MRS GEMMA FALCONER (Mrs T Wentworth Falconer)
The account below is taken from a PowerPoint presentation on Island House, Steep, given to the Steep History Group in Nov 2019 by Fran Box. Generous assistance and additional information has also been provided by David Le Breton, Gemma Falconer’s grandson.
In November 1902 Gemma Falconer purchased Island Farm, Steep and the surrounding paddocks for £4000 plus the timber valuation. The land had been owned by the Hawker family. It had previously been part of their Ashford Manor estate. Between 1903 to 1904 Mrs Falconer had Island House built on this land. The architects of the house were Unsworth and Triggs. The gardens were designed and laid out by Harry Inigo Triggs.
Gemma Falconer had been born Georgemma Glossop in Henstridge in Somerset on 23 April 1859. Her parents were John James Glossop, a fund holder born in West Dean Somerset in 1827 and Harriett Eliza Glossop who had been born in London in 1822. In 1851 the couple were living at Priston Lodge, Priston, Keynsham, Somerset and employing four servants. They went on to have four children of whom Georgemma was the youngest. Her siblings were Henry b. 1854, Blanche b. 1855 and Ethel b. 1857. By 1861 they had moved to Inwood Lodge in the parish of Henstridge, Wincanton Somerset. By that time her father described himself as: J.P. for the counties of Somerset and Middlesex, a Lt Colonel in the Middlesex Militia, a Landed Proprietor and Leaseholder. A later newspaper notice of 1892 describes him as a Colonel in the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. The family employed seven live in servants: a governess, two nursemaids, two housemaids, a cook and a footman. It seems reasonable to assume that Gemma came from a fairly well off family.
By the age of eleven years Gemma had been sent with her two sisters to a boarding school named Leigh Court in the parish of Tormoham in Torquay, Devon. The girls were there with twenty other young ladies aged between ten and seventeen years. Their schoolmistresses were two ladies in their forties: Emily Trevor and Tirzeh Broughton. I could not find parents’ names in the 1871 Census, so one wonders whether they may have been abroad.
By 1881 the Glossop girls and their parents were all living at a house named Lunesdale, St Matthias Terrace, in the St Mary church parish of Torquay, Devon. They employed two male and four female servants. Nearby was Lunesdale Gardener’s Cottage and Lunesdale Stables, so the establishment seems to have been quite a large one. All three Glossop girls were still unmarried at 26, 24 and 21 years old.
Col. John James Glossop died on 9th January 1886.
In 1882 Georgemma, aged 23 years, married 36 year old Captain Edward Hemery Le Breton at Torquay, Newton Abbott registration district.
Edward Hemery Le Breton came from a distinguished Jersey family, several of whose members had had leading parts in the affairs of that island. So it was his ancestral homeland, though he himself was born in London in 1846. This was because his father, James Edward Le Breton, a younger son had left Jersey and gone to Brazil where he married a woman of English descent. James Edward Le Breton then took leave from his trading company and came to England where his son Edward was born.
Edward Le Breton joined the army in 1867. By 1881 he was a captain in the 18th Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment and stationed at Aldershot.
However, while Edward had joined the Royal Irish Regiment he must have valued his Jersey family connections, and he became a senior officer in the Jersey Militia which was perhaps the main local armed force. Edward Le Breton was described as “Adjutant du Bataillon de St Helier”, which explains why he went there after his marriage to Georgemma and why two of their sons: Edward Philip b. 1883 and John Glossop b. 1885 were born in Jersey. He then developed poor health and was invalided out of the militia, perhaps in 1886 or early 1887. Edward le Breton retired from the army with the honorary rank of Lt Colonel. By 1887 Georgemma was back in Kensington for the birth of their daughter Edith Elizabeth (Betty). The family then went to Torquay, because that was where Edward’s father had settled. His father had died in 1855 aged only 46. Devon was also where his wife had been brought up and where they had been married. So one might say that Jersey was Edward Le Breton’s ancestral home, but Devon had become his “home county”. By 1889, their son Francis (known as Frank) Hemery Le Breton was born.
In 1882, the same year that Georgemma was married, a few months later, Gemma’s sister Ethel, aged 25 years, was to marry 36 year old Major Adam Bogle of the Royal Engineers. His family were also living nearby at Torquay. From 1882 Bogle saw seven years army service in Aldershot as instructor in fortifications. He was then sent to Jamaica 1889-90, and then in Dover. Adam retired from the army in 1892. So, of Gemma Falconer’s relatives, it was her sister Ethel and her husband Major Adam Bogle who would first come to live in Steep. Adam is shown as having paid a subscription to Steep Cricket Club in 1897. Kelly’s Directory of 1898 lists the Bogles as living at Steephurst farmhouse. They would have been tenants of Mrs Jane Balfour. This was before Bedales School purchased it and came to the village in 1900. Bogle was one of the eight vice presidents of Steep Cricket in 1898. In 1903 the couple were living at Collyers as tenants of the Shuttleworth family. They continued to live at Collyers until Adam’s death at the age of 66 years in 1915. During their time in Steep, Major Bogle was also a Steep Parish councillor and a churchwarden at All Saints’. He also had an earlier claim to fame in that as a young man he played in the first ever FA Cup football match in 1872. See here: https://historyofsteep.co.uk/portfolio/the-fa-cup-final-and-steep/ Adam Bogle is buried in Steep churchyard.
Meanwhile Gemma’s sister, Blanche aged 31 years, married barrister and solicitor Henry Harrison Pownall of Lincoln’s Inn in London in 1886. The couple lived first in Richmond and then moved to the Chailey estate in West Sussex.
Harriet Glossop, her 80 year old widowed mother was still living at Lunesdale in Torquay. The 1891 Census showed she was employing a butler, footman, cook, two housemaids and a kitchenmaid.
1891 found the Le Bretons living at Bryndarh, Woodland Terrace, Kinswear, Totnes, Devon. They employed four female servants; Edward was ‘living on own means’. Edward seems to have relaxed into the pursuits of sailing, golf and rowing. He became commodore of Torbay Sailing Club; he was on the committee of The Royal Dart Yacht Club. He was well known in yachting circles in the West of England. The family later moved to live at Romaleyn Villa, Paignton, Devon.
But by 1894 the following report appeared in the Totnes Weekly Times edition of 28 April 1894:
“Lieutenant Colonel Le Breton well known in yachting circles throughout the west of England was on Friday morning found dead in his bedroom at Romaleyn Villa, Paignton. Apparently he was a healthy gentleman but had suffered from heart disease and had sought the advice of Dr T Huxley (Torquay) and other prominent medical gentlemen. He rose on Friday morning as usual and was in the act of dressing, when he suddenly became faint, lay on the bed, and within a minute had expired. Dr Alexander was hastily summoned but found life extinct.”
Gemma’s four children would have been between the ages of four and eleven years at the death of their father.
So, the young widow Gemma had to continue alone, no doubt supported by family members. However, by 1898 Gemma had met Mr Thomas Wentworth Falconer. They married on 28th June 1898 at St Mary Abbotts Kensington. She was aged 38 years and he was 42.
Thomas Wentworth Falconer b. 1858 in Bath was also an ex army officer. In 1875 he had been in the 2nd Somerset Regiment but by 1879 he had resigned his commission and become engaged in the rubber growing industry in Malaya and possibly Borneo. He had an interest in anthropology and in 1901 would be listed as a Fellow of the Anthropological Institute at The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. Thomas was the eldest son of an eminent Bath doctor named Randle Willbraham Falconer M.D. F.R.C.P. D.C.L. Thomas had a twin brother who died in infancy. Thomas’s father had been mayor of Bath in 1857 and President of the BMA in 1878. Thomas’s grandfather had also been a doctor. Thomas Wentworth Falconer seems to have been a jovial sort. He was stockily built, weighing about 15-16 stone. Besides anthropology; he enjoyed light music; one of his hobbies was angling.
By 1901 the new Mr and Mrs Thomas Wentworth Falconer were living at Foxholes House in Christchurch, although Gemma’s children were not with them.
So perhaps through her sister Ethel and brother in law Major Adam Bogle, Gemma Falconer became aware of the village of Steep in Hampshire. Gemma and her new husband Thomas may well have visited them when they were living in Steep from 1897 onwards. It may have been through the Bogles that they became aware that part of the Ashford Manor estate was for sale in 1902. Certainly by November of that year, Gemma had purchased Island Farm and its paddocks. It was on the land lying west of Island Farm that she was to have Island House built between 1903-4. The house was designed by local architects Unsworth and Triggs. Harry Inigo Triggs played a large part in the design of the gardens which seem to have been built in two stages: 1903 and 1909. There will be more about Island House and its gardens in the Buildings and Farms section of this website in due course.
The Island House History booklet written and researched by Peter Baillon, a former occupant of Island House, states that it was Gemma Falconer who bought the land and had the house built, not her husband Thomas. Presumably Baillon had access to the deeds of the house to prove this. One might therefore speculate that Gemma had inherited money from her wealthy parents, the Glossops, who had both died by this point. She may also have inherited money from her first husband Edward Le Breton.
The new Mr and Mrs Thomas Wentworth Falconer prepared to settle into their beautiful new ten bedroomed house named Island and to enjoy the wonderful gardens that were being created by Harry Inigo Triggs. Gemma’s eldest son Edward Philip had by this time joined the Indian army where he served with their equivalent of the Royal Engineers. He also served with an Indian unit known as the “King George’s Own Sappers and Miners” and with the 17th Indian Division in Mesopotamia. John, who was always known as Jack, was at Balliol College, Oxford and in 1909 he joined the Administration of the then British East Africa Protectorate (not then called Kenya) as a Government Civil Servant. Edith (Betty) and Frank would probably have spent time between being home with their parents and being away at school. The Falconers had two years in which to enjoy life in Steep together before disaster struck for a second time.
In June 1906 Thomas Falconer went to the Isle of Wight on a fishing trip and stayed at The Eight Bells in Carisbrooke. He then decided on a short visit to East Cowes, so he booked into the Prince of Wales Hotel there. He met his friend Jack Meader, who lived at Balmoral House. On a Sunday evening, the two men had a drink together at the Prince of Wales Hotel. The landlady, Mrs Partridge and Miss Bennett, a lady guest, joined them. Thomas Falconer suggested some music. Miss Bennett played a classical piece on the piano and when Thomas suggested something lighter, she played again from the Duchess of Dantzic. Thomas got up and walked across the room towards her but as he did so, he slipped and fell forwards on the polished floor. In doing so, he knocked Miss Bennett off her seat and her chair overturned. The upturned legs of the chair struck Thomas in the abdomen. Fortunately Miss Bennett was uninjured, but Thomas was in pain. He was helped up and when asked how he was, said that he would go upstairs and lie down. During the night Thomas was in more pain, a doctor was called and did what he could. He returned the following morning to find him even worse and it seemed apparent that there was probably an internal injury. He then called for a specialist from Southampton who arrived in the afternoon. They prepared for operation. They began to administer an anaesthetic, but at this point Thomas sadly died. Other witnesses to the events stated that Thomas had been quite sober when he fell. He had been wearing shooting boots and it was possible that the nails in them may have caused him to slip. He was stoutly, built weighing 15-16 stone, which may have caused him to fall heavily. A subsequent post-mortem revealed a serious and extensive injury. He was later buried in Steep churchyard.
Gemma Falconer continued to live on in Steep for a few more years. Besides her two sisters and their husbands, her social circle seems to have included the families of other retired army officers living locally, such as the Kellys of The Knolls, Steep, also of local doctors, solicitors etc. in Petersfield. I did not find any newspaper reports of Gemma Falconer playing a prominent role in the life of Steep village. However, the family seems to have been quite popular, as is shown in the newspaper account of the marriage of her daughter Betty in 1909.
On 30th Sept 1909 a grand wedding took place in which Gemma’s 22 year old daughter Betty was married to Mr Francis Elphinstone Dalrymple of the Royal Artillery. He was the son of a baronet. Due to numbers, the wedding took place at St Peter’s church in Petersfield, rather than at Steep church. An extract from the Portsmouth Evening News newspaper report of 1st October 1909 describes the wedding in Petersfield reads as follows:
“The inhabitants of Steep, with whom the bride and her mother are extremely popular, took special interest in the happy event and attended in large numbers, whilst townspeople thronged the entrance to the church. The Square was filled with carriages and motor cars which brought between 200 and 300 guests. The reception was held at Island. On the eve of the wedding the parishioners of Steep were invited to Island to view the gifts, and attended in large numbers, being hospitably entertained by Mrs Falconer.”
The further improvements to the gardens at Island may well have been prompted by a desire to make Island look as attractive as possible for this auspicious occasion.
Just under two years later, the 1911 Census shows Gemma Falconer was still living at Island and that her married daughter Betty was with her, but not her daughter’s husband who may have been stationed elsewhere on an army posting. Also with the family at Island on census day were four guests: 29 year old Margaret Ingham and her two young sons, both of whom had been born in Rhodesia and 33 year old Mrs Mary Davis of private means. Gemma employed a Danish cook, a parlourmaid, two housemaids and a kitchen maid. A coachman, his family and a groom were at The Stables and a gardener and his family were living at the Lodge house. It might therefore be deduced that Gemma Falconer was a widow of means at the head of a sizeable establishment in Steep.
In 1913 Gemma’s sister Blanche’s husband died which meant the Chailey estate had to be given up. Blanche Pownall moved nearer to Gemma and her other sister Ethel Bogle, living first at Dunannie House, Steep, and then at Broadlands at Sheet/Petersfield.
During WWI, Gemma’s three sons were all in the army. Edward was a Lt Colonel in the Indian Royal Engineers/Sappers and Miners, Jack (John) was a captain in the Kings African Rifles and Frank (Francis) was an Acting Major in the Royal Field Artillery. Frank was wounded in the right arm and won the Military Cross. Blanche’s son Lt Lionel Pownall of the West Kent Regiment was killed aged 19 years at Ypres in 1915. His name is on the Steep War memorial. Gemma’s son in law Sir Francis Elphinstone-Dalrymple also saw service in WWI. He was Deputy Assistant Adjutant General Royal Artillery 1915-17, Mentioned in Dispatches and in 1918 was awarded the D.S.O.
Towards the end of WWI, in 1917, Gemma Falconer made the decision to leave Island. By that time, she was 57 years old and may well have been the one remaining member of the family at Island. Her sons would have been away in the war and her married daughter now had two young daughters and was perhaps elsewhere.
In 1917, Island was let to Mrs May Fitton, widow of Brig Gen. Sir Hugh Fitton. Gemma Falconer moved from Steep to Loders Court at Loders in Dorset. It was another beautiful country area. Loders Court was then the home of her eldest son Edward and his wife. According to electoral registers, Gemma Falconer remained at Loders from 1919 to 1927. Her sons Jack and Frank also lived there for part of this period.
In Nov 1919 Gemma gave Island House and its estate to her youngest son Frank, ‘in consideration of her natural love and affection towards him’, but Frank did not choose to live at Island. Instead, Mrs Fitton continued to live at Island as his tenant.
Gemma Falconer’s children:
EDWARD PHILIP LE BRETON (elder son) b.1883 in Jersey
After WWI in May 1920 Edward married his cousin Mary Gwendoline Sawbridge of Denford, Berks. He left the army and went on to a career in public service. In 1933 he was chairman of Dorset Education Committee, High Sheriff of Dorset, Hon Col. Dorset Territorials, freeman of City of London, member of the Company of Stationers and one of His Majesty’s Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms. In 1941 he was made Knight Bachelor in the King’s Birthday Honours for his public service career. Sir Edward and Lady Le Breton lived at Loders Court in village of Loders, Dorset from 1921-1961.
The Church of St Mary Magdalene, Loders has a peal of six bells 1626, C19 and C20. In 1927 the no. 3 bell was taken down. It was found that it could not be re-hung. Edward Le Breton paid for a new bell to be made and hung. The old bell has been left on the floor near the church entrance as a memorial to Sir Edward and Lady Le Breton.
JOHN (JACK) GLOSSOP BYTHESEA LE BRETON (middle son) b.1885 in Jersey
He was educated at Radley, then went up to Balliol College Oxford 1904 – 1907, gaining a 3rd in Modern History (1907) and a B.A. in 1909. After Oxford, in 1909 he joined the Government Service in the British East Africa Protectorate (later called Kenya) as an Administrative Officer and Magistrate, in the Kenya and Nyanza Provinces. In 1911 he purchased some farming land near Lumbwa. At the outbreak of War in 1914 he joined the East African Mounted Rifles as a Private. He fought against the Germans at the battle of Longido, across the border in German East Africa, in November 1914. He worked his way up to become Temporary Lieutenant, and then Captain, and in 1915 transferred to the King’s African Rifles. In 1917 he was Mentioned in Dispatches. In 1920 he returned to his farming estates, but in 1922 he left Kenya because of ill health contracted during the War. He came back to Britain and became a prep school teacher, and for a while owned his own prep school. In 1938 he was listed as an author, having published a book about his East African days, and was living with his mother at The Manor House, Petersham, Surrey.
During WW11 he was teaching again and was a master at Trinity College, Glenalmond, Perth. In 1946 he bought a hotel in Rye, Sussex and engaged a housekeeper Evelina Byrne. Evelina (Eve) was the daughter of an ordinary soldier killed in WW1, and her mother had remarried to a railway worker. In 1939 her family lived in Liverpool and Evelina was then a shorthand typist. Jack was described as hotel proprietor & author in the probate document after his mother’s death in 1946. Jack and Evelina were married in 1950. They had two children.
FRANCIS (FRANK) HEMERY LE BRETON (youngest son) b.1889 in Torquay
Frank was educated at Charterhouse and in Switzerland. He attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.
On 11 November 1918, at precisely 11.00 am, he was attending an Army Medical Board which declared him fit for further service following his recovery from a second wound received in France earlier that year. And the church bells rang out to celebrate the Armistice and the end of the fighting. The war end raised questions about the continuing needs for trained Artillery officers. So he decided to take up the British Government scheme for “Soldier Settlers” in the re-named Kenya Colony to help develop the territory and promote local production to earn necessary revenue. He obtained unused land in the western part and established Kitani Estate, Soy, in the Trans Nzoia District, where he planted coffee, a crop which takes seven years to mature before it can earn any return. In 1927 he was back in England on “home leave” and on 27 September he married ELISABETH CHRISTEL ROCHFORT TREVOR-BATTYE, the younger daughter of the late Aubyn Trevor-Battye who had built Ashford Chase, Steep. She was always known as “Peter”. She resided at Downs House, Steep, before her marriage, which took place in Steep church. Frank’s address prior to the wedding was given as Bushy Hill, Steep, the home of retired army officer Sir William and Lady Kelly. Gemma Falconer was then living at The Manor House, Petersham, Surrey. The couple went back to Kenya and established a second home in another part of the District, which became the family home until they finally left Kenya in 1969, six years after Independence. In 1930 they visited England again and their son David was born in London in March 1931. Frank, his wife Elizabeth and one year old son David sailed for Mombasa, Kenya in 1932.
By that time Frank had no need to keep Island so in March 1932 the house and estate were sold to the tenant, Mrs Fitton. Gemma Falconer witnessed the sale in her son’s absence. Frank copied some features of Island garden in the new garden he created in Kenya. Frank and his wife Peter had two further children, a daughter Elisabeth b.1934 and another son Robin b.1941
GEMMA’S DAUGHTER BETTY (EDITH) KNOWN AS LADY ELPHINSTONE-DALRYMPLE b. 1887 AND HER HUSBAND SIR FRANCIS
Betty had two daughters Penelope b.1911 and Daphne (known as Jean) b. 1916. In 1935 Betty was on ship with her two daughters bound for Port Said, Egypt. In 1936 her husband Sir Francis was on ship bound for Port Said. It is unknown as to whether these trips were for social reasons or in connection with Sir Francis’s army career. In 1937 Betty was on ship with her two daughters bound for Gibraltar (their address was given as The Manor House Petersham). In 1939 Betty was living at The White House in Alton, Hampshire. She was active in formation of Alton Townswomen’s Guild. Her husband Sir Francis Napier Elphinstone-Dalrymple was 7th Baronet of Horn and Logie Elphinstone, county of Aberdeen b. 7.7.1882. In connection with his role as laird, they also had a house in Scotland near Aberdeen – Glasgoego House, later renamed Kinellar Lodge. Sir Francis had been awarded the DSO in 1918 and made CBE 1922. He was Commandant of the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall 1925-1929. He saw service in WWII. In 1950 Edith and Sir Francis were on a ship bound for Cape Town. Their address was given as Bench House, Lyndhurst. He listed himself as retired army officer.
There is a photograph of Betty and her husband Sir Francis when they were in their forties at a musical garden party at Kneller Hall in the Tatler of 1st Aug 1928. It can be viewed through the British Newspaper Archive.
There is a photograph of Betty’s two daughters, Penelope and Daphne (called Jean) in The Bystander of 15th Dec. 1926. It can be viewed through the British Newspaper Archive.
MRS GEMMA FALCONER 1939-1946:
In 1939 Gemma Falconer was at The Manor House, Petersham, Surrey with her unmarried son Jack, an author, though having been a prep school master and owner. They had two live in servants. Meanwhile her sister Ethel Bogle was at Bramshott Chase and Betty’s husband, Francis Dalrymple was also there on 1939 registration day. Her sister Blanche Pownall was still at Broadlands, Sheet with her unmarried daughter Kathleen.
Gemma Falconer died aged 86 years in Surrey in 1946, her effects were £6102.
Deaths of Gemma’s children:
In 1956 her son in law Sir Francis died aged 68yrs at Bench House, Lyndhurst, New Forest. His effects were £1081
Edward Le Breton died aged 78 yrs in hospital in Willesden Middx in 16 Dec 1961 Effects: £94,783
Jack (John) Le Breton died aged 83 yrs in Winchelsea, Sussex in 22 June 1968 Effects: £21,566
Frank (Francis) Le Breton lived in Portugal after farming in Kenya, but died aged 83 yrs in Fulham, London on 2 Feb 1973 Effects £11,222
On 3rd May 1973 Betty (Edith) died aged 86 yrs at Park Lodge, Binfield, Berks. Her effects were £60,128.
Gemma’s grandson, Frank’s elder son David, was a Colonial Service Administrative Officer in Tanganyika 1954 – 63, and then became a diplomat in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, serving amongst other places in the British High Commission in Nairobi 1978 – 81 and then as British High Commissioner to The Gambia 1981 – 84.
Please see the ‘Contact’ section of the website if you would like to get in touch about this account.
The above account ©FrancesBox2019 and to the various sources listed below
Island History by Peter Baillon (privately produced booklet by Island resident)
Island History by Jim Stoker (privately produced booklet by Island resident)
Buildings, Gardens and Monuments of Steep Updated 2018 by Struthers, Box, Routh & Storey
Steep Roll of Honour 1914-1918 by David Erskine-Hill
Petersfield Area Historical Society bulletin Autumn 1987
Gardens for Small Country Houses by Gertrude Jekyll and Laurence Weaver
The Petersfield Index
2011 HGT report on the gardens at Island by Wendy Bishop at Hampshire Record Office 47A12/45
1920s Rating book – Petersfield Rural (R1) at Hampshire Record Office 102M92/15
House, buildings and land sale catalogue 1954 from Jill Manson
UK Government Wills and Probate Records
https://sites.google.com/site/peoplegen/oldhounslowfamilies/glossop – details of the Glossop family
Imperial War Museum Bond of Sacrifice Collection – picture of Lionel Pownall
britishlistedbuildings.co.uk – details of Loders Court & St Mary Magdalene church, Loders
Dorset Magazine – Dorset Life dorsetlife.co.uk – information and pictures on Loders village & Loders Court
dorset-ancestors.com – details of Edward Le Breton and the bells of St Mary Magdalene, Loders
Wiki Tree – wikitree.com/wiki/Le_Breton-55 details of the marriage & later life of Edward Le Breton
Information on Francis Le Breton’s estates in Kenya:
Kenya Gazette 9 May 1923
Kenya Gazette 10 July 1928
Kenya Gazette 17 Dec 1929
Kenya Gazette 20 Dec 1955
Balliol College archives online – flickr.com/photos/balliolarchivist/albums/7215762521589
Balliol College Register Second Edition
Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
Twitter @lukecoring – drawing of Kings African Rifles WWI
Googlemaps – picture of Manor House Petersham 2019 with thanks to Jill Manson
Find My Past:
Census returns 1841 – 1911
The 1939 Register
England & Wales Births, Marriages and Deaths records
British Newspaper Archive
Military & Armed Forces Records
With grateful thanks to David Le Breton for providing further information and edits