Family History

Tom sent these old stories which he had been told by Dad. Relationships are all from his viewpoint.

Grandpa (Sir John Keeling)

The first bit of luck for the Keeling family was that Grandpa was not posted to the Western Front during the first world war. He was part of a local County Regiment and was sent to Turkey in the Gallipoli campaign. After this military disaster / fiasco he returned home and joined the Grenadier Guards. In this role he was posted to guard the King and Queen at Windsor Castle, during which time it was his habit to ride a bicycle by way of transport.

The second bit of luck for the family was that one day as he was leaving the Castle he was knocked down by a bus and had his leg severely broken. This rendered him hors d’combat and he did not see any more active service. Fortunately the accident did not prevent him from making a pretty full recovery after time and he was able to play tennis and golf quite proficiently.

After the war Grandpa met the Finucane family and spotted the girls and got chatting with their Dad, Doctor Finucane. The Doctor advised Grandpa that he was a clever chap and that he should rent some office space in the City and put his nameplate on the outside of the front door. That way he would soon make some money! True enough, this advice proved worthwhile and Grandpa teamed up with Reg Cornwall and they soon found themselves in business together.

On one occasion they needed to provide funding for a particular business venture but were short of the necessary money. Then Grandpa got talking to a gentleman from Yorkshire who agreed to guarantee Grandpa’s overdraft to enable him to finance the aforementioned business deal. This led to a business relationship which drove Grandpa and Reg Cornwall to formalise their business, but they couldn’t decide whether to incorporate the business as Keeling & Cornwall or as Cornwall & Keeling. So they decided on The London & Yorkshire Trust and this was the beginning of a successful business story.

Reg Cornwall’s dad had been a manager at Nat West Bank. Reg was never the ambitious, cunning and clever man that Grandpa was and by the end of the second world war he had sold his interest in the L&YT to Grandpa.

Aged 29 or 30, Grandpa presented himself to the board of directors of Bowaters to say he believed he would be able to help them raise money to assist their business. The board was comprised of old farts, with the exception of Eric Bowater who was the same age as Grandpa. The belief that he could raise the money was based on discussions Grandpa had been having with stockbrokers, including Arthur Gibbs, who were prepared to follow Grandpa’s proposition to support Bowaters. The process would have involved some mechanism of issuing shares to generate funding.

The board of Bowaters welcomed this opportunity so Grandpa told them it would be available to them on the basis that they should meet one important condition. This was that Eric Bowater should be appointed as the Chairman and Managing Director of Bowaters and the directors accepted this condition. In return for this Eric appointed Grandpa as his deputy chairman and that was the beginning of an extremely fruitful business relationship and a lifelong friendship.

Gift from Eric to Grandpa "as a token of
friendship and appreciation"
Bowaters was a paper merchant and in fairly bad shape at the time of their first encounter with Grandpa, who had recently set up the London & Yorkshire Trust. This first meeting transformed their fortunes and also contributed significantly to the fortunes of LY&T. Eric was a very ambitious and driven man and he expanded the business to the USA from where it grew to be an international business of great proportions. By the time the business was at the zenith of its fortunes the business had moved its headquarters from Mayfair into premises which straddled the southern entrance to Hyde Park, opposite Knightsbridge.

Through the issue of preference shares to L&YT the Bowater Group paid dividends to L&YT for the duration of its existence and this was Grandpa’s biggest and most significant deal.

Eric Bowater went on to abandon his wife, who had become a good friend of Granny, which did not help matters, but also it did not derail the business side of things. Dad recalls that whenever Eric had a suit made he ordered three of them, so that he could keep one in each of his houses on both sides of the Atlantic.

Grandpa had a major stroke during a board meeting at L&YT in 1955, when he was sixty and he was never the same again after that. Because of this affliction he slipped out of the mainstream and his high profile in some circles of financing diminished from this time.

In 1938 the Australian cricket team was touring England and Grandpa had bought tickets for his family to watch their match at The Oval. Unfortunately Grandpa had a cold on that occasion and was deemed unfit to attend. As a consolation he was dispatched to Hawkhurst, to Reg Cornwall’s house to watch the match on TV. This would have been one of the earliest TV sets available at that time.

Dad recalled an occasion on which he was driving Grandpa from London to Hurst and they were crawling along behind a very long lorry laden with a Spitfire, with its wings packaged up in parallel to its fuselage. Dad spotted an opportunity to overtake and pulled out, but then had second thoughts. He recalls that Grandpa, barely looking up from the evening newspaper he was reading, simply said “Put your foot down”. Dad obeyed and overtook the lorry. At that time there was a lot less traffic on the roads than today.

Johnny Keeling (Dad's older brother)

Johnny Keeling had qualified as an accountant and joined the London & Yorkshire Trust and after a time there he suggested to Dad that he might join – because there were too many non-Keelings in the office. So Dad followed this suggestion and joined. Johnny was very brainy and had great mathematical skills, which were on a par with Grandpa. However he did not possess the same charm or skill to hold an audience as Grandpa. Also Johnny did not have the same ability as Dad to find that after sitting in a meeting with the directors of a company he had become the de facto chairman of the room by the time the meeting had ended.

However he did have the ability to pull the girls. On one occasion in the flat which Dad shared with Henry Hely-Hutchinson (Dad's best friend from Eton), they were sitting around and a girl called Robbie arrived who was extremely attractive and was simply a magnet to all the men there, including David Gibbs who was present. But Johnny was the one who took her out to dinner. Romance followed this and on one occasion when the Keeling family were on holiday in northern Italy, Johnny received a phone call informing him that Robbie had been involved in a serious car crash and her face was badly injured. Johnny flew home, leaving the family to continue their holiday. Robbie, an Australian, ended up back at home with Johnny visiting her and they were married there in a glamorous but non-church wedding.

After a ski-ing holiday together in Austria, where Robbie proved to be a superb ski-er and Johnny an indifferent one, Johnny found Robbie back in London with their Austrian ski guide, who said he had wanted a holiday in London…..Johnny was able to find a number of letters exchanged between Robbie and the guide which provided sufficient evidence to enable him to obtain a divorce from Robbie. Johnny then had the good fortune to of meeting Jocelyn Crean, nee Wenham and marrying her.

Dad (Michael Keeling)

Dad related his only two, pre-Mum, amorous encounters. On the first, during a war effort for agriculture, he was sent from Eton at the age of seventeen along with some other boys including Henry H-H and Peter Nissen to Piddletrenthide in Dorset. On this occasion HHH was clearly having a good time with the daughter of the owner of the house where they were staying and Dad was getting along well with the best friend of the daughter. At the end of their spell Dad and HHH were leaving and the daughter of the house offered to give Dad the address of her friend. But Dad declined and that was that.

About a year later Dad was posted to Germany as a young officer in the army with something like the Allied Liaison Bureau, which Johnny had helped to fix up for him. In the office where he worked there was a very beautiful German secretary who he asked out for a walk and that began a close friendship. But when he returned to England he quickly found that he could not remember her easily and after a couple of letters were exchanged between them he informed her he did not want to continue their relationship.

Then Barbar and Mum were invited to stay at Hurst and Dad arranged a ferreting session with Guy the gardener. Mum asked to join in and even though she was recovering from an appendicitis operation at the time she was very energetic while catching the rabbits in the nets which Guy had set over the rabbit holes. Dad was very impressed by this and, well the rest is history.

About five years after the ferreting weekend Granny and Grandpa had a niece visiting them in London, from Milwaukee (Grandpa’s side of the family) along with the boyfriend or husband of the niece and Granny asked Dad to take the visitors out to dinner. So Dad phoned Mum at Heals where she was working and suggested that she join the outing. Mum replied in her stuttering voice “I will not be taken for granted”. So Dad suggested that they meet for lunch in Oxford Street at a pub they both knew. He was doing an audit in Golden Square at the time. They met at the pub and sat on stools facing onto Oxford Street with Mum on Dad’s right hand side. They ordered some lunch and Dad said they should not go on like this and would Mum like to marry him. Mum looked at him and started to cry before saying “Yes”, and that was the beginning of a great marriage.

After lunch Dad went back to work via Grandpa’s office in Brook Street to let his Dad know the good news and they cracked a bottle of champagne in celebration of the occasion.

Great Uncle Edward (Grandpa’s older brother).

Uncle Edward might have had a rather sad life. At one stage he occupied a flat in Grosvenor House (not Grandpa’s), but which would have been provided by Grandpa. Dad said that when Edward told Dad about this situation he added “Dear Jack, he always seems to have enough money to help everyone”.

Aunty Cally (Dad's younger sister)

Cally went to school in St.Leonards and as a teenager was quite a handful. Granny and Grandpa sent her to a finishing school in Paris to polish her up, but not to much avail. So from there she found her way to Bavaria to stay with good friends of G & G called the von Huttens. The Dad, Nandel von Hutten, had been introduced to Grandpa by Tris Grayson and Nandel was Cally’s godfather. While staying with the von Huttens Cally met a local chap called Herbert Seitz and fell in love with him.

When Grandpa asked Nandel about Herbert, Nandel was a bit cautious and described the Seitz family as local tradesmen in the paint business, but certainly not aristocratic like us! Anyway Herbert and his parents were invited to stay at Hurst, which was probably a bit awkward because none of them spoke any English, so to help the weekend along, Dad invited Mum to join the party to act as an interpreter.

Subsequently Cally and Herbert were married in London.

Sir John Hanbury-Williams

John H-W worked at Courtaulds and was a very honourable and good chap, although Grandpa said he always missed a big opportunity by not exploiting the American market which would have been very lucrative. His daughters were Biddy and Bar, who were twins and there was a much younger brother. Biddy married Bri (Uncle Brian, Dad's younger brother) and was the mother of Sarah and Patrick.

Bri and Biddy lived in Astell Street, Chelsea for a while. Bri enjoyed the bottle more than he should have done and on one occasion he locked Biddy out of the house. Luckily the nanny heard her cries and let her back in.

John H-W gave Mum and Dad new curtains for a flat they had bought in Westbourne Grove. He admitted later that he had been rather shocked at their price and he had not realised what high ceilings the flat had!

Dr Morgan Finucane

Dr Finucane and his wife Jane lived in Fiji where he was the colonial doctor looking after the island’s inhabitants. Their oldest daughters Ruvé and Mo were born in Fiji. At the end of his appointment there he sailed home, Westwards, while his wife sailed home Eastwards across the Pacific to Vancouver. There she caught a train with her two little girls to New York and then took ship to England.

They settled at 10 Ashley Place, close to Westminster Cathedral and there Dot and Barbie were born. Mrs Finucane died before her husband and then he moved to Hurst and occupied ‘the batchelor’s room’ (a single room on the first floor). He died there in c1935 and Dad remembers being taken to see his corpse and being made to kiss the body by Granny!!

Ruvé (born 1894) – fell in love with an Australian soldier who returned home and set up with an Australian girl.
Mo – married Peter Petri.
Dorothy (born 1901) – married Jack Keeling.
Barbie – married Tris Grayson and their daughters are Mary Blaksley and Angie Drummond Brady.

The four Finucane sisters died in reverse order of their ages.

The early telephone

Dad recalls during the second World War Grandpa being woken by his bedside telephone at about 4am. It was the operator informing him that he should expect a call from Montreal imminently. That call duly arrived and it was some friends / business colleagues of his phoning to let him know that they were having a jolly good dinner! He explained that it was 4am in the morning in England and he was not very thrilled by their news. A few minutes later he received a third call, from the operator again, to ask him if he had received the international call satisfactorily…..

Rob in America

When Mum and Dad took Rob to the Mayo Clinic (west of Chicago) for his heart operation in 1961/62 they crossed the Atlantic in the Queen Mary, taking five days to reach New York. Aeroplanes would not have been taking passengers in those days[??]. Then they travelled to Chicago and took a train out to the Clinic. In New York they had stopped and stayed in a flat in the centre of the City which belonged to relations of Granny.

Mum and Dad’s honeymoon

When Mum and Dad went on their honeymoon they stayed in Rome for some of the time in Uncle Edward’s flat which he lent to them. He was in the Diplomatic Corps and he arranged an audience with the Pope for them. This was a day on which the Pope was scheduled to meet Italian farmers, but Uncle Edward got Mum and Dad in on the act.

Grandpa had arranged for a car of his to be taken by train out to Italy for Mum and Dad to use, but the car had got stuck in Genoa. Dad managed to have the car held there until they stopped there on their journey home, where they collected it and drove the rest of the way to England. 

1 comment: