The hidden story of the Mitford dynasty

Mitford Old Manor House.
Mitford Old Manor House.

According to the man who has highlighted the impressive accomplishments of a family that owned acres of land near Morpeth over centuries, the Mitford dynasty has everything that Downton Abbey had and more.

The new book from Hugh Mitford Raymond, who could have been living in Mitford Hall if he was notified of his lineage earlier, focuses on people who made important contributions at home and abroad.

Hugh Mitford Raymond.

Hugh Mitford Raymond.

The great-great grandson, nephew and cousin to the last seven squires of Mitford since 1042, carried out extensive research over six years and The Mitford Family – Nearly A Thousand Years of History reveals the untold story of the dynasty.

At various points, it was part of the very heart and soul of British culture and politics in London and it had an influence in a number of countries as the British Empire grew.

For example, funds bequeathed by Robert Mitford enabled the first hospital to be built on what was then known as the subcontinent of India in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in the 1850s.

The famous six ‘Mitford sisters’ – Nancy the novelist, Pamela a cook and farmer, Diana, who married Sir Oswald Mosley, Unity, friend of Hitler, Jessica, who became a communist and writer, and Deborah, the Duchess of Devonshire who died two years ago – are mentioned in the book.

But Hugh is keen to stress that they were the junior branch of the family and the main branch of the family were very different.

As for the author, born in Durban, South Africa, in 1953, he grew up on the back of a horse and went on to train and breed racehorses.

Widely travelled, he has lived in six countries and speaks four languages, working for various international companies such as IBM and the United Nations. He has now been resident in the south of France for more than 20 years.

He discovered that he was part of the main Mitford line in the early 2000s. His great-grandmother was Mary Margaret Mitford, daughter of the 31st squire of Mitford Castle and Estate, Edward Ledwich Mitford.

However, believing there was no heir to pass the estate on to, the former squire, Brigadier Edward Cecil Mitford, Hugh’s second cousin once removed, put it up for sale in 1993 and it is now in the hands of the Shepherd family.

Hugh said: “The situation could have been completely different to what it is now, but in saying that I would have been absolutely aghast if I suddenly found out back then that the estate had been passed on to me as it would have been very difficult for me to manage all this land in a foreign country.

“Once I came over to Mitford and started finding out more about the family, I quickly found out that there was a fascinating story to tell.

“I decided six years ago to do some extensive research and write a book and it has been a joy and passion to put it together.

“I received help from the Mitford Historical Society, went through many books as well as documents written by my ancestors and read letters that had been collected by my grandmother over many years.

“My book reveals the hidden face of the dynasty and I hope it changes the perception of the name Mitford.

“Everyone knows of the Mitford Girls, but very few people know about the main-line Mitford family.

“They largely remained discreet and democratic, as opposed to the amazing and entertaining frivolity of the girls.

“There is great potential for a television series as it has everything Downton Abbey had and more. There are a few parties interested in taking it forward with me, but this project will take time.

“The book also has information about the features at the estate and associated buildings and their development.

“For example, Lt Col John Philip Mitford (my great-great uncle) was responsible for re-building Mitford Church between 1874 and 1877 for £14,000 – the equivalent of about £1.5million today.

“I’m pleased that the Shepherd family is doing a wonderful job in preserving the castle and the ruins and keeping the place in excellent condition, something that the Mitford family was unable to do because of a lack of funds.”

The people featured in the book include Bertram Mitford. He was the first person to travel around South Africa to interview the survivors of the Zulu War at Isandlwana – the worst defeat of the British during the Victorian era.

He then wrote 44 bestselling novels covering the history of southern Africa.

Edward Ledwich Mitford, Hugh’s great-great-grandfather, was a British government official and a specialist on the Middle East as he resided and travelled there for a number of years and spoke the languages of all the tribes in the region.

In 1845, he was the first British official to present a plan to ministers that described the practicalities and process of achieving an independent state for the people he described as ‘the Jewish Nation’.

Originally published by J. Hatchard & Son, his book remained out of print due to family indifference. Hugh re-published an edited version last year to make people aware of something that he believes ‘cannot continue to be hidden from public knowledge’.

He added: “Everything detailed in Edward’s appeal and the plan he presented in 1845 took place and happened – it set the framework for the British mandate that followed in 1920 to 1948.”

The Mitford Family – Nearly A Thousand Years of History, priced £16.99, and British Policy In The Middle East & The Creation Of Israel, priced £7.50, are available from the Amazon and Waterstones websites.