Famous Guests

With Lowther as ringmaster, the Castle was once more the scene of wild entertainment and high society hobnobbing.[1] His Gatsby-esque style parties drew the rich, famous and aristocratic from across the country. As part of this research project we have been exploring some of the characters who attended Lowther’s infamous parties to find out who made up the Colonel’s social circle.

Kathleen Young (1897-1948)

The famed sculptor, Kathleen Young, was a frequent visitor to Lowther’s Castle. She was the youngest of the eleven children and descended from Scottish royalty on her father’s side and Phanariot aristocracy on her mother’s. Tragically orphaned at the age of eight, Young was brought up in Edinburgh by her great-uncle, the historian William Forbes Skene. She attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London (1900–02) and then went on to study at the Académie Colarossi in Paris between 1902 and 1906, leading what has been described as a ‘Bohemian lifestyle’.[2] 

Young’s Parisian experiences prepared her for a triumphant entry into London’s artistic and literary society, where her new friends included George Bernard Shaw, James Barrie, Max Beerbohm, and Henry James; all important ‘celebrities’ with whom Lowther wanted to form friendships and alliances. It was in 1906, through the socialite Mabel Beardsley, that Young met Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) whom she later married.[3]  

Kathleen and Robert Falcon Scott aboard the Terra Nova in 1910. Herbert Ponting, British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13, P2005/5/1699.

During the inter-war years (1918-39) Young’s career as a sculptor reached its peak. She had six major exhibitions and regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy. In 1923 she became an associate member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and in 1925 she was awarded a bronze medal at the salon of the Société des Artistes Français.[4]

Young’s celebrity status and position in fashionable society made her an ideal candidate for Lowther’s social circle as he tried to construct an image of himself as the ‘Lord of the Manor.’ We glimpse an insight into Young’s time at the castle from the memoirs of Verily Anderson, whose father was the Rector at All Saints’ parish church. Anderson recalls:

Kathleen was found to be […] in another of Aunt Dorothy’s luxurious dresses, which she wore back to front with a row of buttons down the front and a dip at the back. But she made it look as if it were meant.

Verily Anderson, Castellans of Herstmonceux 1911-2010 (Bader International Study Centre, 2011), p. 12.

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon (1897-1958)

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon was a politician and diarist who was fascinated by Europe’s aristocratic civilisation; making him similar in many ways to Colonel Claude Lowther. While Channon was at Christ Church, Oxford he earned the nickname ‘Chips’ (no one really seems to know why) which stayed with him throughout his career.[5]

Adoring London society, privilege, rank and wealth, he became an energetic, implacable, but endearing social climber.

Richard Davenport-Hines, ‘Channon, Sir Henry [Chips]’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).

Channon wrote several novels including Joan Kennedy (1929), Paradise City (1930) and The Ludwigs of Bavaria (1933), all of which highlighted his admiration of the European aristocracy and his revulsion at popular American culture.[6] In 1935 he replaced his mother-in-law as the Conservative MP for Southend-on-Sea and he remained in Parliament until his death in 1958.[7] However, it is his infamous diaries that Channon is remembered for…

The diaries survive for the years 1918, 1923-8, and 1934-53. The entries are by turns ‘scintillating, epicene, snobbish, fatuous, self-mocking, and cliché-ridden’.[8] There are captivating descriptions of ‘great parliamentary occasions’ as well as intriguing confidences about ‘backstairs intrigues’.[9] Having Chips Channon as a friend and ally undoubtedly would have helped Lowther in his quest for legitimacy among the aristocratic elite.

Half plate film negative of Henry ‘Chips’ Channon. Image available under the Creative Commons Licence.

Lady Diana Duff Cooper (1892-1986)

Lady Diana Duff Cooper (née Manners) was an English aristocrat who was a well-known social figure in London and Paris. As a young woman, she moved in a celebrated group of intellectuals known as The Coterie, most of whom were tragically killed during the First World War. She married one of the few survivors, Alfred Duff Cooper, in 1919. The pair had originally agreed to marry in 1916 but were met with opposition from Manners’ family.[10]

Prior to her marriage Duff Cooper had something of an acting career, taking two uncredited film roles in The Great Love, where she played herself, and Hearts of the World. In the early 1920s she starred in two colour films: The Glorious Adventure (1922) and The Virgin Queen (1923) in which she played Queen Elizabeth I. Max Reinhardt then offered her the chance to play the Madonna in a mime play, The Miracle. This was first staged in the USA from November 1923 until May 1924, and again in 1925, 1926 and 1927. It then toured Europe in 1927, and London and the provinces in 1932; the last performance was in January 1933. The Miracle was a huge success and the money she earned from it allowed her husband to enter parliament, as MP for Oldham, in 1924.[11]

Lady Diana Duff Cooper from The Book of Fair Women by E. O. Hoppé (1922). Image available under the Creative Commons Licence.

The Duff Coopers moved in celebrated celebrity circles and were even close friends with Edward VIII and Wallace Simpson accompanying the royal pair on a cruise in 1936. Again, it is clear why Lowther would be so interested in cultivating a friendship with them both.[12] One interesting anecdote about Lady Diana Duff Cooper, which is fondly remembered by Verily Anderson, was her penchant for skirts printed with ‘cubist patterns’ which she often wore when visiting Lowther’s castle.[13]

Lowther’s social network was a vibrant mix of old money and new, where aristocratic heirs dined side-by-side with up-and-coming politicians, artists and film stars. Amongst Lowther’s most famous guests were Winston Churchill and his wife Clemmie and Violet Bonham Carter (later Baroness Asquith of Yambury). Throughout his castellanship at Herstmonceux Lowther successfully collected a vast array of ‘bright young things’ to add to his social circle. Similar to Chips Channon, his fascination with aristocratic and celebrity circles was a means for him to feel legitimised in a world in which he felt he never truly belonged.

Dr Claire Kennan, History Lecturer and Research Coordinator at the BISC.

[1] Christian Lloyd, ‘Claude Lowther and the Recreated Castle’ (forthcoming).

[2] Mark Stocker, ‘Scott [née Bruce], (Edith Agnes) Kathleen, Lady Scott’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)  https://www-oxforddnb-com.proxy.queensu.ca/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-34283?rskey=BOE9Gg&result=2 [last accessed 06/04/22].

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Richard Davenport-Hines, ‘Channon, Sir Henry [Chips]’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) https://doi-org.proxy.queensu.ca/10.1093/ref:odnb/39779 [last accessed 06/04/22].

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Charteris of Amisfield, ‘Cooper [née Manners], Diana Olivia Winifred Maud [known as Lady Diana Cooper], Viscountess Norwich’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) https://www-oxforddnb-com.proxy.queensu.ca/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-40701 [last accessed 12/04/22].

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Anderson, Castellans of Herstmonceux, p. 17.