Glamorganshire and in 1710 bought Ockham Park, Surrey, which was to become the family seat for successive generations. Together they had four sons and two daughters. Peter went on to hold the office of Lord Chief Justice from 1714 and then in 1725 he became Lord Chancellor, a position he held for eight years. Peter was created 1st Lord King, Baron of Ockham, in 1725 by King George I. He retained his ‘seat on the woolsack’ as Lord Chancellor under George II until, in 1733, a paralysis compelled him to resign the Great Seal and his office. He died the following year and was buried at Ockham.
Each of Peter King’s four sons succeeded to the title. Firstly John, 2nd Baron King of Ockham (1706–1740). He married Elizabeth Fry, daughter of John Fry of Yarty, Devon, in 1726. John was Outranger of Windsor Forest between 1726 and 1740 and Member of Parliament for Launceston between 1727 and 1734. He died at the age of thirty-four without children. He was followed by Peter, 3rd Baron (1709–1754), who died unmarried at the age of forty-five. A portrait of Peter as a boy hangs on the stairs at Torridon (lot 206). Then came William, 4th Baron (1711–1767), who also died unmarried. Lastly was the youngest brother, Thomas, 5th Baron (1712–1779). Thomas married Catherina Troye, daughter of John Troye, one of the sovereign council of Brabant, in 1734. Although unconfirmed, it is presumably his portrait that hangs above the fireplace in the library (lot 285).
The title then passed to Thomas’s son Peter (1736–1793), 6th Baron. Educated at Eton and then Trinity College, Cambridge, he married Charlotte Tredcroft, daughter of Edward Tredcroft of Horsham, Sussex in 1774. The majority of the impressive silver dinner service in the sale is hallmarked for the year of their marriage and engraved with their joint arms (lots 116-126).
They had three sons, the eldest of whom, also Peter (1776–1833), 7th Baron, became the next to inherit. Like his father, he was educated at Eton and then Trinity. After university he made a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, passing through Switzerland, Germany and the North of Italy. He took his seat in the House of Lords and made his first speech on 12th Feb 1800. In 1804, he married Lady Hester Fortescue, daughter of Hugh, 1st Earl Fortescue, neighbour to the King’s extensive estates in Somerset. They would pass some months of the year in London, but the greater part of their time was spent at Ockham, to which Lord King was very much attached, and he made many improvements to both the house and grounds. It is interesting to think that much of the late Georgian and Regency furniture at Torridon, including the impressive dining table (lot 102) and the library table (lot 35), which sits beneath his portrait (lot 30), may well have been commissioned by Peter for Ockham around this time, before making its way to Torridon in the 20th century. It was at Ockham in the winter of 1828 that he prepared his material for his account of: The Life and Letters of John Locke, published the following spring. Upon his untimely death in 1833, the Earl Fortescue said of him: “He retained to the last the unclouded serenity of mind and sweetness of temper which had distinguished him through life”. By this time the King fortunes had grown and his seats were listed as Ockham Park in Surrey; Ashley Combe and Meyners, both in Somerset, and Yarty House, Devon.
The eldest of the 7th Baron’s two sons, William (1805–1893), the 8th Baron King of Ockham and 1st Earl of Lovelace, was another significant figure in the family history. Following an established pattern of education at Eton and Trinity, he entered the diplomatic service and became secretary to Lord Nugent, Lord Commissioner of the Ionian Islands. It is thought that the portrait of a young man in Hellenic costume on the stairs at Torridon is a picture of William at this time (lot 201). William was recalled to England in 1833 on the relatively sudden death of his father, so his stay was reasonably short. However, he spoke modern Greek, French, Italian and Spanish and took the opportunity to travel extensively; he met the legendary Ali Pasha of Egypt and was perhaps not at all like the typical stuffy member of Corfu British society of the time so wonderfully described in Edward Lear’s diaries. He retained a love of the Eastern Mediterranean, which later influenced some of his architectural endeavours and presumably led to the collecting of such items as Amadeo Preziosi and Luigi Mayer’s paintings (lots 249-252) and possibly the unusual inlaid table from the library (lot 297), as well as various books on the region.
At the age of twenty-eight and now Lord King, William returned to Ockham. Two years later he married Augusta Ada Byron, the only legitimate daughter of George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron, the celebrated poet. This brought the promise, in marriage settlement, of vast estates in the Midlands and also political advantage, for Ada’s cousin was Lord Melbourne, the Whig Prime Minister. Honours duly came his way and he was created an Earl in 1838, one of the elevations made to celebrate the coronation of Queen Victoria, who had succeeded to the throne in the previous year. The Lovelace title was chosen to mark the fact that Ada was, through the families of Byron, Milbanke, Noel and Lovelace, a descendant of the Barons Lovelace of Hurley. In 1840 William also became Lord Lieutenant of the county of Surrey; one of the highest social and political positions to which one could aspire in English county society at the time, and a position he held until his death some fifty-three years later.
It has been suggested that as Lord Lieutenant, he wished to ‘make a show’ in the county and so he bought the East Horsley estate from William Currie, a London banker, in 1840. He also avidly bought up every bit of land and any houses or cottages that came on the market in the surrounding area. This was all made possible by the sale of properties in the Midlands. The house on the estate was originally known as East Horsley Place, or Park. Mr Currie had pulled down ‘an old house’ on the site and in the 1820s commissioned Sir Charles Barry to build a house ‘in a plain Tudor style’. William continued to live at Ockham whilst he set about aggrandising Horsley, soon to be known as Horsley Towers after the addition of the stuccoed tower and great banqueting hall. He finally moved to Horsley Towers in 1846, making it his principal seat and letting out Ockham. He was his own architect and immensely proud of his achievements. He shaped the four arched trusses in the roof of the great hall using steam heat. In 1849, two years after its completion, he delivered a paper to the Institute of Civil Engineers on the formation of the trusses. No less an engineer than Isambard Kingdom Brunel was to have said: “In fact, he had seldom seen so simple and useful a roof, possessing such an amount of stiffness, and at the same time avoiding all thrusts upon the walls”. Further praise for his skills came at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851 when he won a medal for brickmaking, which pleased him greatly. The Ockham brickworks produced all the decorative bricks and moulded escutcheons used in his buildings. William was extremely proud of all his family connections and everywhere on his buildings, inside and out, could be found armorials of both his family and that of his wife. They can also be found on some of the furniture, most significantly the impressive gothic sideboard produced for Horsley around this time (lot 104).
His wife, Lady Ada (1815-1852), was a significant figure in her own right. She had been a child prodigy: able to tackle geometry and mathematics, play the violin and guitar and fluent in several languages all by the age of eight. At eighteen she was presented at court, where she enjoyed the social life, but was said to have preferred astronomy. Married to the ‘easygoing’ William King at twenty, Ada was an extrovert in dress and conduct as well as a mathematical talent. A visit to the Mechanical Institute for a lecture on the ‘difference engine’ introduced her to mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage. Babbage and she struck up a close friendship and he became a regular visitor to their home. Between 1842 and 1843, she translated an article by Italian military engineer Luigi Menabrea on the engine, which she supplemented with an elaborate set of notes of her own, simply called: Notes. These have been considered by many to be the first computer program. She also however had a weakness for gambling and attempted to ‘beat the horses’ with a mathematical model which sadly went disastrously wrong, leaving her deeply in debt. At the same time, cancer began to take hold of her. She was forced to admit her gambling debts to her husband and much ill will was generated in the family at this time, with the Earl becoming estranged from her and their children. She died in 1852 at the age of thirty-six.
Following Ada’s death, William travelled for a while. He then returned to Horsley and embarked on the architectural works in polychrome brick for which he is best known. In 1858 he built the tall round tower by the lake. The cloisters followed, together with the chapel and approach tunnel in 1859. His overall style has been termed ‘vaguely Rhenish Gothic’ although with other aspects that are almost Turkish and betray his affections for the Eastern Mediterranean. After the towers, he began work on the village during the 1860s, building a series of cottage lodges and bridges. He also improved both Ockham Park and Ashley Combe in an Italianate style between the 1830s and 60s. The 1st Earl was enlightened in the management of his estates and cared for his tenants. He founded the Ockham Schools long before a system of elementary education arrived in 1870. In 1860, he adopted the additional surname and arms of Noel by Royal license, having received the tenancy for life of the Wentworth properties through Anne Isabella Milbanke, mother of Ada. In 1865, William married again, to Jane Crawford Jenkins, widow of Edward Jenkins, an administrator in the Bengal civil service. They had one son.
It was William who added a foothold in Torridon to the family’s estates. In 1886 he purchased the 12,000 acre Ben Damph Forest on the south side of Loch Torridon from Duncan Darroch, owner of the Torridon Estate. The sporting lodge, Ben Damph House, was built the following year (the bells from its clock tower, dated 1887, are lot 18).
After Willam’s death in 1893, the title passed to his surviving second son from his first marriage, Ralph King-Milbanke (1839–1906), 2nd Earl of Lovelace and 13th Baron Wentworth. In early life an Alpine mountaineer, in late life he wrote: Astarte; a fragment of truth concerning George Gordon Byron, sixth Lord Byron, recorded by his grandson, published in 1905 in an edition of 200 copies. He married, firstly, Fannie Heriot, daughter of Reverend George Heriot, in 1869, and secondly, Mary Caroline Stuart-Wortley, daughter of Rt. Hon. James Archibald Stuart-Wortley in 1880. Mary was a trained architect and, as Countess of Lovelace, was a patron and collabrator with the architect and designer Charles Voysey.
The Lovelace title then passed to his step-brother, from the 1st Earl’s second marriage, Lionel Fortescue King (1865–1929), 3rd Earl, who resumed the name of King only by Royal Licence in 1908. Educated at Eton and then the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he went on to gain the rank of Captain in the service of the 9th Lancers. He was decorated with the award of the Companion, Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) and gained the rank of Major in the service of the Northumberland Fusiliers and the General List during the First World War. Some of the more military items in the sale, such as the pair of lances from the gun room (lot 187) and the prints from the First World War probably owe their presence in the house to Lionel. In 1895, he married Lady Edith Anson, daughter of Thomas George Anson, 2nd Earl of Lichfield and they had four children. In 1920, Lionel sold Horsley Towers to the famous aircraft maker Sir Thomas Sopwith. Ockham had passed into the hands of the family of the 2nd Earl, so he moved to Whitwell Hatch, Haslemere, as well as retaining a house in Knightsbridge and the Ben Damph estate.
His son, Peter Malcolm King (1905–1964), became the 4th Earl. Educated at Eton, after his father’s death Peter spent a lot of time in Africa, where he bought estates near Lake Babati in what was then Tanganykia (modern day Tanzania). As a youth, Peter had been sent out by his father to stay with Sir Stewart Gore-Browne to ‘become a man’, during which time he developed a passion for the place. He was a renowned big game hunter and friends with many of the colourful characters in East Africa in the interwar period, including the famous Swedish hunter Baron Bror von Blixen-Fineke, husband of Karen Blixen, who later wrote: Out of Africa, about her time on the continent. Peter built the ‘Fig Tree Club’ for his friends and neighbours overlooking Lake Babati, which was run at one point by Bror’s second wife, Jacqueline ‘Cockie’ Birkbeck. The club served as the social centre of the area and is probably the “little hotel overlooking the lake” that Hemmingway wrote of in Green Hills of Africa. Peter was particularly good friends with Bror’s nephew, Baron Carl-Frederik von Blixen-Fineke and after Carl-Frederik’s early death in 1950 Peter married his widow Manon Lis, instantly becoming step-father to four young children. Their own son, also Peter, was born the following year. Peter had left Africa before the outbreak of the Second World War, so the Earl and his new family divided their time between the Von Blixen estate in Sweden and Ben Damph, their remaining home in Britain. The remoteness of Torridon must have appealed to a man who had spent many years in Africa, as well as the opportunity to hunt deer on the hills. Some of the sporting guns in the sale (lots 193-199) belonged to Peter and the heads of a water buffalo shot by Peter and an elk shot by Carl-Frederik (lots 164-165) hang side by side the gun room, testament to their great friendship. Latterly a reclusive character, when Peter heard they were to build a road past Ben Damph to Shieldaig, he took the opportunity to buy Torridon house and estate in 1960 and moved across the loch.
Situated on the northern shore of Upper Loch Torridon, beneath the dramatic mountain ridges of Beinn Alligin and Liathach, the house was built by Duncan Darroch in 1876 on an estate purchased from Colonel A. C. McBarnet in 1873 and previously in the possession of the Lords of the Isles. The architect was Alexander Ross, who had built Inverness Cathedral. Constructed from the ancient Torridon red sandstone, it was designed for family living, as well as to support parties during the shooting and fishing seasons. Darroch, who had sold the south side of the estate to the 1st Earl of Lovelace, was a well-loved landlord. So much so, in fact, that on his death in 1910 one hundred men of Torridon carried his body from the house to a spot on the shore road on its way to the family burial place at Gourock. An inscribed stone by the road marks the spot to this day. The estate was then bought by James Buchanan, 1st Baron Woolavington, who made his fortune in the Black & White whisky company. He later sold it to Canadian banker and manufacturer Sir Charles Blair Gordon. Gordon died in 1939 and eight years later the estate was sold to Richard Gunter from Yorkshire. On his death in 1960, Peter, 4th Earl, reunited the estates of Torridon and Ben Damph. They then turned their former home into a hotel. Today it is the Torridon Hotel, although no longer in family hands.
On the 4th Earl’s death in 1964, his son Peter Axel William Locke King (b. 1951) became the 5th Earl of Lovelace. The estate, including the dramatic mountain ranges, was given to the government in lieu of his father’s death duties and three years later was transferred to the National Trust for Scotland, who looks after it today. The hotel was also sold off around this time. Peter spent his childhood in Torridon and Sweden, as well as Denmark, the South of France and the Canary Islands. After school in London, he stayed in the capital and went into the nightclub business. He divided his time between London and Torridon and later ran various boutique shops in Inverness, as well as buying back the Torridon Hotel in the late 70s. He married Kirsteen Kennedy, daughter of the gaelic singer Calum Kennedy, but the marriage didn’t last. After his mother died in 1990, Peter sold the hotel again and spent more time in London, where he took his seat in the House of Lords. He met his second wife, Kathleen, Countess of Lovelace, whilst visiting mutual friends in Turkey in 1993. He was involved in the property business in London during the 1990s, but then decided to spend more time at Torridon from the beginning of the 21st century. Now ready for another move, Peter and Kathleen have decided it is time to pass both Torridon House and its accumulation of treasures on to new owners.
Torridon: Home of the Earls of Lovelace | 28 October 2015 | 10am | Edinburgh
Gavin Strang | 0131 557 8844 | email@example.com