Tring & District Local History & Museum Society
Registered Charity No. 1053276
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The Rothschilds and Tring
Nathan Mayer Rothschild came to England from Frankfurt in about 1790, setting up in Manchester to trade in cotton before switching to finance and moving to St Swithin’s Lane in the City of London, becoming immensely rich with the success of the bank he founded. Almost from the moment that the railway reached Tring in 1837, Nathan’s sons used it to visit the Vale of Aylesbury for hunting. (The old chestnut about them ‘keeping the railway out of Tring’ simply isn’t true.)
They bought a hunt kennels at Hastoe the following year and soon afterwards the brothers began buying up land in the area but it was not until 1872 that the eldest, Lionel de Rothschild, bought the Tring Park estate. He wanted it for his eldest son Nathaniel, married to his Frankfurt cousin Emma. Nathaniel, who was Liberal MP for Aylesbury, inherited his uncle’s baronetcy in 1876 and was given a peerage under Gladstone in 1885, becoming the first non-Christian to sit in the House of Lords.
Tring Park with Wallabies
England in the 1870s was beset with agricultural decline and ‘Natty’ devoted much energy to his estate. With his agents, first Alexander Parkes and then Richardson Carr, he set about rebuilding the farms on scientific lines, establishing herds of Jersey and Shorthorn cattle and setting up a Shire horse stud; he had scores of cottages built in the town and nearby villages for his workers, keeping the architect William Huckvale busy for almost forty years designing buildings in a readily-recognisable Old English style. The Estate was given everything it needed – lodges, laundry, water supply, gardeners’ bothy, power station – regardless of expense.
Natty and Emma provided many facilities to local people, whether employees or not. There was a nursing service and a small cottage hospital, named Nightingale Lodge. In individual cases they paid for things like operations, schooling and passages to Canada. Plots of land were given for the building of churches and halls, along with a fat cheque. They helped the Urban District Council build an isolation hospital and a sewage works and presented it with 50 cottages, Tring’s first Council houses. Natty rebuilt the Rose and Crown Inn in 1905 for the Hertfordshire Public House Trust.
Their eldest son Walter was a keen zoologist who kept zebras, cassowaries, giant tortoises, emus and kangaroos in and around Tring Park.
Walter and his younger brother Charles on a giant tortoise
Walter Rothschild with zebra at Tring Park
He was best known for his astonishing museum, created in buildings erected for him by his father as a 21st birthday present in 1889. The two did not get on and when Natty died in 1915, although Walter was entitled to the peerage, the Estate was left to the younger son, Charles. He and his wife Roszika had four children and their own estate in Northamptonshire. A partner in the family bank, he was also a pioneering conservationist who helped to found the body now known as the Wildlife Trusts.
Walter Rothschild presenting books to Tring children
During the Great War, relations between the family and the town were very strained. Charles became seriously ill and took his own life in 1923, leaving the Estate to his 12-year-old son. It was looked after by trustees until Victor was 21. Emma died in 1935 and Walter in 1937, having given his museum to the State; a year later Victor, third Lord Rothschild, put most of the Estate up for sale. He gave the town the Victoria Hall and the Cricket Club its ground, while the local councils acquired the woodlands, allotments and recreation grounds; the Mansion became a school in 1945.
The park, however, was retained and in 1960 Victor’s son Jacob planned to return to Tring and build a new house amid the parkland. This did not progress beyond the footings, which can still be found. Plans for a bypass to cut the park in half were unsuccessfully resisted by Victor’s sister Miriam, another distinguished scientist. In 1989 the section south of the bypass was sold; the buyer, Whitbread, wanted to build a golf course and hotel but in view of the beauty and scientific importance of the chalk grassland, consent was not forthcoming and they sold it to Dacorum Borough Council, which then leased it to the Woodland Trust. Rothschild family trusts continue to maintain the Louisa Cottages almshouses and to support local causes. As Lord of the Manor, Jacob, fourth Lord Rothschild, officiated at the opening of Tring Local History Museum in 2011 and the reopening of Hastoe Village Hall a year later.
Thanks to Tim Amsden & Tring & District Local History & Museum Society.
If you’d like to know more about the Rothschilds then why not visit The Natural History Museum at Tring where there is a recently redeveloped gallery ‘The Rothschild Room’.