Pembroke Lodge1 is located in Richmond Park, a royal park of 2,500 acres, south-west of London. The house itself, a Grade II Listed Georgian structure, is surrounded by 11 acres of enclosed land. The highest point of land in the park is King Henry VIII’s Mound. From there Henry had a good view of the London Tower; he supposedly stood there waiting for the signal that one of his wives had been beheaded. Accounts vary as to which Queen it was.2 While living there Russell “grew accustomed to wide horizons and to an unimpeded view of the sunset” which became necessary for him to “live happily …” (Auto. 1: 19).
A cottage for the mole catcher who patrolled the park was constructed around 1754. The Countess of Pembroke later took a liking to what had become a four-room structure. King George III granted her the use of the building and by her death in 1831 the Lodge had been greatly expanded. Before the Earl and Countess Russell moved in, the Earl of Erroll lived in the home and its expansion had continued.
Earl Russell’s daughter from his first marriage, Lady Georgiana Peel, told the story of her family’s move, in 1847, to the Lodge in her book of memoirs.3 Her father, as the younger son of the Duke of Bedford, could not inherit any of the family’s estates. He had in fact come close to gaining a country estate, Chequers, currently the official country residence of the sitting Prime Minister of Great Britain. The owner, however, was received coldly by the Duke and did not offer the estate as a gift. Lord John4 “used to remark that he had lost Chequers for want of a glass of sherry and a biscuit!” (Recollections, p. 44). Twenty years passed before Queen Victoria offered him Pembroke Lodge for his lifetime. By then he was serving as her Prime Minister. He kept his London townhouse, Chesham Place.
The family chose the wall papers, furniture was moved from their previous home at Chorley Wood, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, and some prints, gifts of the Queen, were hung. There was great excitement all round. “The glimpses of the Thames shining through the stately old oaks added more beauty to the pretty rambling house, with its old-fashioned gardens and shady walks” (Recollections, p. 49). Lord John decided that there must be a rose garden. Georgiana and her husband later erected a sundial in his memory there. She added: “The Queen with her kind gift endowed us all with a fountain of happiness” (Recollections, p. 49). Lord John used the bow-room “which he made his sanctuary. It was charming light room, with three windows that made a bow, all looking out into the garden (Recollections, p. 105).
Lord John’s second wife (and Russell’s grandmother), also wrote about P.L. in her memoir. She described it as “a long, low, irregular white house on the edge of the high ground which forms the western limit of Richmond Park. Added to and altered many times, it has no unity of plan, but … [has] an air of cheerful seclusion and homely eighteenth-century dignity.… standing as it does upon the top of the steep, wooded ridge above the Thames Valley, its windows overlook a thousand fields, through which the placid river winds ...” (Memoir, p. 91). The two of them had wished to live there while sitting under an oak tree which became known in the family as the Wishing Tree once they took up residence. Both of them felt that being there added years to Lord John’s life (Memoir, p. 92–3). The book also contains an appendix written by Agatha and Rollo Russell about P.L., their “old home” (Memoir, pp. 121–2).
The family put on entertainments. One such effort survives: Dewdrop and Glorio; or The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, acted at P.L. on 23 and 28 December 1858. Dedicated to Lord John, the cast was entirely made up of family members. Lady John gave Russell and his wife Alys a copy on Christmas Eve 1897 (RussLib). Wild squirrels abounded in the old trees in the grounds. “For some years Lady Russell had found great amusement and delight in the visits of a little wild squirrel” which she fed. “Before long it became very venturesome, and would enter [her] room daily and frisk about.” It was outside her window on the day she died (Memoirs, p. 288).
Although a respite from busy London, the Russells welcomed many visitors during their tenure including the Shah of Persia, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Charles Dickens, Queen Sofia of the Netherlands, King Leopold II of Belgium, William Ewart Gladstone, and many others including of course Queen Victoria. P.L. was also the setting for many cabinet meetings. Gladstone continued to visit after Lord John’s death. Russell met him there in 1889. After dinner, alone with Russell Gladstone remarked: “This is a very good port they have given me, but why have they given it me in a claret glass? I did not know the answer, and wished the earth would swallow me up” (Auto. 1: 56; first published in Vogue, see note 10).
Both the very old Earl Russell and the house were described by a cousin, George W.E. Russell, in an article “Earl Russell at Pembroke Lodge” in 1877. The author concentrated on the house as “an abode of culture” (p. 3) and described Lord John’s library and the quiet and privacy the home provided him. Despite this, “Twice a week its doors are thrown open to the miscellaneous throng of those whom, in sixty year of public life, Lord Russell had included among his acquaintance” (p. 5). The family members are mentioned briefly as “the most devoted of wives and children” (p. 8).
There were, however, problems with the house. In a visit to P.L. on 22 January 1866 Russell’s mother, Katharine Amberley, noted in her journal that she had been driven out of the drawing-room by the stink of dead rats. Poison “had been put in the cellar to kill them” (Amberley Papers, p. 465).5
Two burglaries took place at P.L., one in 1870, the other in 1872. In 1870 a silver statuette and two medals were taken from the west drawing room; the thieves had entered through a window. Curtis Steele and Thomas Mortimer were brought up on remand and charged after they attempted to pawn the statuette in Liverpool. Lord Russell was not at home, being on the Continent. The second robbery in 1872 was far more successful. While the family was at home in the evening the thief had placed a ladder by the entrance, climbed up to Lord Russell’s dressing-room, used a knife to spring the window, and took a crested silver spoon. Moving on to the bedroom he took jewellery set with precious stones, some of them family heirlooms. Workmen repairing the roof were suspected but no arrests were ever made.6
In addition to these two burglaries, Georgiana Peel mentioned a third, with no date. With regard to Lady John’s journals which went missing she noted: “I suspect they were stolen. Nothing has been heard of them since, though a few of the books were found afterwards, thrown into a planation in Richmond Park …” (Recollections, p. 107).
There were also attacks. In 1873 a young woman was assaulted in the Park, not far from P.L.7 Georgiana Peel wrote about another incident: “Aunt Bunny [Harriet Lister, later Cradock] had a great friend, also a Maid of Honour [to Queen Victoria], who had gone into waiting the same year as herself, and used often to accompany her on her visits to Pembroke Lodge. One day, a very curious and unpleasant incident happened to Miss A—who was, at the time, coming to visit us by herself. She arrived very agitated, and could hardly collect her faculties to tell us that, while on her way to our house, she was walking across Richmond Park, when suddenly a tramp of fierce aspect, and in ragged and dirty clothes, jumped out from behind a tree, and threateningly demanded her purse. She looked in his face, and to her astonishment perceived that it was a man who was well known to her, being Lord L—.… [who] had no doubt terrorized many ladies—with whom his face was not familiar—into giving him their purses, the police not being so vigilant for the public safety as they are now” (Recollections, p. 175).
Russell visited P.L. and his grandparents while his parents were still alive. After one visit from Queen Victoria, Agatha wrote to her sister-in-law Katharine8 about Rachel and Bertie’s reaction. The children were spending time at P.L. while their parents were away in Italy. “I hope Rachel has written at length about the visit of the Queen on Saturday—but she was ‘terribly disappointed’ expecting her to have a crown on her head & various other magnificences. Bertie made a nice little bow—but was much subdued & did not treat Her Majesty with the utter disrespect I expected.” Frank dimly remembered the Queen visiting in April 1874 when he was presented to her at tea. He also related two stories about his grandmother’s relationship with Queen Victoria. The Queen remembered his grandmother’s “peculiar and unusual capacity of being able to waggle her ears like a dog” and called upon her to perform before an ambassador. Lady John at first lost the ability to move either ear. On another occasion Lady John asked permission to sit down in the presence of the Queen who was standing. This was allowed but two other ladies had to stand in front of her (My Life, p. 49). Russell also told this story in his Autobiography, giving the location as Windsor (Auto. 1: 22).
Moving to live at P.L. was of course an entirely different matter. Russell and his brother Frank arrived in 1876 under very unhappy circumstances. They had to leave Ravenscroft after the deaths of their mother Katharine, their sister Rachel, and lastly their father, John. Russell was only four years old when he came under the care of his grandparents. Also living in the house were two of their adult children, Agatha (1853–1933) and Rollo (1849–1910), as yet unmarried. Only two years later Earl Russell was also dead. His death made little impression on the six-year old Russell.9 A year earlier, in 1877, Frank was sent away to school at Cheam because he ran away from home twice (My Life, pp. 37–8). He went on to Winchester in 1879. Thus Russell was separated from his brother, Frank, for long periods of time.
Russell wrote that he counts his first day living at P.L. as his “first vivid recollection.” He had tea in the servants’ hall. “It was a large, bare room with a long massive table with chairs and a high stool. All the servants had their tea in this room except the house-keeper, the cook, the lady’s maid, and the butler, who formed an aristocracy in the house-keeper’s room. I was placed on the high stool for tea, and what I remember most vividly is wondering why the servants took so much interest in me (Auto. 1: 15).
Frank provided a detailed list of the various rooms: his grandfather’s study, a big drawing-room, a dining-room with wallpaper containing birds and trellises, his grandmother’s sitting-room and bedroom, his Aunt Agatha’s sitting-room, a visitor’s room, and several bedrooms. “On the ground floor was the housekeeper’s room, and the butler’s room, both sacred apartments, the butler’s pantry, an enormous stone-flagged kitchen…, a huge scullery, a larder and a dairy.” There was also a day nursery, the Servant’s Hall, and “a room known as the school-room”. The grounds contained “many summer houses: an aviary, a bowling green, two rose gardens” and an area “called the wilderness” (My Life, pp. 32–3). The servants included: “Mrs. Cox, a very old, very angular, and very severe Scotch housekeeper, but full of kindness – she often gave me sweet biscuits and Turkish delight: McAlpin, the old Scotch butler, who was devoted to me, and used to allow me to help him in stamping the letters for the post: the footman, John, who cleaned and trimmed the innumerable oil lamps in use and astonished me by his ability to throw a stone over the very top of the tall poplars outside the house …” (My Life, p. 31).
Russell also remembered MacAlpine who took him “on his knee and read me accounts of railway accidents in the newspaper.” In addition to the butler, Russell wrote about “a French cook named Michaud.… She would pursue me with a carving knife.… the lodge-keeper and his wife [who] gave me baked apples and beer, both of which were strictly forbidden.” There were two gardeners, MacRobie who was followed by Vidler. His “German nursery governess named Miss Hetschel.… left a few days after my arrival at Pembroke Lodge, and was succeeded by a German nurse named Wilhelmina … I also had a nursery maid called Ada who used to light the fire in the morning while I lay in bed ...” (Auto. 1: 26–7).
In an article in 1943,10 Russell described the same wallpaper which was noted by Frank. In the dining room, it was of “trelliswork and landscapes adorned with birds of various imaginary species. Two vast, ornate edifices of Dresden china (a present from the King of Saxony) were posed on two cabinets that stood against the wall.”
Frank remembered that he and Bertie lived in the old nursery “at the far end of the house” (My Life, p. 31). His brother learned how to read “out of a book called ‘Reading without Tears’11 which certainly did not justify its title” (My Life, p. 5).
In addition to the physical descriptions he provided, Frank described the atmosphere of the house as “mournful Christian humility” which he found to be a “nightmare” (My Life, p. 33); it was the exact opposite of the atmosphere at Ravenscroft. P.L. “was timid, shrinking, that of a snail withdrawing into its shell, full of high principle and religious feeling.… it recoiled … from the touch of real life and anything so vulgar as facts” (My Life, pp. 10–1). Both he and his brother came to loathe P.L. but for Russell this feeling only came later. A childhood friend, Amabel Huth Jackson confirms the gloomy P.L. atmosphere in her memoirs.
As a young child, Russell found P.L. a wonderful place to grow up. In 1885–86 he wrote several letters to his uncle Rollo.12 He enthused about going out on the ponds, finding nests all around the park, especially of thrushes, playing cricket and tennis, and spending time on the Thames. He hoped to learn how to swim. At Christmas time 1886 there was ice skating. In his Autobiography, he describes ice skating in St. James’ Park, London, and riding a donkey bareback,13 when visiting his Uncle Rollo (Auto. 1: 35, 37). Later as an adolescent, Russell was “very lonely and very unhappy”, completely alienated from his family (Auto. 1: 38). He composed what is known as the “Greek Exercises” setting down in disguised form his doubts about his faith. This and other adolescent writings from 1888–89 are published in Papers 1.
Russell was tutored at P.L. unlike his brother Frank who had been sent away to school. His first time away was in 1888 when he was sent, just before his sixteenth birthday to Green’s in Southgate to prepare for his Trinity College scholarship examinations (Auto. 1: 42). He spent 1 ½ years at the Crammer’s in Southgate. He entered Trinity in October 1890 and was there during term time until the spring of 1894. He was sent away to Paris in the autumn of 1894 in the hopes he would break off his engagement to Alys Pearsall Smith. This ploy did not work. Their wedding took place in December 1894. He never lived at P.L. again. His grandmother lived there until her death on 17 January 1898.
Agatha stayed on for a few more years before she left for Rozeldene in Surrey, breaking the family’s connection to the home which had lasted for half a century. Russell wrote to his friend Helen Flexner, 14 October 1902: “My Aunt Agatha has given up Pembroke Lodge. I payed her a last visit there, & it was inexpressibly sad to see the last of the old garden which I have loved almost more than if it had been a human being, to think of profane hands making it new & smart, destroying the beautiful memories of the Past which live in every part of it, & thinking nothing of all the joys & sorrows which seemed its inalienable property.” After Agatha left, Georgina, Countess of Dudley moved in. She was followed by John Scott Oliver, and then the Phantom Squad, GCHQ Liaison Regiment.
George Santayana was once taken to tea at Pembroke Lodge by Russell. Lady Russell was there along with Agatha who did not speak. Santayana only mentioned the food—claret and beefsteak—and his conversation with Lady Russell (The Middle Span, pp. 48–9).
Russell never forgot his childhood home. On 18 June 1948 he wrote to Gilbert Murray: “The Government proposes to transform Pembroke Lodge into quarters for park-keepers & a tea-shop. I see no objection to the former, but the latter would involve serious vandalism. The eleven acres of garden are very beautiful, & have always been full of wild birds. In my youth there were large numbers of nightingales, redstarts, woodpeckers, finches of all sorts, & other birds not easily found elsewhere near London. I am told this is still the case. The house is of historic interest as the house of my grandfather. It is to me very painful to think of the destruction of the garden, of which I think with affection almost every day of my life.” He asks Murray if he has any ideas on how to save the house and grounds. In his Autobiography he wrote that “The garden played a very large part in my life up to the age of eighteen” (Auto. 1: 19); “he knew each corner of the garden” (Auto. 1: 31).
In 1950 Russell moved to Queen’s Road in Richmond; a very short distance from the entrance to Richmond Park.14 He reflected back on his time spent at Pembroke Lodge as well as its current iteration. Though first opposed to the changes made by the Civil Service, he changed his “opinion of their proceedings and thought that they had done the adaption very well if it had to be done” (Auto. 3: 64, 69–70, 89). That same year Russell took a walk in the P.L. grounds with Julie Medlock, a public relations consultant. In an interview with The Witchita Beacon she quoted Russell about the garden. “I rarely close my eyes at night without remembering the beauty of this garden.” During the walk he reminisced about the many trees that grew there: “oaks, beeches, horse and Spanish chestnut, limes and cedar”, as well as two Lombardy poplars.15
When I visited P.L. in 1984 a ghastly government-run tea room was in operation. The plastic tables and chairs clashed with the elaborate wall decorations. A saviour for the Lodge appeared in the 1990s in the form of Daniel Hearsum. The expensive and extensive restoration of the Lodge began in 1998 and lasted until 2005, winning an award from the Richmond Society. Mindful of the history of the Lodge, Hearsum visited McMaster University to research the Russell connection. It is now run as a successful wedding venue and conference centre. Tea is still offered to the public on the ground floor. I am not positive what Russell would have thought of this latest incarnation of the house and grounds which draws 250,000 annual visitors. I think he may have been pleased; the garden flourishes.
In 2012 when I was visiting London with my sister, Daniel Hearsum invited us to tea and a concert. Our private tea was served in the Bertrand Russell room on Lord John’s table which was donated to P.L. by Conrad Russell. Framed images relating to Russell decorate the walls.
That evening we were guests at a charity concert in support of Holly Lodge Centre attended by Princess Alexandra who also lives in Richmond Park. The concert was held in the Belvedere, an addition to P.L. The interval reception was held in rooms of the original structure. After the evening was over, we went out into the Park which closes to the public at dusk. There are no streetlights—the darkness we stood in was a step back in time to when Russell lived there.
© Sheila Turcon, 2020
Kenneth Blackwell, et al., eds., Cambridge Essays 1888–99, Vol. 1 of The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell. London: Allen & Unwin, 1983.
Amabel Huth Jackson, A Victorian Childhood. London: Methuen, 1932.
Desmond MacCarthy and Agatha Russell, eds., Lady John Russell: a Memoir. London: Methuen, 1910.
Ethel Peel, compiler, Recollections of Lady Georgiana Peel. London: John Lane, 1920.
Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell 1872–1914, Vol 1. London: Allen & Unwin, 1967.
Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell 1944–1967, Vol. 3. London: Allen & Unwin, 1969.
Bertrand Russell, Collected Stories (London, Allen & Unwin, 1972).
Bertrand and Patricia Russell, eds., The Amberley Papers: The Letters and Diaries of Lord and Lady Amberley. London: Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1937: 2 vols.
George W.E. Russell, “Earl Russell at Pembroke Lodge. A sketch reprinted with corrections from ‘The World’ of February 21, 1877. Being No. 27 of ‘Celebrities at Home.’” Copy in RA.
John Francis Stanley Russell, Earl Russell, My Life and Adventures. London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1923.
George Santayana, The Middle Span (London: Constable, 1947).
Archival Correspondence: Rollo Russell, Gilbert Murray, Agatha Russell.
I would like to thank my sister, Susan Turner, for some of the images that appear both here and under the Additional Images tab.
- 1. The Russell family always called Pembroke Lodge “P.L.” (My Life, p. 10).
- 2. Russell’s brother Frank believed it was Anne Boleyn (My Life, p. 32) while his aunt Georgiana Peel thought it was Catherine Howard (Recollections, p. 48).
- 3. By then Georgiana’s mother had died and her father had remarried.
- 4. As a younger son of the Duke of Bedford, John was known by the courtesy title of Lord John. He received his earldom in 1861 becoming Earl Russell.
- 5. Rats are mentioned in a Times article “Discovery of Miss Hickman’s Body”, 20 October 1903, p. 3. Sidmouth Wood “is very full of game, and it is no doubt infested by rats from the Pembroke Lodge stables.” This discovery took place about the same time as Agatha Russell left P.L. for her new home, Rozeldene in Surrey.
- 6. The Times: “Robbery from Pembroke Lodge”, 20 January 1870, p. 9; “The Robbery at Earl Russell’s”, 22 January 1870, p. 11; “The Burglary at Lord Russell’s”, 27 January 1870, p. 10; “Robbery at Earl Russell’s”, 3 Oct. 1872, p. 9.
- 7. “The Outrage in Richmond-Park”, The Times, 2 Aug. 1873, p. 5.
- 8. 27 April, document 132.078636; this extract is published in the Amberley Papers, II: 565.
- 9. Autobiography 1:20; Russell does include an anecdote told to him about his grandfather in Collected Stories, p. 267. The Shah of Persia “was caught in a rainstorm in Richmond Park and took refuge” in P.L. “My grandfather apologized for the smallness of his house. ‘Yes’, said the Shah, ‘it is a small house but it contains a great man.’”
- 10. “My Grandmother and Mr. Gladstone”. Vogue, New York, 102, no. 2 (15 July 1943): 35, 81.
- 11. Favel Lee Mortimer (1802–1878), a British Evangelical and author of children’s books, including Reading without Tears; or, a Pleasant Mode of Learning to Read.
- 12. Rollo left Pembroke Lodge upon his marriage in 1885.
- 13. No mention can be found of Russell riding a pony or horse.
- 14. See my article “Russell’s Homes: 41 Queen’s Road, Richmond”. Bertrand Russell Society Bulletin no. 158 (Autumn 2018): 22–31.
- 15. “Early Years Important to Lord Russell”. The Wichita Beacon, 19 March 1951, p. 7.