Greys’ talk is society’s perfect cup of tea

Howick Hall and gardens
Picture by Jane Coltman
Howick Hall and gardens Picture by Jane Coltman

Morpeth Antiquarian Society

The lecture title, The Greys of Howick Hall, by Mr Peter Regan, attracted a large audience of members and visitors to the February meeting of MAS.

Peter’s talk lived up to all expectations — being informative, of local interest and beautifully illustrated.

The Greys have owned land at Howick since 1319 and lived there since the mid 16th century.

The previous owner of the estate was John Mautalent, whose lands were confiscated after he defected to the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

Howick Hall was built in 1782 by Willian Newton, of Newcastle, on the site of an old pele tower, for Sir Henry Grey, a bachelor. In 1809 the Hall was extended for the Second Earl by George Wyatt, moving the entrance to the north side and making a south terrace. The two quadrants were enlarged and the Bathing House added in 1813. The main reason for these extensions would appear to be to accommodate the Earl’s 15 children.

In 1926 the main hall was gutted by fire and was rebuilt to a design by Sir Herbert Baker, altering the north facade with a portico.

In 1967 the first Lord and Lady Howick left for Howick Grange, and the architect Philip Jebb altered the west wing for use as a family home by the Second Lord Howick in 1973.

The charity, Howick Trustees, was set up in 1979 to run the gardens, tea rooms and visitor centre, which opened in 2013.

The First Earl Grey, Charles, 1729-1807, was born in Falloden and was the younger brother of Henry, who had inherited both Howick and Falloden.

Charles, the Second Earl Grey, 1786-1807, entered the Lords in 1801 on succeeding to his father’s title.

Henry George, 1802-1894, was the Third Earl Grey and entered Parliament in 1826 and was MP for Winchelsea, Northumberland, North Northumberland, and then Sunderland.

Albert Henry George Grey, the Fourth Earl, 1851-1917, had many successful careers, being an MP, Administrator of Southern Rhodesia, Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland and Governor General of Canada. One of his children, Lady Victoria, was the grandmother of Joyce Grenfell.

It was the Fifth Earl Grey, Charles Robert, 1879-1963, Chairman of the Church Commissioners, who transformed the Howick Gardens.

His eldest daughter, Lady Mary Grey, 1907-2002, inherited Hawick in 1963. She married Evelyn Baring, the youngest son of the Earl of Cromer and their son, Charles Evelyn Baring, 1937-, Second Baron Howick of Glendale was a Director of Barings Bank, 1969-82, and created the Howick Arboretum.

Mr Regan elaborated on probably the most famous of these characters, Charles the Second Earl Grey, who in the 1790’s had an affair with Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire. Their daughter Eliza was brought up by her grandparents in Falloden and was an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York.

On inheriting Howick Hall in 1801, Charles went to live there with his wife, Mary Elizabeth Ponsonby. A career politician, he was Prime Minister and Leader of the House of Lords from 1830-1834, and saw through the Great Reform Bill of 1832 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

It was for Charles that a Chinese mandarin blended a tea to suit the water at Howick, using bergamot to offset the taste of the lime in it. Lady Grey used it to entertain in London, and it proved so popular that she was asked if it could be sold to others and Twinings began to market it. Earl Grey tea is now sold worldwide, but the Greys did not register the trade mark and as a result they never received any money from its sale.

The lives of Charles and Mary’s children were very interesting, including Louisa who married John Lambton, of Penshaw Monument fame; General Sir Charles Grey, Private Secretary to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria; Admiral Sir Frederick Grey, First Naval Lord; Lady Mary Grey who married the First Viscount Halifax, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretary of State for India; Admiral George Grey; the Reverend Sir Francis Richard Grey, Rector of Morpeth who married the Earl of Carlisle’s daughter Lady Elizabeth Howard; Georgina who never married, but lived to the grand old age, for that time, of 99.

Allan Wade thanked Peter Regan for this wealth of fascinating information, which was greatly appreciated by all present.

A last word about the Greys — if you take a walk up Newgate Street, Morpeth, to St James’s Church, you can read the inscription on the gates commemorating the life and work of Francis Grey, Rector of Morpeth.