Francis William Forester


Francis (Frank) William Forester was born into the English aristocracy on the 7th September 1860. Although his birth was at Somerby House in Leicestershire, the Forester family originated from Shropshire.

The earliest family record is of Robert de Wellington, who in 1227 was one of six county Royal Foresters. The Forester dynasty began to make solid progress in the 17th Century when Francis Forester (b1623) was appointed High Sheriff of Shropshire in 1652. His son William served as Member of Parliament for Wenlock 1678-1681 and again 1689-1718. In the wake of the Monmouth Rebellion he was sent to The Tower in June 1685 ‘suspected of dangerous and treasonable practices’. He bribed his way out and went to live with his wife in The Hague. In March 1687 he was ordered by the King ‘to set aside all excuses and within fourteen days after the letters are delivered to him to return to England and not fail thereof upon pain and peril’. The two successive male heirs, William (b1690) and Cecil (b1721) both MP’s for Wenlock. However, Cecil did not vote or make a speech during his entire term and was eventually marked ‘absent’. 

‘Frank’ Forester’s paternal grandfather, Major Francis, was born in 1774 at Ross Hall, Shrewsbury. He was educated in Shropshire and developed an affection for fox hunting. He initially pursued a military career, purchasing his rank of Major in the 15th Hussars in 1804. He served during the Peninsular campaign of 1808 where, after successive defeats, his regiment was forced to retreat to Corunna. He married Lady Louisa Catherine Barbara Vane, eldest daughter of William Henry Vane, 1st Duke of Cleveland, on the 22nd July 1813 at St. James’s Church, London. The union produced one son, Henry William and two daughters, Julia and Honoria.

In 1816 Forester had a stroke of good luck. Whilst dining with his father-in-law and two other relatives, the Duke of Cleveland announced that he had purchased a lottery ticket. Should the number be drawn he would distribute the prize amongst his three guests. The gamble proved to be a success and the Duke was true to his word. Forester’s third share of the £20,000 winnings was the equivalent of £650,000 today.

Following family tradition, in 1820 he contested the Wenlock Parliamentary election and topped the poll with 215 votes. The early death of his wife at Southampton the following year had a profound effect on his attitude to life and he lost all interest in his Parliamentary duties. He announced his retirement from politics in May 1826, intending to spend the rest of his life fox hunting in Leicestershire and socialising in London. 

He bought Somerby House, a rambling ‘fox hunting box’ situated near the border with Rutland. It possessed four reception rooms, twenty one bedrooms and stables for seventeen horses. 31 St. James’s Place, London followed in 1827. Overlooking Green Park it was advertised as a ‘compact residence for a single Gentleman’. It comprised of, on the ground floor, an entrance hall, a dining room and a library. On the first floor was a drawing room, a morning room and a water closet. On the second floor were three bedrooms, with three further bedrooms in the attic for the servants. In the basement was a housekeepers room, butlers pantry, kitchen, scullery, wine cellar and vaults for beer and coal. In March 1829 he let out Somerby and went to live in London where he died on the 22nd October 1861.

Little is known of his son, Henry William Forester. Born on the 16th February 1819 in Westminster he was educated at Westminster School and was awarded a Master of Arts degree from Trinity College, Oxford in 1844. He married the Hon. Eleanora Alexandrina Fraser, daughter of the Hon. William Fraser, a West India Merchant of Scottish decent, on the 1st February 1858. They lived at Somerby House, where their son, Francis William was born in 1860. Henry appears to have led the life of a country gentleman of independent means; in 1842 he was awarded £4000/year from the will of his maternal grandfather, the 1st Duke of Cleveland, equivalent to £450,000 today. In addition, he inherited his father’s entire estate in 1861. He died at 54 Grosvenor Street, London on the 7th January 1891, leaving a personal estate of £128,000. The lease of Somerby House was advertised for sale the following month. His wife died in London in 1914.

Francis (Frank) William’s 1860 arrival into the world was a low key affair; only the Stamford Mercury bothered to record the event, and even they only gave it two lines. With the exception of his Eton education, nothing has been discovered of his early upbringing. When he was twenty his father purchased for him a Second Lieutenant’s commission in the 2nd Derby Militia. By April 1883 he had been promoted to a full Lieutenant in the 3rd (Kings Own) Hussars. He seriously blotted his copybook in February 1887 when he was arrested in Manchester for being drunk, disorderly and for assaulting a policeman: 


At the Manchester City Police Court, yesterday, before Mr. Alderman Harwood and other magistrates, Francis Forester, a Lieutenant in the 3rd Kings Own Hussars, now stationed at Hulme Barracks, was charged with drunkenness, furious driving and with assaulting the police. William Byrom, also a Lieutenant in the same regiment, was also charged with assault. Police Constable Fawcett stated that at about five minutes past twelve at midnight on the 17th inst. he saw a cab going along Stretford Road, Hulme, being driven at a furious rate. The prisoner Forester was on the box along with another gentleman. Mr Forester was driving. There were our other gentlemen inside the cab and the cabman was clinging to the axletree behind. The cab was being driven towards Hulme Town Hall where a ball was in progress. Witness called out for him to stop, but instead of stopping, Forester lashed out with his whip and struck witness around the neck. Witness followed the cab to the Town Hall where he took hold of the reins and stopped the cab Forester afterwards descended from the box and the witness said that he was intoxicated and incapable. He took him to the police station and there preferred changes against him. Forester as very drunk and it was with the greatest difficulty that he could stand. The other gentlemen accompanied him and became very noisy at the station and were asked to leave. This they at first would not do and police constable Hewitt was stuck in the face by Mr Byrom. The blow would have been violent if it had struck him full in the face. Other constables gave corroborative evidence and were unanimous in saying that Mr Forester was drunk. 

The Chairman said that the magistrates were satisfied that Mr. Forester was on he box and that he took the cab from the cabman without his permission. They also considered that it to have been proved that he was intoxicated, and assaulted the officer, and he would be fined 21s and costs. It was altogether a discreditable affair.”

Shortly afterwards, in July 1887, the 3rd Hussars transferred to Cahir, County Tipperary, to counter nationalist activity in the area. The Manchester incident was of no detriment to Forester’s military career because on the 11th April 1888 he was promoted to Captain. It did not take him long to take advantage of the county’s fox hunting opportunities. In November 1888 he started training a Hussars pack with 12 ‘couples’. By September 1889 his pack was ready for the forthcoming season and Forester hunted with them on a weekly basis. Known for being the hardest rider in the county, the following month he suffered a broken collar bone after his horse put a foot into a rabbit hole and turned clean over. A more serious accident occurred in late April 1890, when, whilst steeplechasing, his horse Privateer fell at the last fence from home and a subsequent horse jumped onto him. He was conveyed to Dublin where his fractured right thigh was set. The recovery at Waterford took longer than anticipated and in early October Forester relinquished his position of Master of the 3rd Hussars Foxhounds to Captain J. R. Scott. It was reported on the 28th October 1890 that Forester had left the army.

1891 was to be a turning point in Forester’s life. On the 7th January his father died after a long illness; in February Forester put Somerby House up for sale. He decided to stay in Ireland and was offered the post of Master of Foxhounds to the Limerick Hunt. He had further misfortune when in May 1891, whilst trying out a new horse, he was thrown and once again broke his right leg, although on this occasion not seriously. He lived at Croom House, in the village of Coom, near Limerick. It was described as being ‘nice comfortable quarters, with a railway station, a postal and telegraph office just at the gate lodge’. His horses and hounds were kept at Fannington Castle several miles away. 

In late August 1891 Forester received news that he had been made a major beneficiary of the estate of the late Harry Powlett, the fourth, and last, Duke of Cleveland. He had died childless on the 21st August and had been buried at Raby Castle. Forester was to inherit Henrietta Laura Pulteney’s entire Bathwick Estate plus the minor north east Somerset estates of Wrington, Redhill and Burrington.

This convoluted stroke of good fortune was the result of Henry Vane, 1st Earl of Darlington, previously Baron Barnard, marrying Lady Grace Fitzroy in 1725. The Fitzroy family originated with Charles Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of Charles II and Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland. He married twice, firstly in 1679 to Mary Wood, who died of smallpox shortly after and secondly in 1694, to Anne Pulteney, daughter of Sir William Pulteney, When Charles Fitzroy’s mother died in 1709 he became the 2nd Duke of Cleveland and inherited Raby Castle. His heir, eldest son William Fitzroy, died without issue, hence the Pulteney Estate ended up in the hands of the Vane’s via his eldest daughter, Grace Fitzroy.

William Henry Vane, 1st Duke of Cleveland, was now a fabulously wealthy man. His marriage to his cousin, Lady Catherine Powlett, produced eight children; three boys and five girls. On his death in 1842 the estate passed to his eldest son, Henry, Earl of Darlington, now the 2nd Duke of Cleveland. When he died childless in 1864 the title went to his younger brother William. Unfortunately he was also to die childless a few months later. Now the youngest son inherited and took the name of Powlett, 4th Duke of Cleveland. When he died childless in 1891 the line of succession was open to question so the matter was referred to the Privileges Committee of the House of Lords. They deemed that the line of the Duke of Cleveland was extinct but that Henry de Vere Vane, a career civil servant, was the rightful 9th Baron Barnard and hence the inheritor of the Raby and Barnard Castles estates. The male descendant of William Henry Vane’s eldest daughter, Lady Louisa Vane (Francis Forester) would inherit the Pulteney and Somerset estates and Battle Abbey on the death of the dowager Duchess. This occurred in 1901, Forester sold the estate immediately afterwards for £200,000. 

Unbelievably, Forester’s response to his windfall was to claim that he had been cheated out of his true inheritance. He wasn’t interested in the titles; his true objective was the £60,000 per year income that was generated by the Raby Castle estate. He claimed that the Vane hereditary line was contaminated with an illegitimate child (Henry Morgan Vane) and that the marriage of John Henry Vane was invalid because he was a minor at the time. Recent research has revealed that his assertions were probably correct. He was given leave to plead his case. The hearing was held on the 24th May, the decision being announced the following week: ‘the Lord Chancellor then moved that Mr. Henry de Vere Vane had made good his claim and that they would report to Her Majesty accordingly. The rest of their lordships concurred, and the proceedings terminated’.

Forester soon discovered that he had not only inherited wealth but also a strained relationship. Bath’s citizens regarded the Duke of Cleveland as being an absent landlord. Almost unknown in Bath, he had been seen only once, in 1868. In the view of the Bath Chronicle ‘the deceased nobleman had derived a large and increasing income from the Bathwick Estate, and as a result was relieved of the expense of keeping up a residence here. The late Duke had become very unpopular since he leased for building purposes the cricket fields in Pulteney Street which was the finest open space in the city’. The Duke managed his estate through Frederick George Farwell at the Bathwick Estate Office in Laura Place. 

Both Farwell’s father and grandfather had been land agents for the Duke and he was a man at the top of his game. His latest project was to redevelop the Villa Fields district of Bath. Situated to the north of the estate it was a low lying area bounded by the River Avon, Bathwick Street and Hampton Row. The slums behind Bathwick Street rivalled those of the Dolemeads whilst further out were allotments, orchards and wood yards. In May 1887 the Duke’s architects, Brown & Gill, informed the city’s Surveying Committee of their intention to erect several blocks of house on the fields. Building was underway by July the following year; ‘Edward Huish, a carpenter, whilst working at one of the new houses being built in the Villa Field slipped from a ladder and dislocated one of his ankle joints’. By December 1888 twelve houses in Powlett Road were already occupied with a further sixteen close to completion. In July 1890 the road was finished and once the issue of street lighting had been overcome ready to be handed over to the Corporation (should they install gas now or wait for the new electric light?). The Chronicle commented favourably on the ‘blocks of model houses that had been built on the Villa Fields for the working classes and the demolition of the miserable courts in the rear of Bathwick Street’. With another fifteen years of building ahead of them it made sound sense for Forester to keep Frederick Farwell in post.

Around this period Forester had started to pursue a potential bride whom he had met at a fox hunting meeting in Bedale, Yorkshire. His quarry was the sixteen year old Miss Aline Laura Milbank, daughter of Sir Powlett Charles John Milbank, 2nd Baronet. Regarded as being one of the most attractive young women in polite society she ‘was very tall and slim, had beautiful blue eyes, fair complexion and fair hair’. In December the Irish newspapers noticed Forester’s absence at the height of the fox hunting season and hoped that ‘he would come back again’. It was a forlorn hope because in February it was learnt that he had negotiated the lease of Londonderry Lodge, near Bedale, and taken his horses with him. The house is now a transport cafe whilst the estate became the site of RAF Leeming.

Forester’s next position was ‘Master of the Old Berks Hunt’, Kingston Bagpuize, to which he was appointed in March 1893. It was reported that the ‘Old Berkshire men are delighted with the keenness of their new Master and while he carries the horn they have great hopes for the sport’. He took lodgings at Buckland House, Farringdon, home of Sir William Throckmorton. Forester proposed to Aline Milbank in October 1893 and the wedding was arranged for the following April (at the end of the fox hunting season, Forester resigning from the Old Berks at the same time). They were married on the 10th April 1894 at St. Mark’s Church, North Audley Street, London in front of a ‘large and distinguished company’. Aline was ‘dressed white brocade with Brussels lace and a tiara of five diamond stars.’ They spent their honeymoon at Willey Park, Shropshire.

The couple initially made their home at Old Dalby Hall, Leicestershire, which they leased for three years. Their first daughter, Mary Eleanor, was born in 1895 at Londonderry Lodge. Forester’s married life consisted of social engagements, fox hunting and training race horses. There once was a rumour that he was to be offered the Belvoir Hunt but nothing became of it. He did, however, find time to accept various honorary positions that came his way in Bath: Presidents of Bath Rugby Football Club, Bath Association Cricket Club, Bath and County Athletic Club and the Eastern Dispensary. An honorary military position was also on offer; Command of the West Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry (Volunteers) which he obtained as a result of his ownership of the Wrington Estate. He was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and held the post for five years. Two months later, in June 1895, he was to sell the entire estate for £100,000 (£13m today).

Meanwhile, back in Bathwick, in June 1894 Forester improved his public image by agreeing to lease field that is today known as ‘The Rec’ to a consortium who would develop it into an open space for ‘Cricket Matches, Lawn Tennis and Archery Tournaments, Football Matches and other outdoor sports’. The Bath and County Recreation Ground Company was formed and a prospectus issued to raise £3,000 by public subscription, £2,000 of it to be spent on ground works, fences and a new pavilion. The lease was for twenty one years at £100 per year. It was believed that ‘the acquisition of this land cannot fail very materially to enhance the the attraction of the City to visitors and residents alike’. He went one step further in 1897 when he gifted seven acres of Henrietta Park to the city. 

Unfortunately, disquiet was concurrently being expressed over the treatment of the Villa Fields tenants. In April 1895 ‘Mr. Farwell has given the whole of the tenants of the Villa Fields, with the exception of those occupying the recently erected houses, notice to quit on the 25th March next year. The step, which is said to have caused not a little consternation among the tenants, some of whom have rented under the Duke of Cleveland for many years, is taken with the view to the further laying out of the estate’. Mr. Barlow, writing in the Chronicle, thought that the evictions were worse than the evictions in Ireland and complained that his father had built himself a cottage after receiving assurances from the estate management that his tenure would be secure. 

The complaints were to no avail. By 1900 building along Forester Road, Forester Avenue and Rockcliffe Road was already well advanced and the estate was generally receiving positive reviews:

The progress of covering the Villa Fields, Bathwick, with modern habitations has received an impetus by the continuation of Rockcliffe Road up to Hampton Row on the right hand side of Forester Road. The plots have been quickly appropriated and the speculative builders are already busily engaged on the new sitesWhat were practically cabins embowered in fruit gardens have given way to properly laid out roads lined with excellent dwellings.

However, the socially minded were more critical:

The Crescent Gardens was intended to be utilised for artisan dwellings, whereas middle class villas now occupy it. Villa Fields, too, has shared the same fate. The old cheaply rented cottages have disappeared and been replaced by well built houses with modern appliances, but at double or threefold rental of the old ones. Doubtless in each of these cases the localities have been greatly improved; but whilst the classes who can look after themselves have monopolised the sites and the houses, the dispossessed poorer class have left to fend for themselves, and thus increase the overcrowding in the slums which the new houses were intended to remedy. The ‘crux’ of the movement is to provide a decent dwelling for the poor at a rent within their means. If the original rents proposed, viz. 3s or 3s-6d per week, had been adhered to this object would have been attained, but when fixed as it is at the present viz. 5s and 6s-6d per week, it is manifestly impossible.

The fact is the Corporation has begun at the wrong end. Instead of considering what kind of house could be erected to let at 2s-6d to 3s-6d per week, they have at first built the house at such a cost as to necessitate double that rental. Good, comfortable houses have been built, the locality has been improved and a better class accommodated, but the problem of ‘better housing for the poor’, far from being thereby solved, has been rendered worse.’

Alderman Frederick Farwell lived just long enough to see Villa Fields largely completed; he died in June 1906 at Laura Place after contracting a severe chill. His funeral was a huge affair conducted at St. Mary’s Church and he was interred at Bathwick Cemetery. The obituary in the Bath Chronicle included the line ‘it was by his good offices that Henrietta Park was presented to the City by Captain Forester’. The same obituary reveals that it was Farwell who, when rugby club moved to the Rec, ‘helped in the movement through laying down conditions which he regarded as essential for the many residents whose houses border on the Pulteney Meadows’. Forester appointed his son, Mr F. G. Farwell, as the successor to his father. 

Returning to Forester’s domestic affairs, between August 1897 and May 1898 the family were reported to be staying at Cresswell Hall, Alnmouth. In September 1898 they temporarily moved to Kineton House, Warwickshire. In January 1899 they bought Pilmore Hall, on the Rockliffe Estate near Darlington for £60,000:

Pilmore Hall is a fine House overlooking the Tees Valley, with good gardens and a large park. The estate is richly wooded and the farms consist of remarkably good land. The place stands at the centre of an excellent hunting country.’

It was at Pilmore that their son Henry William was born in 1899. The 1901 census reveals them being attended to by thirteen servants. The following year Forester discovered that his marriage was in jeopardy: his wife was having an affair.

Addison Francis Baker Cresswell was a Captain in the Northumberland Hussars and a Master of Foxhounds. Aged twenty seven at the time he had been married for only two years and already had two children. The family owned Cresswell Hall. Forester had reason to believe that for five days in July 1902 Captain Cresswell and his wife had stayed at the Savoy Hotel in London and masqueraded as man and wife, that they had stayed for the entire September at the Hotel Westminster in Paris and between October and November they had spent six weeks together in Caithness, Scotland. On the 12th November 1902 Forester petitioned for a divorce on the grounds of adultery and claimed damages of £50,000 from Cresswell. Through their respective solicitors both defendants stated that adultery had not taken place and pleaded for the petition to be dismissed. By mutual agreement this took place the following July.

We know that Aline was back living at Pilmore Hall in September 1903 because it was there that she discovered the house was on fire:


A wing of Rockliffe Park, a mansion near Darlington, the residence of Captain Forester, was destroyed by fire on Tuesday night, damage being done to the extent of several thousand pounds. The outbreak occurred in the library between six and seven o’clock through the chimney catching fire and was discovered by Mrs. Forester who got the private brigade to work with a manual pump until the arrival of the Darlington Brigade. When the Brigade arrived it was found that the main apartments occupied by the family were well ablaze, the flames reaching to a great height. A plentiful supply of water was at hand, and by nine o’clock mastery had been obtained over the fire. Fortunately the contents of the burnt portion, which was the most important part of the mansion, were saved by willing hands, including valuable pictures and furniture. The greater part of the building has been saved, the fire being confined to one wing of the south front.

Although a huntsman first and foremost, Forester had developed an interest in racing whilst Master of the Limerick Fox Hounds. In 1889 he had bought the six year old gelding Bright Light and rode him at various minor Irish steeplechase meets with a notable lack of success. He competed in the English racing calendar during 1894 and 1895 with Jack Snipe and Grand Attack respectively, in all events both horses were unplaced. Forester had to wait until the 6th May 1896 for his first win, that of Widow’s Daughter at Chester.

In circa 1894 Frank had met the financiers Percy Cunliffe and Wilfred Purefoy. Both men held a grudge against bookmakers because, in their opinion, they sucked wealth away from the racehorse owners. They became convinced that they could, with a little ingenuity and a lot of money, make racing pay. Cunliffe owned secluded land on the edge of Salisbury Plain and it was there that he built the Druids Lodge Stables at a cost equivalent to £13m today. They invited into the syndicate Edward Wigan, a breeder and racing stud owner, Holmer Peard, a notable vet and Forester. They hired an experienced Irish trainer, Jack Fallon, grandfather of Michael Fallon, who was U.K. Defence Secretary between 2014 and 2017. The whole operation was shrouded in secrecy.

Together they formed what was known as the ‘Druids Lodge Confederacy’. Using his Irish contacts, Forester would clandestinely seek out young horses with potential and ship them back to England. Fallon would then train them to peak condition. These horses would then be quietly introduced into the racing circuit, the jockeys being instructed ‘not to try too hard’. After a period of time, with interest waning and the odds being favourable, Purefoy would strike, placing massive international bets with the unsuspecting bookmakers and wait for the outsider to romp home.

Hackler’s Pride was bought by Forester for £1,500 in 1902 and transferred to Druids Lodge. Over the course of the Autumn she ‘cleaned out all the two year olds as though they were donkeys’. Plans began to be made to enter her in the Newmarket ‘Cambridgeshire Handicap’ the following year. This was a prestigious flat race run over one mile, one furlong. She put in token appearances at Ascot and Goodwood where her form failed to impress. When the handicap weights were announced in September she was found to be 10lbs light, so Fallon increased this in training by another 7lbs. When the betting got underway Purefoy began speculating against Hackler’s Pride to drive the odds up. When they reached 25-1 he pounced. Should Hackler’s Pride win he would clear £250,000, equivalent to some £23m today. She won by three lengths.

Despite an outcry from the bookmakers the race stewards declined to investigate. She repeated the feat the following year, this time as favourite. After winning the equivalent of £30m for the Confederacy in September 1905 she was sold to Sir Tatton Sykes for 5,500 guineas (£620,000) and went to the stud. She died in 1922 after producing fourteen foals. Forester repeated the feat of having a back to back wins at the Cambridgeshire in 1908 and 1909, this time with Christmas Daisy. He was sold to France in 1910 but put in an indifferent performance. On his retirement from racing in 1912 he was brought back to England and given to Forester as a present. 

Whilst the Confederacy went on to have many more winners, notably the 100-1 winner Aboyeur in the 1913 ‘Suffragettes Derby’ they never managed repeat the coup of 1903/4. In 1914, with the stable lads volunteering for war and the Army requisitioning Salisbury Plain, the Druids Lodge Stables closed. The site is now a polo club. When, in later years Forester was asked how much he had made, he replied that he had just about broken even.

1904 brought further changes to the Forester household; their second daughter, Aline Margaret was born in London on the 11th June and in December they all left Pilmore Hall for Saxelbye Park, near Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire. In March 1905 Forester was appointed Master of Foxhounds for the premier pack in the country; the Quorn. His annual retainer was set at £3,000, a fraction of his anticipated expenses. After a couple of minor accidents (concussion and a broken rib) he settled down to a life of fox hunting in the winter and socialising in the summer. For the next decade his life was unremarkable; he continued to be associated with Druids Lodge but it was reported that he was embarrassed that his name was still being linked to betting fraud. Their third daughter was born on the 22nd September 1909 whilst his eldest daughter, Mary, married Arthur Fitzgerald of the Irish Guards in February 1914 in what was Melton’s society wedding of the year.

Whilst the international situation deteriorated and Europe drifted towards war, in May 1914 Forester had more important things on his mind: despite claiming indifference nearly twenty years before he now wanted a peerage. His arcane claim to the Privileges Committee was that because he was the direct descendant of John de St. John (who had sat in Parliament in 1253) he was the true heir to the Barony of St. John. The Barony was created in the latter part of the thirteenth century and fell into abeyance on the death of the sixth Lord St. John in 1429. After impenetrable legal arguments on both sides the question became whether or not the Parliaments of 1283 and 1290 were full parliaments in the full sense of the word. Did they have the authority to sanction a new peerage, and if not, was Forester’s ancestor a ‘Baron’ in the first place? The Committee deferred their judgement until the 9th July whence they decided that the Barony was invalid and hence any further claims to it irrelevant.

The outbreak of the First World War had little impact on Forester’s life. It was whilst hunting in April 1915 that came across a wired enclosure that housed German officers who were now prisoners of war. He brought the hounds close to the fence for inspection. On departing he doffed his hat and received a military salute in return. This civility was witnessed the other riders and resulted in the following comment in the John Bull newspaper:

We think that Captain Forester might have been better employed. Politeness is the prerogative of princes, but a little discrimination in its exercise is a very good thing. The Germhun officers, luxuriously imprisoned at Donington Hall, have no more right to the courtesies exchanged between gentlemen than their piratical compatriots, who murder non-combatants on the high seas, have to the honours of war. We can respect an honourable enemy, and should not hesitate to salute him. But before we raise our hat to the fiendish Huns who have made a hell of Belgium, we would eat it first.

August 1915 brought the news that his son-in-law had been wounded in Flanders and was now recuperating in England. In January 1916 the Military Service Act was passed authorising conscription for all eighteen to forty one year old males unless they were exempt. This had catastrophic consequences for the country’s hunts. In September 1916 Forester attended the Melton Rural Tribunal which was called to discuss rescinding exemption certificates. It was stated that the Quorn ‘had let fifteen men go, and had barely sufficient left to carry on the hunt. It could not be done entirely by old men and cripples’. The military’s representative was unsympathetic, declaring ‘we think that hunting is not a necessity, but only a luxury. Farmers are making sacrifices, and so might the hunt’. The military wanted to requisition the only man left who could ride; a compromise was reached whereby they would extend the exemption until the 25th March at the end of the fox hunting season.

By 1917 Forester was at a low ebb; support for the hunt was dwindling, on one outing there were only three followers. The Quorn’s finances were in a dire condition and the hunt was only viable because Forester had subsidised it to the tune of £6,000 (£525,000). In early 1918 it was noticed that Christmas Daisy appeared to be in pain. The vet was summoned and he diagnosed a cracked pelvis. He was rested until early Autumn, when, on his first walk out, he only made a couple of miles before coming to a halt. The vet put him down in his own stable and his carcass was fed to the hounds.

Forester had had enough and was tired of running the hunt with only his daughters for support. He resigned before the start of the 1918/19 season.

In the post war period Forester’s life reverted back to that of a country gentleman. He maintained his Bath honorary titles and performed his civic duties, by for example, annually providing the city with a Christmas tree. He was made the first life member of the Cricket Club in recognition of selling the North Parade ground to them at a very advantageous rate. However, it had been noted that ‘Captain Forester has been seen little in Bath, only coming here for Bath Races, and for a meeting of the Spa Hotel Company, of which he is a director’. The view that he was gradually distancing himself from Bath turned out to be correct. In April 1919 the Times reported that ‘practically the whole of Bathwick, within the city of Bath, is to be sold by order of Captain F. W. Forester. The estate includes 530 houses, 60 shops, 50 detached residences and 200 to 300 other properties. The total area is 600 acres, yielding over £15,000 a year. Mr Joseph Stower will offer the entire estate, in one lot, at an early date’.

The auction, held in London in August, was a failure; the maximum bid of £270,000 was short of the £300,000 reserve. Subsequently a rumour went around the city that Forester was in negotiations with a Bristol syndicate who were interested in purchasing part of the estate for eventual resale. This proved groundless. In December 1920 Stower announced that there was to be a second auction on the 8th March, this time in Bath. 183 properties would be sold individually: ’42 shops, 100 private residences, manufacturing and business premises, two licensed Inn, two beer house, blocks of artisan dwellings, cottages, building land and a local boat building yard’. The Pulteney Arms public house and the Barley Mow beer house were included in the sale. The auction was not particularly successful; on the first day only eight of the sixty four lots were bought, almost entirely by their tenants. The fourteen shops on Pulteney Bridge went entirely unsold because any purchaser would have to maintain the structure, the City Corporation having repudiated any liability. In January 1925 Forester converted the residual properties of the Bathwick Estate, of which he was sole owner, into an unlimited company known as the Bathwick Estate Company. The registered office was in Russel Square, London whilst the local estate management remained in the hands of Mr. Algernon Berkeley Paget. Two of the other three directors were Henry Forester and Captain Arthur Fitzgerald, his son and son-in-law respectively.

Paget had joined the estate office in April 1916 after Captain Farwell of the 1st Volunteer Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, had been called up and sent to India. Paget himself had narrowly avoided conscription because ‘the Army is in need of experienced clerks’. He proved to be more capable than his predecessor. Before his appointment the Bathwick Estate had been in a poor state of repair with approximately forty empty houses; a visitor from Devon noting:

Sir—Will you afford me space in your valuable paper to make a few remarks on what struck me as a visitor, walking in the streets of your handsome city, that the empty houses are so badly kept, especially in that fine street, Pulteney Street. It is a law in Holland that the landlords are obliged to keep their unoccupied houses in as good a condition as those which are occupied; and in consequence there are no eyesores of neglected houses to be seen in the street. I am informed a Captain Forester owns the Bathwick Estate. Has he no agent to look after it to see that the outside at least of those handsome houses on the estate are kept in decent order? I trust on my next visit to see an improvement.’

By 1925 all the properties were occupied, a state of affairs that had not existed for the previous twenty five years. Unfortunately, in May 1925, Paget discovered his wife dead on the kitchen floor with her head in the gas oven. Although she was suffering from depression she had never mentioned taking her own life before. She had had a heart attack the previous September and a fainting fit the following December when she nearly fell under a train at Bath Station. It can be surmised that the death of his wife led to him resign from the Estate Office because by August 1925 had been replaced by Captain Godfrey Younghusband. Paget died in 1928 at Kensington, London, aged fifty one.

October 1922 saw Forester’s final big win in a horse race. Ever since the demise of Druid’s Lodge he had kept a small stud, latterly at Edward Harper’s stables at Everleigh on Salisbury Plain. Newmarket’s Cesarewitch Handicap Stakes was run over two miles and two furlongs. He entered Light Dragoon, a horse considered so poor that neither he nor the trainer went to see him race. Nor did he back him, preferring Percy Cunliffe’s favourite Charlebelle. Light Dragoon won by a neck at odds of 100-1. 

March 1925 saw the Forester’s leave Saxelbye for Hurdcott House, Barford St. Martin, about six miles west of Salisbury. Not only had Forester bought a superb Georgian country house, included in his purchase were seventy acres of grounds, an ornamental lake, two farms totalling five hundred and fifty acres, one hundred and twenty acres of woodland, a mile of trout fishing on the River Nadder and twenty one cottages. Furthermore, the house was only three miles from Wilton and its Hunt. 

October 1926 brought about another embarrassing court case whereby Forester was again accused of dangerous driving, this time in a motor car. He was summoned to attend the Salisbury County Sessions for ‘driving a motor car in a manner dangerous to the public at Fovent on September 9th’. It was alleged that he had come out onto the main road at a speed of 25 to 30 miles per hour, forcing an oncoming car to swerve into a bank. Forester, it was further alleged, ‘did not stop but went right on’. Under examination he agreed that he had driven along the road on both the 9th and the 10th but denied any knowledge of the accident. A series of witnesses were called, none of whom could agree on the actual date of the incident. Eventually an exasperated Chairman dismissed the case on a technicality. Forester’s solicitor then asked for costs to be awarded to the other side. He was told ‘no, certainly not, I think you are very fortunate in getting off as you have!’

In February 1927 Forester was asked if he would consider becoming Master of the Wilton Hounds, a position which he agreed to take at the start of the next hunting season. The inevitable fall occurred the following January; Forester’s horse stumbled whilst taking a jump and threw him. This time the injuries were a broken left arm and right leg. He was now sixty eight years old and this accident was more serious than it appeared: it was to finish his horse riding career. Forester struggled on with the Hunt until March 1930 when he resigned. Support for the Hunt had been declining ever since he had become Master and subscriptions over the period had nearly halved. Even the local farmers were becoming hostile ‘putting up large barbed wire fences that no hound, and hardly a fox could get through. During the present season there had hardly been a day on which one or two Hounds had not been taken home owing to the wire fences’. The Committee having failed to elect a successor resigned en masse, an action that was later reversed when a young candidate came forward.

Forester spent the 1930’s in relative obscurity. In 1931 he went on a cruise to Marseille with his daughter Aline. They had travelled abroad once before, in 1924, to Argentina for the benefit of her health. Further trips followed to Naples, Lisbon, Marseilles and Tangiers. His last horse race was on the 21st November 1934 in the 2.55 at Manchester, the Cotterstock Handicap Plate where his horse ‘French Bean’ was unplaced. Forester’s lifetime tally of winners was 125. He maintained his honorary connections with Bath and in 1938 donated the £660 proceeds from the sale of Cleveland House’s lease to the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases. His last philanthropic act was to donate £1,000 to the Mayor of Bath’s Air Raid Relief Fund created to give assistance to the families bombed out in the 1942 Baedeker raids.

Frank William Forester died on the 20th September 1942 at Hurdcott aged 82. He left an estate worth £170,428 gross, £139,466 net. He bequeathed moderate sums to his retainers and the 3rd Hussars Old Comrades Association, £1,000 each to his two grandsons and £500 each to his son Henry, his daughter Mary and his wife. The residue of £134,566 (approx. £6.4m) was split between his daughters Aline (Bailwood) and Catherine (Baird). He was cremated and his ashes spread on the site of the Druids Lodge Stables at Netheravon.

The Chair of the Bathwick Estate Company was taken over by Aline Bailwood. It remained in existence until 1973 when its remaining fifty six properties were sold to Bath City Council. The Company was then liquidated.

Aline Forester planned to put Hurdcott up for auction in June 1943 but it was sold privately in May. She moved to Filleigh, 40 Bathwick Hill, Bath, in October 1943. In the same month she unveiled a bronze tablet in St. Mary’s Church, Bathwick:

Sacred to the memory of Francis William Forester, Captain 3rd Hussars, Governing Director of the Bathwick Estate, Great Nephew of the Duke of Cleveland, died September 20th 1942. This tablet is erected by his loving wife and children, Aline Laura Forester, Mary Fitzgerald, Henry William Forester, Aline Margaret Bailwood, Catherine Augusta Baird.

Aline Forester left Bath for London in 1949 but returned in 1956 when she moved into a flat at 103 Sydney Place. She died on the 6th March 1962 at Bailbrook House, Batheaston, aged 86. This imposing Georgian mansion had been since 1831 a mental institution but by the early 1960’s it was more of a nursing home. She was cremated at Haycombe three days later. She left an estate worth £2516 2s (£54,000).

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