Tribute: Lord of the Manor, Lionel Abel-Smith

Lionel’s Funeral

Lionel in younger days

At 8.30am on Friday 15 April, a group of forty boarded a coach to Hastings Crematorium for Lionel Abel-Smith’s funeral.

Sarah Potter – who has succeeded to his title as Lord of the Manor – has given an old map of Wendover to St Mary’s Church which now hangs in St Mary’s Centre for all to see.

The ceremony was Humanist, in accordance with Lionel’s wishes, and attended by about 150. It included a tribute from his nephew, Michael Fairbairn, and another to his partner of 57 years, Edward Hunter. A friend, Ulrike Kinchin, played Sarabande from Bach’s 5th Cello Suite. Finally an extremely moving and emotional tribute was given by our own Mr Anthony Mogford (see pages 22 & 23 of this edition of Wendover News). We all left to Verdi’s Brindisi from La Traviata.

We were very generously entertained and it was most interesting to meet various relatives and friends and also have a chat to a very lost Edward, whom I had met before. Although it may sound a funny thing to say about a visit to a funeral of a much loved man it was an honour to be on that coach with so many good friends from Wendover. I think it showed what a tremendous community we have here in Wendover.
Jennifer Ballantine

Funeral address for Lionel Abel-Smith

When I was asked to add a tribute to Lionel, a tribute from the village of Wendover, my concern was and is whether I could do justice to Lionel – a wonderful man and such a wonderful friend too.
My Mary and I have known him for some 59 years. When we first met him, he had not long inherited the Wendover Estate. He took me on as a tenant of one of his farms, a tenancy I enjoyed for some 21 years. At the time we were both in our early twenties. I was single, from a non-farming background and although I was trained, my experience was limited by service in the forces. Looking back, you would expect me to say he had great foresight, but without doubt it was a brave decision. Over the years since then, I have been privileged to count him as a friend.
When he inherited the Estate, many properties were in great need of modernising, and parts of the Estate were sold to enable this. He took his role as Lord of the Manor of Wendover seriously and he believed he had a duty to help and encourage life in the village. Quietly, during those early years, he helped in so many ways. He was patron or president of so many organisations. He gave every encouragement to all who worked for the community, particularly those who not only enjoyed their particular interest, but who also worked hard to make the various organisations successful, organisations that do so much to make Wendover a wonderful place.

He was, as you know, an accomplished musician himself. His love for music was demonstrated through his personal sponsorship of Wendover Music concerts, and his support for Wendover Choral Society. He was an active President of Wendover Cricket Club for over fifty years. He regularly came to the Liffré Twinning Association visits and astounded all by his fluent French. He dined out for a long time on the one and only occasion being addressed as “My Lord”.
We are also much indebted to him for his influence in preserving the centre of the village in spite of successive planning committees.

Back in 1976, Lionel sadly, but probably rightly, came to the conclusion that the Wendover Estate would not survive another lot of Death Duties. He wanted to form a Trust that would provide Wendover residents and associations with financial assistance for worthwhile projects. Thus Wendover Community Trust was formed, and he dedicated it to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, marked later by the unveiling of a plaque on one of the Pound Street Cottages. With incredible generosity, he put into the Trust 11 cottages, 3 commercial properties and substantial other assets. The Trust is managed by 7 Trustees, of whom Lionel was one, and we are most happy that he recently appointed Sarah as a Trustee.

In the 33 years of the Trust’s existence it has awarded grants in excess of £1.25 million, in the form of over one thousand individual grants. Each of Wendover’s 80 organisations has had at least one grant. Help has been given to young people in providing tools for apprenticeships, books and equipment for university and college students, books each year to our school libraries. The Trust has provided equipment for at least three severely disabled children and chairlifts and other aids for elderly people. It has also contributed to major projects such as the village community bus, the refurbishment of the Memorial Hall and currently the refurbishment of our lovely St Mary’s Church. We would not have a covered 25 metre swimming pool without the contribution from the Trust and our village sports facilities are really second to none with the help of grants from the Trust.

How do you describe such a man as Lionel? There cannot be any village or town to have had such an asset. Many of you will know of his sharp and critical mind, desperately interested right to the end in everything. He always advised but never directed. He attended every meeting of the Trust, even when it became increasingly difficult for him to get about. We will miss him greatly at our meeting in May. You will not be surprised to know that he was not slow in telling his Chairman and the Clerk to the Trust of every grammatical error in anything put on paper. He had at times an impish streak, particularly if things were going too well. I remember that after his last meeting I vowed to try and avoid Lionel and Sarah sitting opposite each other – sadly I shall never know if it would have worked.

Three years ago, Lionel was deservedly awarded the Wendover Society’s President’s Prize in recognition of his life’s work in Wendover. This I know gave him enormous pleasure, as did a book beautifully bound in leather containing photos and tributes presented to him at the same time.

We have all lost a wonderful friend. I finish by quoting a nursing sister from the last time he was in hospital, who said: He was the gentleman of all gentlemen.
Tony Mogford
Friday 15 April 2011

Wendover Scouts

In 1959, while searching for a suitable site on which to erect a headquarters building, 1st Wendover Scouts approached Mr Abel-Smith for help. Three parcels of land which he owned were considered; in Dobbins Lane, in Clay Lane and on the site of the present cricket ground near Wendover railway station.

Following negotiations, the Lord of the Manor offered the present cricket ground site. He then changed his mind and opted for Clay Lane instead. The scout group was initially disappointed but decided that Clay Lane was more central and went on to buy this land. (A wise decision, considering the present routing plans for HS2!)

A wooden ex-RAF hut was erected at the foot of Clay Lane and was later replaced by a permanent brick building, which was declared open by Mr Abel-Smith in January 1990.
Jim Cobley Hon. Scouter and Archivist 1st Wendover Scout Group

The Vicar of Wendover

Logo of St. Mary's Church - Wendover

When I arrived as Vicar in 2002 I invited Lionel for tea and a chance to see the new vicarage. It was a pleasure to get to know him and for me to hear something of his love of Wendover and his sense of shared responsibility for many of the activities, events and organisations here. More recently St Mary’s is particularly grateful for his interest and support of our building project. His recognition of the importance of such an historic building and his love of the community meant he was willing to significantly help us achieve our aim of refurbishing St Mary’s Church so that we might be more useful and accessible to the community we seek to serve.
Mark Dearnley

St Mary’s Church

The Smith family have been benefactors to St Mary’s for over 200 years: Lionel’s great grandfather Rev Albert Smith, Vicar of Wendover 1867-1914, largely funded the major restoration and extensions to the church, 1868/9. There are a number of memorials to the family including some of the 19 century stained glass windows. Lionel was a generous benefactor to St Mary’s, most recently making a substantial donation to the 2010/11 refurbishment of the church. As Chair of the current fundraising committee, I represented St Mary’s at Lionel’s funeral in Hastings on 15 April.
David Prestcott

Logo of the Twinning Association

Wendover Twinning Association

The committee and members of Wendover Twinning Association will remember Lionel Abel Smith with gratitude and affection, both for his interest in our exchanges and for his obvious enjoyment whenever he had the opportunity to meet visitors from Liffré. During his speech at the unveiling of the Twinning Stones next to the Library he was greeted with cheers and laughter by the French visitors when he explained his title of Lord of the Manor by telling them that his ancestors had been granted money and land by the king for raising money towards fighting the French “. . . and now here we are entertaining you!”

Although his support and interest dated from the beginning of the Association in 1976 he was very pleased to be asked to become our President in 2006 and our French friends will, I’m sure, remember his charming speech in French at the dinner to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of our link. He will be greatly missed by many organisations and many individuals in Wendover.
Barbara Jefford

Wendover Music

Lionel was a keen supporter of Wendover Music through the Wendover Community Trust but if there was a concert he particularly liked he would send us a personal cheque for £2000. He was a capable amateur cellist and if ever we invited a cellist he would not only contribute personally but would come up from the South Coast for the concert. We had quietly agreed that we would invite Stephen Isserlis to perform for us at some stage in the future and Lionel would help with the cost and come up for the concert. Very sadly…………….. He was a delightfully cultured, generous and courteous person and is a great loss for Wendover and for our society.
John Loarridge

Wendover Choral Society

Lionel was a distinguished member of the Abel Smith Family who have very long associations with Wendover and was President of the Wendover Choral Society for many years alongside its Patron, Sir Thomas Allen. in 2009 Lionel decided to relinquish his President’s position in favour of Leopold de Rothschild and accepted the post of Vice President instead, a role he continued up until his death.

Lionel was a wonderful supporter of the town of Wendover, a generous benefactor to many societies. He was wonderfully philanthropic towards the Choir; generous with both his time (travelling regularly from Rye to attend concerts) and his money. His kindness remains a strong and affectionate memory with the members of the Choir.
Carol Griffiths

The Wendover Society

Logo of the Wendover Society

Lionel Abel-Smith was the first individual to be awarded The Presidents’ Prize.

In October 2008, we hosted a Harvest Supper to present the stunning cut-glass trophy to Lionel Abel-Smith along with a leather-bound book of testimonials from so many organisations within Wendover who wanted to acknowledge the enormous contribution that Mr Abel-Smith has not only made to their own activities, but of course to Wendover itself with the establishment over thirty years ago of The Wendover Community Trust. Gentle, honourable, kind, generous, humorous; qualities that only true gentlemen possess and Lionel Abel-Smith is that gentleman.
Carol Clark

Wendover Cricket Club

Coat of Arms of the Lord of the Manor of Wendover shown on the side of The Flower Gallery, Kings Head Parade, High Street, Wendover on the side road leading to Wendover Library. Coat of Arms of the Lord of the Manor of Wendover shown on the side of The Flower Gallery, Kings Head Parade, High Street, Wendover on the side road leading to Wendover Library

Although Lionel appeared to have no special interest in cricket, it was through his many acts of generosity that the Club is what it is today. A few excerpts from Leslie Smith’s article in the 2005 Magazine give a flavour of what Lionel did for Wendover and the Club in particular:

  • 52 years as Club President, annually presiding at AGM’s, attending events, functions and presentations, travelling up from his Sussex home whatever the weather was like.
  • Allowed land at Ellesborough Road to be used for cricket from 1956 and leased it to the Club for a peppercorn rent.
  • Gave the land and half the horsefield to the Club around 1990 as an outright gift and later the remainder of the horsefield – for our long-term security.
  • Assented to our using his coat of arms as our Club badge from about 1980.
  • Providing specialist advice, particularly when revising our Constitution in the 1990’s.
  • Supported the creation of the Village Cup competition in 1996 by donating the cup.
  • Lionel with Brian Johnson

  • Lionel, as Lord of the Manor, founded and funded the Wendover Community Trust in 1977. This provides funds to individuals and organizations such as our Club in Wendover and we have directly benefited from this over the years.
  • Donated various trophies for annual awards including the President’s Box and the Silver Bail.

In 2005 to mark his 50 years association with the Club, we presented Lionel with a collection of whiskies (his favoured tipple) from now defunct Scottish distilleries, plus a CD of British Cello Music, a DVD of Jacqueline du Pre and a book of the Whisky Distilleries of the UK.

Jonathan Seabrook

The Abel-Smiths of Wendover

Logo of the Wendover Cricket Club

This article uses information extracted from a lengthy article written by Leslie Smith for the annual Wendover Cricket Club Magazine 2005.

The Smith family’s fortune stems from the founding of a bank in Nottingham in 1658 by Thomas Smith. Further banks were set up, mainly in the Eastern Counties by his son Abel Smith. His grandson, also Abel Smith, established Smith, Paynes and Smith in the City of London in 1758. This was simply known as Smith’s Bank when it merged with the Union Bank in 1902. There were subsequent absorptions into the National Provincial in 1924; the National Westminster in the early 1970’s and the Royal Bank of Scotland most recently. Some members of the family continued to be actively involved in running the larger entities. The inscription SMITHS BANK still appears over the entrance to No. 1 Lombard Street and I believe that family retains the right to hold their occasional reunions there.

Still, why the elephant? I can only surmise that it stemmed from the family’s involvement with the East India Company and in particular, John Abel Smith’s (1802- 1871) ventures in the Far East and Australasia. A street in Wellington, New Zealand, is named after him.

Given these origins why did the family come to be so closely associated with Wendover? Well, successfull banking was very profitable and land is the eternal asset. In 1795 the Wendover Estates, previously owned by the Verneys, were bought by Robert Smith (who was made Lord Carrington the following year). He also acquired the Hampden Estates within which the present Lord Carrington – the former Foreign Secretary and the President’s cousin – resides at Bledlow. Another banking dynasty, the Rothschilds, bought neighbouring swathes of Aylesbury Vale. Coincidentally, John Abel Smith was instrumental in the election of Baron Lionel de Rothschild to the Commons in 1858. This was a contentious issue at the time as he was the first of the Jewish faith to become an MP. A few years later D’Israeli was Prime Minister.

An additional attraction of the acquisition was that, at the time, Wendover was a pocket borough with two parliamentary seats and various Smiths were elected as MP’s until the Reform Act of 1832.

Given all of this, you may wonder, why the Lord of the Manor does not live in the Parish. In practice this is not uncommon. Only the Rev Albert Smith did so but mainly because he was also the Vicar. Even then he dwelled mainly at The Parsonage (Winterton House – now an old folks’ home) and only briefly at the Manor House (now a school for recalcitrant adolescents).

Wendover News is indebted to all the individuals and organisations who have contributed articles about
Lionel Abel-Smith which will remain in the Wendover News Tributes archive. The June edition will carry more articles so please write.