THE REMARKABLE BLACKER FAMILY OF STEEP
The Blacker family came to live at Coldhayes in Steep Marsh around 1943. They are a very interesting family with several somewhat individual characters who are worth recording. This account follows the information given in a PowerPoint presentation in March 2019 to the Steep History Group.
Simplified Family Tree of the Blacker/Peel Families: Those coloured green lived in Steep at some point in their lives. Those in red boxes were the subject of the 2017 film ‘Breathe’.
Latham Valentine Stewart Blacker (1887-1964)
- Father of David, Bloggs, Brigid and Diana
- 1907 Commissioned into Indian Army
- Served with The Queen’s Own Corps of Guides
- Service in Afghanistan, Turkestan & Russia
- 1911 Learned to fly
- WWI in Royal Flying Corps
- Shot down & wounded 3 times
- 1921 awarded OBE for services to Persia
- Private developer of weapons after WWI
- From 1932 in Royal Artillery (Territorial Army)
- 1933 On the first expedition to fly over Everest
- Organised by himself with Colonel Etherton
Stewart Blacker could easily occupy a whole article to himself. The book edited by his grandson Barnaby tells his story in his own words. It is recommended. Meticulous planning went into the preparation for the flight over Everest which involved two planes and an attempt to take photographs and to map the faces of Everest that had not previously been seen. Much planning was necessary to avoid the dangers of becoming frozen, not just themselves, but also the planes, breathing equipment and cameras.
After WWI at Coates, West Sussex – Stewart developed his Blacker Bombard – a spigot mortar anti tank weapon. He funded his own research.
The Hedgehog anti-submarine spigot mortar was developed from the Blacker Bombard.
In WWII The Blacker Bombard was used briefly by British Army, then deployed to the Home Guard
From this bombard, he developed the PIAT (Projectile Infantry Anti Tank) weapon. Using a spring gun, it could be fired from the shoulder. It contained a high explosive charge. On contact and detonation, a small hole was driven through heavy armour plate.
1942 retired from Territorial Army
Lady Doris Peel (1900-1983)
She was granddaughter of Sir Robert Peel, PM., politician and founder of the Police Force.
Lady Doris was the daughter of William Robert Wellesley Peel, the First Earl Peel, Conservative MP & from 1912 in House of Lords from where he continued as a Conservative politician, held major government positions. Lived at Leydene House, East Meon.
Lady Doris was the daughter of Eleanor, Countess Peel
At her wedding, the Countess Peel had been given £800,000 by her father Lord Ashton (James Williamson) a wealthy Lancaster linoleum manufacturer.
The couple were also Viscount and Lady Clanfield.
Eleanor used her considerable wealth to build Leydene House at East Meon & funded the political career of her husband. She was a reclusive person.
The rose garden of Leydene House was laid out in 1926 in the design of the most popular selling linoleum tile of the time.
Leydene House, east Meon
The wedding of Lt. Col. Stewart Blacker and Lady Doris Peel
The wedding took place on 15 February 1927 at St Margaret’s Westminster. It was a bitterly cold day. The bride emerged from the church with a fur coat covering her wedding dress. Her dress was of medieval design with long sleeves, tight bodice and full gathered skirt. It was of rich ivory satin with motifs of pearl and diamond embroidery on the front. There was a gold gauze train, veiled with old Mechlin lace and lined with deep blue chiffon. The bride was given away by her father Viscount Peel. There was a retinue of five little girls and five boys who wore periwinkle blue velvet costumes of Charles II period. The best man was Mr Geoffrey Eastwood. Pictures of the happy couple and their attendants can be seen in The Sketch 23 Feb 1927.
Lt Col Stewart and Lady Doris Blacker before they came to Steep
They had twin sons, David and Brian in Nov 1927, born in London.
They lived briefly in India, but Doris did not like it there, so they returned.
Went to live at Eartham Cottage, near Chichester and had two daughters, Brigid & Daphne (she died at abt 3 yrs)
From 1932 Stewart was in the Territorial Army.
At Eartham, Stewart planned the flight over Everest which took place in 1933.
Another daughter, Diana, born 1933 at Eartham
The family then rented the Leconfield estate near Petworth, whose house was Coates Castle. They renamed it Coates House.
It was here that Stewart developed the Blacker Bombard and the PIAT. He employed several people on this.
There was a tank in the grounds which was used for firing practice.
One day during WWII, he was experimenting with using flame throwers at this tank. One of his employees, a personable young man, got rather singed. Target practice was often firing across the drive, and sometimes people were not aware of this, and were seen desperately bicycling up the drive to avoid being hit.
In 1940 Winston Churchill visited Coates, West Sussex to watch a demonstration of the PIAT.
David and Brian (Bloggs) had taken gunpowder and cordite from their father’s workshop in order to create a volcano in their sandpit. The resulting eruption covered The Prime Minister and others in sand and debris.
Churchill was amused by the site of his generals brushing sand off their uniforms He is said to have remarked words to the effect of: ‘What a very satisfactory result!’
Coldhayes and its previous owners
In 1942 Mrs Augusta Hannay, of Coldhayes, died aged 85 years.
According to Diana Cavendish, Coldhayes was left to The Bishop of Hong Kong, who did not want it.
By 1943 the contents of Coldhayes was for auction and the property seems to have been sold to the Blackers.
Coldhayes had been built in built in two stages: 1869-73 and 1875-82
Architect: Alfred Waterhouse
Built for Rev. George Horsley-Palmer brother of the First Earl of Selborne.
The Horsley Palmers adopted the two Hannay boys, who were the orphaned sons of an army officer.
Ormelie was the older boy and had a military career. He was killed in Boer War. The younger boy was Charles. He went to Australia, but died an alcoholic. Charles’s son, Gordon was brought back to UK and living at Coldhayes in 1901, aged 8 years. He went to Winchester College & joined the Navy.
Mrs Augusta Hannay was the widow of Ormelie Hannay,
Coldhayes was used as a WWI hospital. Mrs Augusta Hannay and Mary Kelly of the Knolls, Steep, (wife of Lt Col Sir William Kelly) were instrumental in setting it up.
The Blacker family move to Coldhayes
Lt Col Stewart retired from the Territorial Army in 1942.
He and Lady Doris seem to have moved to Coldhayes perhaps in 1943.
They had wanted more land to farm, but it wasn’t easy.
Coldhayes had been requisitioned during WWII but not damaged, as it was only used for storage.
David and Brian would have been about 16 yrs when the family came to Coldhayes.
Brigid would have been 12 years old & Diana 9yrs.
Coldhayes became the family home.
Stewart continued to develop his weapons. He used the cellars for his workshops.
Amelia relates that her mother, Jill, spoke of regularly having to dive to the floor when playing tennis there, because of the testing out of bombs.
The target was the tree just behind the tennis court……
When their son David brought his future wife to meet his parents, she narrowly missed being blown up by his father’s latest prototype being demonstrated to four Israeli colonels on the front lawn. The missile curled gracefully back towards the spectators, who had to dive for cover in the herbaceous border.
Lady Doris continued her commitment to service in local government etc
Stewart lived at Coldhayes until he died in 1964.
Lady Doris’s local government and other service:
Lady Doris followed the family tradition of government service.
Lady Doris was Mayoress of Westminster in 1937.
She also served on London County Council Education Committee
She was a member of the London Juvenile Court which played a big part in the setting up of the Curtis Committee on Homeless Children.
She was a magistrate and JP.
She was a governor of Bishop Otter Teacher Training College, Chichester
She was a governor of Petersfield County High School
She was a member of Petersfield Rural Council.
She was a member of Steep Parish Council and much more!
The Blacker family at Coldhayes
In 1949 Lady Doris stood for election to Hampshire County Council and eventually became a County Councillor.
Lady Doris made an enormous commitment to a number of activities.
Which sometimes resulted in more than one article appearing in the local press indicating there had been a minor motoring offence on the part of Lady Doris Blacker J.P. She was no doubt rushing from one of her many commitments to another ……
In 1958 Lady Doris was in the local press speaking out regarding the felling of the trees on the Ashford Hangers, Steep. On the death of Lord Horder, the Ashford Hangers had been bought by a timber company who planned to fell many of the trees.
There was a local outcry.
Lady Doris, a member of both Steep Parish Council and Hampshire County Council was urging ‘a good old fashioned compromise’…… (Hampshire Telegraph 26 Sept 1958)
Death of Lt Col Stewart
Lt Col Stewart and Lady Doris continued living at Coldhayes after the children had grown up & left home.
He died in 1964 aged 76 years. He is buried in Steep churchyard.
There were a few things to sort out after the death of Lt Col. Stewart……..as the following report from Weebuoy of www. sussexhistoryforum shows:
Some weeks after his death, his widow, Lady Blacker contacted my OC Maj. Henry Qualtrough GM RE at HQ Bomb Disposal at Broadbridge Heath. Following a request from Lady Blacker, I went with Maj. Qualtrough to a large house at Liss in Hampshire. Lady Blacker expressed her concern about the contents of her late husband’s ‘laboratories’ in the cellars of the house where he had carried out experiments with explosives concerning his invented weapons over many years. We entered a most amazing collection of rooms under this house, all of which appeared to be workshops of some type or other with the late Colonels machine tools, lathes, drills and all the tools of an engineer/inventor. What amazed us was the large amount of experimental rounds of all sizes from calibres of parts of an inch to several inches. these were fitted with fins, propellers and all sorts of experimental accoutrements which made little sense to us but were obviously extremely important of a military engineering/artillery historical nature and we catalogued them as such. Much more serious however, and the true reason for the concern of Lady Blacker was the enormous quantity of explosive material, stacked in many rooms! Everything from cases of black gunpowder to stacks of shaped cordite propellant (presumably from redundant guided missiles we assumed). The whole place resembled what the basement of the Houses of Parliament must have looked like at the time of the Gunpowder Plot!
To please her Ladyship, we spent the entire day removing all the explosive stores and driving the short distance to the demolition ranges at Liss. We had a fine old time, laying out all the stuff, running a black powder trail (just like the cowboy movies!) into a huge stack of cordite which burned like fury and we had ourselves a great day with our own private fireworks display which lasted for hours!
Her Ladyship had every reason to be worried!
Brian (Bloggs) and Jill Blacker at Coldhayes
Lady Doris continued to live at Coldhayes after the death of her husband.
It must have been a tremendous job to manage the house, farm and all her other commitments.
In 1970s Brian (Bloggs) and Jill moved to Coldhayes with their family.
Lady Doris had a house built for herself nearby.
Lady Doris died in 1983 aged 82 years. She is buried in Steep churchyard.
Brian and Jill blacker
Brian read agriculture at Oxford
A Twin Marrying a Twin
Brian (Bloggs) Blacker was a twin. His twin brother was David.
Brian’s wife, Jill, was also a twin.
Jillian Stacey b. 1927 daughter of David Henry Stacey.
Her twin brother was Nick Stacey who became a clergyman with a modern outlook. He was Rector of Woolwich in 1960 under Bishop Mervyn Stockwood. He left the ministry in 1968 and worked as a social services director, most notably in Kent. He died 8 May 2017.
What is remarkable is that Brian, David, Jill and Nick all shared the same birthday.
They were all born on 27thNovember 1927.
So when this date came around it was an occasion for big parties at Coldhayes.
Before coming to Coldhayes, Brian and Jill Blacker had lived and farmed for 12 years at Garston Farm, East Meon. Brian acquired this farm on the death of his grandmother.
He founded a herd of 70 cows there.
At first these were milked twice a day by a gang of 7 hand milking workmen.
He soon bought machine milking equipment which only needed one man!
Brian had Garston Farmhouse built for the family.
Their four daughters were born there.
Coldhayes and After
Brian, Jill and their daughters then moved to Coldhayes. They continued as farmers.
1971 Brian became a Hampshire County Councillor. He held this role for about 25 years.
The family lived at Coldhayes until 1994.
They then moved to Oak Hanger, a house at Reeds Lane, Liss, Hampshire.
Brian and Jill Blacker are remembered fondly by many in the Steep area.
Brian had developed a love of poetry at school. He wrote poetry himself.
- president of Petersfield Amateur Operatic Society
- an enthusiastic and convincing actor
- president of East Hants Conservative Association for several years.
- extraordinarily even tempered and never forced his opinion on others
- a clever accumulator of knowledge regularly completing crosswords, answering University Challenge questions and playing bridge
- His engaging and entertaining company meant he was always sought after as a guest.
- Brian was a devout Christian
- a friend to everyone and a quintessential gentleman to the end.
Jill died in 2005.
Brian died in 2016.
Twin brother of Bloggs. He died in 2002.
His obituary in the Telegraph described him as:
‘a scion of the eccentric Anglo Irish Blackers and a colourful character who brought his own brand of excitement to rural life in Hampshire and Sussex.’
1950s A farmer at Hambledon
1960 Married Mary Rose O’Neill, daughter of Phelim O’Neill founder of N Ireland Alliance Party.
They had three sons.
Moved to Molecomb at Goodwood and bred race horses.
- Sussex county councillor for 22years
- High Sheriff and Deputy Lieutenant of Sussex
- A JP on Chichester bench
- Chairman of Macmillan Cancer Relief in Sussex
He was a member of the Conservative Party and unsuccessfully stood for in General Election for Bishop Auckland Co Durham in 1997. He later joined The James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party.
Brigid blacker 1931-2011
Brigid married Nicholas Crace in 1954. They were married at St Peter’s church Petersfield.
When in her seventies, Brigid had a stroke in 2005 and Nicholas cared for her until her death in 2011.
After that he found he had time on his hands…so…..In 2012 Nicholas Crace, former Charity Director, became the oldest live kidney donor, at the age of 83 years, in UK of the time. His kidney was given to a stranger.
Additional note: The Crace & Renner families:
Some people in Steep will remember Allan and Rosemary Crace. When Allan retired as a priest, they lived at Venables in Steep Marsh. He sometimes took services at Steep church. Allan was a relative/brother(?) of Nicholas Crace. In 1949 Allan had married Rosemary Renner, who was the daughter of Mr and Mrs Renner of Elmwood, Steep Marsh. The Renners at one time were quite an important family in Steep village. Their house and gardens were beautiful. They took part in and helped organise a number of village events. After Allan’s death in 1999, Rosemary moved to Petersfield. (John Allan Crace b. 14/02/1921 d. 1999)
1957 Wedding of Diana blacker to Robin Cavendish
Diana b. 1934 was the youngest daughter of Stewart and Lady Doris.
She married Robin Cavendish at St Peter’s church Petersfield in June 1957. The bride wore a white satin organza gown with a train cut in one with the skirt. Her veil was held in place by a family diamond tiara. There were two pages, two child bridesmaids and four older bridesmaids. A reception was held at Coldhayes and the couple honeymooned in Ireland. There is a brief glimpse of her wedding at the end of the film ‘Breathe’.
Robin had been born in Derbyshire on 12 March 1930. He was the son of Brigadier Ronald Valentine Cavendish and Violet Boucher. Robin’s ancestors can be traced back to William Cavendish fourth Duke of Devonshire (1720-1764).
Robin had spent seven years in the army in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. He reached the rank of captain. He then left the army and joined Thompson Smithett, who were starting up a tea broking company.
After the honeymoon, the couple went to live in Kenya where Robin worked as a tea broker.
A year later, at the age of 28, Robin contracted polio and became paralysed from the neck downwards. He faced a future of spending the rest of his life in a hospital bed with a respirator to breathe for him. Doctors felt his life expectancy was only a few months. Diana, by then pregnant, was urged to free herself and to pursue her own life as a young person. She refused to do so. Robin survived for another 34 years and Diana stuck with him. After the birth of their son Jonathan, they came home to England. Robin refused to accept his situation and asked Teddy Hall, a scientist friend, to create a special wheelchair with attached respirator. Against the advice of his doctors, Robin escaped from hospital and lived with Diana at home in Oxfordshire. A van was specially adapted so that Robin could be taken out and about. They even went on holiday to Spain.
Robin pioneered the refinements of various models of his wheelchair. Authorities refused him money to take it into production, so he visited benefactors and raised the money himself. These special chairs then revolutionised the lives of fellow polio sufferers. With Diana’s support, Robin became a campaigner for those with disability. He travelled widely and addressed meetings on the issues. In 1975 he was awarded the MBE. He died in 1994. Their son, Jonathan became a film producer and made the film ‘Breathe’ to celebrate the lives of his parents. It stars Claire Foy, Andrew Garfield, Tom Hollander and Hugh Bonneville and was released in cinemas nationwide in 2017.
Eleanor, Countess Peel, The First Earl Peel, Leydene House, Brian & Jill Blacker :
Lt Col. Stewart Blacker:
Dictionary of National Biography
The Adventures and Inventions of Stewart Blacker ed. Barnaby Blacker, pub Pen & Sword books 2006
The Blacker & Peel families:
Conversation with Amelia Wooldridge
Written account from Diana Cavendish
Find My Past
England and Wales: Birth, Marriage and Death Records
British Newspaper Archive
Brian and Jill Blacker:
Address given by the Earl Peel at the Memorial Service for Brian Blacker 2017
Hospitals of the Petersfield Union 1914-1919 by Bill Gosney pub Petersfield Museum 2016
Buildings, Gardens and Monuments in Steep updated 2018 by Fran Box, Hugh Routh, Celia Storey & Tony Struthers
Nicolas (Nick) Stacey:
Obituary 14/5/2017 by Terry Philpot – the guardian.com
Obituary 17/08/2002 – telegraph.co.uk
Brigid & Nicholas Crace
Obituary by Alice and Tim Renton 11/08/1994 – independent.co.uk
Pictures of Robin, Diana & Jonathan Cavendish :
Steep History Group
Pictures in this article are copyright to their various sources.
This article is the property of Fran Box and the Steep History Group.