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Sir Robert Peel and The Peel Family

Sir Robert Peel, First Baronet 1750 – 1830

The Industrialist Robert Peel was born at Peelfold, Lancashire on 25th April 1750. His father owned a calico-printing firm in Blackburn, Haworth, Peel & Yates.  When Robert completed his education in London he entered his father’s business.

Sir_Robert_Peel,_1st_Bt_croppedAt the early age of twenty-three Robert Peel was made a partner in the business and rapidly took charge of the company. Peel exploited the new inventions in the textile industry. However, he was worried how the textile workers would respond to the changes and due to unrest within the workforce, he decided to establish a new factory in Tamworth, Staffordshire. He solved the problems of finding workers for his new factory by importing workhouse children from London. Peel’s new cotton factory was a great success and the business expanded rapidly. By the 1790s Peel was one of the country’s leading industrialists and employed over 15,000 workers.

At the age of thirty-three, Peel married Ellen Yates, the daughter of one of his partners. The couple had eleven children, including Robert Peel, who later became Prime Minister. In 1790 he was elected as MP for Tamworth.

In the House of Commons, Peel supported William Pitt and his Tory government. Peel was aware that some factory owner’s treated their young workers very badly. He therefore argued that Parliament needed to find a way of protecting the most vulnerable workers. In 1802 Parliament passed Health and Morals of Apprentices Act. This legislation limited the hours of pauper children, apprenticed in cotton mills, to twelve hours a day.

The 1802 Factory Act was largely ineffective and so Peel continued to argue for further reform. With the support of other factory owners, such as Robert Owen, the 1819 Factory Act was passed. This legislation forbade the employment in cotton mills of any children under nine, and limited the hours of those between nine and sixteen to twelve hours per day.

Sir Robert Peel died at Drayton Manor on 3rd March, 1830.

Sir Robert Peel, Second Baronet & Statesman 1788 – 1850

Robert Peel was born in Bury, Lancashire, on 5th February, 1788. Robert was trained as a child to become a future politician. Every Sunday evening he had to repeat the two church sermons that he had heard that day.

Robert Peel was educated at Harrow School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he won a double first in classics and mathematics. In 1809 Sir Robert Peel rewarded his son academic success by buying him the parliamentary seat of Cashel in Tipperary (exchanged for Chippenham in 1812). Robert Peel entered the House of Commons in April 1809, at the age of twenty-one. Like his father, Robert Peel supported the Duke of Portland’s Tory government. He made an immediate impact and Charles Abbott, the Speaker of the House of Commons, described Peel’s first contribution to a debate as the “the best first speech since that of William Pitt.”

After only a year in the House of Commons the Duke of Portland offered him the post of under-secretary of war and the colonies. Working under Lord Liverpool, Peel helped to direct the military operations against the French.

When Lord Liverpool became prime minister in May 1812, Peel was appointed as chief secretary for Ireland. In his new post Peel attempted to bring an end to corruption in Irish government. He tried to stop the practice of selling public offices and the dismissal of civil servants for their political views. At first Peel also attempted to end those aspects of government that gave preference to Protestants over Catholics. However, Robert Peel was not successful in carrying out this policy and eventually he became seen as one of the leading opponents to Catholic Emancipation.

In 1814 he decided to suppress the Catholic Board, an organisation started by Daniel O’Connell. This was the start of a long conflict between the two men. In 1815 Peel challenged O’Connell to a duel. Peel travelled to Ostend but O’Connell was arrested on the way to fight the duel.

In 1817 Robert Peel decided to retire from his post in Ireland. This upset the Irish Protestants in the House of Commons and fifty-seven of them signed a petition urging him not to leave a post that they believed he had “administered with masterly ability”. Oxford University acknowledged Peel’s “services to Protestantism” by inviting him to become its member of the House of Commons.

In 1822 Peel rejoined Lord Liverpool’s government when he accepted the post of Home Secretary. Over the next five years Peel was responsible for large-scale reform in the legal system. This involved repealing over 250 old statutes.

Lord Liverpool was struck down by paralysis in February 1827 and was replaced by George Canning as prime minister. Canning was an advocate of Catholic Emancipation and as Peel was strongly opposed to this, he felt he could not serve under the new prime minister and resigned from office. After the death of Canning Peel returned to government as Home Secretary in the government led by the Duke of Wellington.

On 26th July, 1828, Lord Anglesey, wrote to Peel arguing that Ireland was on the verge of rebellion and asked him to use his influence to gain concessions for the Catholics. Although Peel had opposed Catholic Emancipation for twenty years, Lord Anglesey’s letter encouraged him to reconsider his position. Peel now wrote to Wellington saying that “though emancipation was a great danger, civil strife was a greater danger”. He also added that as William Pitt had rightly said: “to maintain a consistent attitude amid changed circumstances is to be a slave of the most idle vanity”. Although the Duke of Wellington agreed with Peel, King George III was violently opposed to Catholic Emancipation. When Wellington’s government threatened to resign the king reluctantly agreed to a change in the law. When Peel introduced the Catholic Emancipation Act on 5th March, 1829, he told the House of Commons that the credit for the measure belonged to his long-time opponents, Charles Fox and George Canning.

For a long time politicians had been concerned about the problems of law and order in London. In 1829 Robert Peel decided to reorganize the way London was policed. As a result of this reform, the new metropolitan police force became known as “Peelers” or “Bobbies”.

In November 1830, Wellington’s government was replaced by a new administration headed by Earl Grey. For the first time in over twenty years in the House of Commons, Peel was now a member of the opposition. Peel was totally against Grey’s proposals for parliamentary reform. Between 12th and 27th July 1831, Peel made forty-eight speeches in the House of Commons against this measure. One of Peel’s main arguments was that the system of rotten boroughs had enabled distinguished men to enter parliament.

After the passing of the 1832 Reform Act the Tories were heavily defeated in the general election that followed. Although victorious at Tamworth, Peel, now leader of the Tories, only had just over hundred MPs he could rely on to support him against Earl Grey’s government.

In November 1834 King William IV dismissed the Whig government and appointed Robert Peel as his new prime minister. Peel immediately called a general election and during the campaign issued what became known as the Tamworth Manifesto. In his election address to his constituents in Tamworth, Peel pledged his acceptance of the 1832 Reform Act and argued for a policy of moderate reforms while preserving Britain’s important traditions. The Tamworth Manifesto marked the shift from the old, repressive Toryism to a new, more enlightened Conservatism.

The general election gave Peel more supporters although there were still more Whigs than Tories in the House of Commons. Despite this, the king invited Peel to form a new administration. With the support of the Whigs, Peel’s government was able to pass the Dissenters’ Marriage Bill and the English Tithe Bill. However, Peel was constantly being outvoted in the House of Commons and on 8th April 1835 he resigned from office.

In August 1841 Robert Peel was once again invited to form a Conservative administration. Over the last few years Britain had been spending more than it was earning. Peel decided the government had to increase revenue. On 11th March, 1842, he announced the introduction of income-tax at sevenpence in the pound. He added, that he hoped that this was enable the government to reduce duties on imported goods.

In 1843 Peel once more had problems with Daniel O’Connell, who was leading the campaign against the Act of Union. O’Connell announced a large meeting to be held at Clontarf. The British government pronounced it illegal and when O’Connell continued to go ahead with his planned Clontarf meeting he was arrested and imprisoned for conspiracy. Peel attempted to overcome the religious conflict in Ireland by setting up the Devon Commission to inquire into the “state of the law and practice in respect to the occupation of land in Ireland.” He also increased the grant to Maynooth, a college for the education of the Irish priesthood, from £9,000 to £26,000 a year.

However, Peel’s attempts to improve the situation in Ireland was severely damaged by the 1845 potato blight. The Irish crop failed, therefore depriving the people of their staple food. Peel was informed that three million poor people in Ireland who had previously lived on potatoes would require cheap imported corn. Peel realised that they only way to avert starvation was to remove the duties on imported corn.

Although the Corn Laws were repealed in 1846, the policy split the Conservative Party and Peel was forced to resign.

Robert Peel continued to attend the House of Commons and gave considerable support to Lord John Russell and his administration in 1846-47. On 28th June 1850 he gave an important speech on Greece and the foreign policy of Lord Palmerston. The following day, while riding up Constitution Hill, he was thrown from his horse. Peel was badly hurt and on 2nd July, 1850, he died from his injuries. His family were offered a state burial in Westminster Abbey, but Sir Robert had left a request to be buried in DraytonVillage.

Robert Peel was educated at Harrow School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he won a double first in classics and mathematics. In 1809 Sir Robert Peel rewarded his son academic success by buying him the parliamentary seat of Cashel in Tipperary (exchanged for Chippenham in 1812). Robert Peel entered the House of Commons in April 1809, at the age of twenty-one. Like his father, Robert Peel supported the Duke of Portland’s Tory government. He made an immediate impact and Charles Abbott, the Speaker of the House of Commons, described Peel’s first contribution to a debate as the “the best first speech since that of William Pitt.”

After only a year in the House of Commons the Duke of Portland offered him the post of under-secretary of war and the colonies. Working under Lord Liverpool, Peel helped to direct the military operations against the French.

When Lord Liverpool became prime minister in May 1812, Peel was appointed as chief secretary for Ireland. In his new post Peel attempted to bring an end to corruption in Irish government. He tried to stop the practice of selling public offices and the dismissal of civil servants for their political views. At first Peel also attempted to end those aspects of government that gave preference to Protestants over Catholics. However, Robert Peel was not successful in carrying out this policy and eventually he became seen as one of the leading opponents to Catholic Emancipation.

In 1814 he decided to suppress the Catholic Board, an organisation started by Daniel O’Connell. This was the start of a long conflict between the two men. In 1815 Peel challenged O’Connell to a duel. Peel travelled to Ostend but O’Connell was arrested on the way to fight the duel.

In 1817 Robert Peel decided to retire from his post in Ireland. This upset the Irish Protestants in the House of Commons and fifty-seven of them signed a petition urging him not to leave a post that they believed he had “administered with masterly ability”. Oxford University acknowledged Peel’s “services to Protestantism” by inviting him to become its member of the House of Commons.

In 1822 Peel rejoined Lord Liverpool’s government when he accepted the post of Home Secretary. Over the next five years Peel was responsible for large-scale reform in the legal system. This involved repealing over 250 old statutes.

Lord Liverpool was struck down by paralysis in February 1827 and was replaced by George Canning as prime minister. Canning was an advocate of Catholic Emancipation and as Peel was strongly opposed to this, he felt he could not serve under the new prime minister and resigned from office. After the death of Canning Peel returned to government as Home Secretary in the government led by the Duke of Wellington.

On 26th July, 1828, Lord Anglesey, wrote to Peel arguing that Ireland was on the verge of rebellion and asked him to use his influence to gain concessions for the Catholics. Although Peel had opposed Catholic Emancipation for twenty years, Lord Anglesey’s letter encouraged him to reconsider his position. Peel now wrote to Wellington saying that “though emancipation was a great danger, civil strife was a greater danger”. He also added that as William Pitt had rightly said: “to maintain a consistent attitude amid changed circumstances is to be a slave of the most idle vanity”. Although the Duke of Wellington agreed with Peel, King George III was violently opposed to Catholic Emancipation. When Wellington’s government threatened to resign the king reluctantly agreed to a change in the law. When Peel introduced the Catholic Emancipation Act on 5th March, 1829, he told the House of Commons that the credit for the measure belonged to his long-time opponents, Charles Fox and George Canning.

For a long time politicians had been concerned about the problems of law and order in London. In 1829 Robert Peel decided to reorganize the way London was policed. As a result of this reform, the new metropolitan police force became known as “Peelers” or “Bobbies”.

In November 1830, Wellington’s government was replaced by a new administration headed by Earl Grey. For the first time in over twenty years in the House of Commons, Peel was now a member of the opposition. Peel was totally against Grey’s proposals for parliamentary reform. Between 12th and 27th July 1831, Peel made forty-eight speeches in the House of Commons against this measure. One of Peel’s main arguments was that the system of rotten boroughs had enabled distinguished men to enter parliament.

After the passing of the 1832 Reform Act the Tories were heavily defeated in the general election that followed. Although victorious at Tamworth, Peel, now leader of the Tories, only had just over hundred MPs he could rely on to support him against Earl Grey’s government.

In November 1834 King William IV dismissed the Whig government and appointed Robert Peel as his new prime minister. Peel immediately called a general election and during the campaign issued what became known as the Tamworth Manifesto. In his election address to his constituents in Tamworth, Peel pledged his acceptance of the 1832 Reform Act and argued for a policy of moderate reforms while preserving Britain’s important traditions. The Tamworth Manifesto marked the shift from the old, repressive Toryism to a new, more enlightened Conservatism.

The general election gave Peel more supporters although there were still more Whigs than Tories in the House of Commons. Despite this, the king invited Peel to form a new administration. With the support of the Whigs, Peel’s government was able to pass the Dissenters’ Marriage Bill and the English Tithe Bill. However, Peel was constantly being outvoted in the House of Commons and on 8th April 1835 he resigned from office.

In August 1841 Robert Peel was once again invited to form a Conservative administration. Over the last few years Britain had been spending more than it was earning. Peel decided the government had to increase revenue. On 11th March, 1842, he announced the introduction of income-tax at sevenpence in the pound. He added, that he hoped that this was enable the government to reduce duties on imported goods.

In 1843 Peel once more had problems with Daniel O’Connell, who was leading the campaign against the Act of Union. O’Connell announced a large meeting to be held at Clontarf. The British government pronounced it illegal and when O’Connell continued to go ahead with his planned Clontarf meeting he was arrested and imprisoned for conspiracy. Peel attempted to overcome the religious conflict in Ireland by setting up the Devon Commission to inquire into the “state of the law and practice in respect to the occupation of land in Ireland.” He also increased the grant to Maynooth, a college for the education of the Irish priesthood, from £9,000 to £26,000 a year.

However, Peel’s attempts to improve the situation in Ireland was severely damaged by the 1845 potato blight. The Irish crop failed, therefore depriving the people of their staple food. Peel was informed that three million poor people in Ireland who had previously lived on potatoes would require cheap imported corn. Peel realised that they only way to avert starvation was to remove the duties on imported corn.

Although the Corn Laws were repealed in 1846, the policy split the Conservative Party and Peel was forced to resign.

Robert Peel continued to attend the House of Commons and gave considerable support to Lord John Russell and his administration in 1846-47. On 28th June 1850 he gave an important speech on Greece and the foreign policy of Lord Palmerston. The following day, while riding up Constitution Hill, he was thrown from his horse. Peel was badly hurt and on 2nd July, 1850, he died from his injuries. His family were offered a state burial in Westminster Abbey, but Sir Robert had left a request to be buried in DraytonVillage.

DRAYTON MANOR HOME OF THE PEELS

This magnificent manor house was built by the first Robert Peel around 1790 he was the father of the famous Robert Peel the Prime Minister who is commemorated with a statue in the centre of Tamworth in front of the Town Hall. The house played host to royalty on more than one occasion but it was the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1843 that is probably the most memorable. There were even two roads named after them in Tamworth. Both of these roads lead from the railway station where the Royal couple would have arrived for their visit. The second Robert Peel enlarged and improved upon his father’s house.

The gardens were magnificent and had all kinds of exotic birds in residence including peacocks.Inside the house was a collection of rare books and paintings and a very large collection of stuffed animals and birds of every description.

Sadly the house is no longer standing but it’s clock tower remains as a reminder of a once superb house. Note in the picture on the right the ships anchor is the same one that now stands in the Castle Grounds. This anchor was brought back from the Crimean War by William Peel the third son of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. William had a distinguished career in the British Navy.

Sir Robert Peel – Third Baronet

You could say being born the son of a great man certainly has its drawbacks, but the third Sir Robert did not seem to have the same qualities as his father. Sir Robert inherited the vast estate and fortune that the Peels had amassed, but certainly did not inherit the brains, ideals, pride and dignity of his father.  Unfortunately for Tamworth and the family he showed a vain and foolhardy nature which was to become ruin of the family.  Educated at Harrow, he then went onto Oxford before embarking into the Diplomatic Service where he became at attaché to the British Legation in Madrid and then later in Switzerland and Rome.  Whilst in Rome he heard the news of his fathers death.  The new Baronet entered Parliament as a Liberal-Conservative and he became noted at once for his fine presence and resonant voice. But unfortunately for him, what he had to say was often unwise and irrational.  He very soon built a reputation for a volatile temperament and did not take kindly to advice and criticism, often dashing into print with hot headed letters to The Times, which were speedily commended as disgusting and degrading.

In 1855 Palmerston appointed Peel to be the Junior Lord of The Admiralty and sent him on a mission to Russia before the coronation of the new Czar Alexander II.  On his return Peel made a speech in Birmingham, which almost caused a diplomatic crisis, making foolhardy remarks about the Russian Court.  The same year saw a happier event when Sir Robert married the beautiful Lady Emily Hay, daughter of the Marquiss of Tweeddale.  The couple shared a tremendous interest in horse racing and began their own stud farm at Bonehill near Drayton.  The stud was fully equipped with gas lighting, heating and the latest sanitation.  A race-course was built and house parties f socialites were lavishly entertained.  With this strong horse-racing connection in the family, General Jonathon Peel, younger brother of the late Prime Minister, became one of the founder members of the Jockey Club with a successful string of horses, including Orlando – a Derby winner.  Sir Robert was not as lucky as his uncle on the race-course and was soon losing money fast and furiously.  More and more was spent on breeding stock and sadly still more and more lost on the nags.  Sir Robert’s losing streak did not deter him and the social life went on with more race meetings, extravagant parties at Drayton Manor, in London and their villa in Geneva.  The fortune that had been made by his industrialist grandfather was being wantonly frittered away by the spendthrift grandson.

Palmerston sent Peel to Ireland and there his love or horse-racing made him popular.  However on his return to England he caused more problems for the Government with a swinging loyalty which showed itself in erratic and tactless criticism.  A son and heir was born who was toasted by the locals at the Old Kings Arms Hotel, but across the road at The Castle Hotel, a distant relative of the Peel family, Mr. John Peel who lived at Middleton Hall, was holding a rival political meeting.  Sir Robert brought in the elderly respected Baronet Bulwer Lytton to Tamworth to contest the second Tamworth seat against his kinsman and The Observer wrote to The Tamworth Herald that “Although there were hopes for a fight on principles, there were fears that drink would turn what might be a peaceful contest into a saturnalia.”   They were proved right, when at election time fierce fights broke out between rival supporters and thee was much sneering at “The Brace of Baronets at their Beer and Baccy meetings.”  After the election, Sir Robert and his agents were indicted on charges of bribery and corruption.  It was claimed that a hundred supporters had been employed on the Baronet’s behalf to keep the peace.

With more entertainment, litigation and horse-racing, the money was still continuing to pour out.  Sir Robert’s father the second Baronet had invested in a fine collection of art, but by 1871 his son, desperate for money, sold part of it to the National Gallery for £75,000 to try to resolve his financial troubles.  He was the sole trustee of the Peel School Charity, but refused to account to the Charity Commissionaires, and as a result was threatened with prison.  The rot had now well and truly set in.  By 1884 the Peel estates, which had extended to over 10,000 acres, were being broken up and sold to defray the ever-increasing debts.  Lady Emily disposed of the stud farm but by now it was too late, the fortune had gone.

Sir Robert Peel – Fourth Baronet

Its all very well inheriting a large estate, but if that estate is mortgaged to high heaven things do not bode well.  The fourth Sir Robert inherited the famous name and received a very good education at Harrow and Balliol, but he had very little money to indulge in the tastes that go with such a position.  Sir Robert, even as a young man age at college was being hounded by creditors, but when he entered the London society scene, his suave sophistication and good looks made him a firm favourite with the high living clique that revolved around Queen Victoria’s son Edward, Prince of Wales.  Sir Robert had champagne tastes on beer money.  Pretty actresses were freely entertained at Drayton Manor; amongst them was the famous Lily Langtry.  The high society balls went on continuously during the season in London and the Paris, Switzerland and on the French Riviera.  By the time he was 25, he was heavily in debt, but managed to defer his liabilities in view of his expectations of wealth.  However, when his father died, the trustees of the estate allowed him only £3000 a year, for the charming socialite this was a devastating blow, as his wine bill alone in 1845 was £1475.

He was allowed to live at Drayton Manor and in the words of a legal agreement, “enjoy the chattels and furniture thereof”, but this lead to much disagreement and ultimately to one of the biggest law- suits of the time. Sir Robert was a firm favourite with the villagers of Fazeley, always ready to play the Lord of the Manor opening fetes and hosting garden parties.  He dabbled in writing and published two books, A Bit Of A Fool and An Engagement, and was always appearing in the gossip columns of the nationals.  His romantic involvements often got him into trouble and on one occasion lead to him being involved in a duel with a fiery Italian over a lover.  However, when he met the Baroness Mercedes de Graffenreid his financial worries seemed to be over.  He thought she was a wealthy heiress.  She, on the other hand, thought that Sir Robert, with his 10,000-acre estate and title must be a rich man.  The speedily became engaged.  There was lavish entertainment at the wedding and a torchlight procession to welcome the bride and groom when they came to Drayton Manor, but both were to become disappointed with each other’s lack of fortune.

Within a year, the London Bankruptcy Court was dealing with receiving orders concerning the estate and Sir Robert admitted liabilities that he was unable to meet.  Undeterred by his bankruptcy, the spendthrift Baronet went ahead and commissioned the building of a Swiss Lodge at the entrance of Drayton Manor as a gift to his bride.  When visiting Drayton Manor Sir Robert would often have to beat a hasty retreat when local creditors arrived with Sheriffs execution orders on his personal possessions.  Sir Robert eventually decided it was best to be out of the country and with Lady Peel, fled to fashionable Paris. It was then discovered that some of the famous paintings had been removed from Drayton Manor and sold to a dealer in Paris.  The famous portrait of Lady Julia by Lawrence had gone together with other family heirlooms.

Immediately, application was made to the court for an injunction.  The judge ordered that the picture should be restored to the estate and that no other items should be removed.  Sir Robert retorted that he had a perfectly good explanation for what he had done; he had been merely raising money to offset his debts.  The judge made sinister references to prison in his remarks.  Drayton Manor was ransacked still further, but officially this time to help pay off the debts.  Plate, engravings, linen, saddlery, clocks, statues, ornaments, jewellery were loaded onto railway trucks to London for auction.  Things were in a desperate state, but still the Baronet maintained an expensive social life in London.  A son was born – another Robert – but received scant attention from his parents.  His mother spent more and more time away from home.  After young Bobby went away to school, he rarely stayed at the Manor during holiday periods, but stayed instead with the Fazeley vicar, Rev. Melville Jones to avoid the constant beatings from his father, whose health and temper were deteriorating.  By 1912, enormous chunks of Tamworth property had been sold to help defray the debts, but misfortune seemed to hamper every attempt to straighten out financial matters. His solicitor absconded with a large amount of money.  The trustees became involved in a case of loan repayment obtained by misrepresentation.  Peels sister married a wealthy German but this man was soon involved in litigation against his brother-in-law.  The estate was now almost in ruins.  Sir Robert spent his last few years at Drayton Manor, a very sick and sad man, paralysed from the waist down.  Old servants nursed him until his death in 1925.

Sir Robert Peel – Fifth Baronet

It was in May 1919 when the fifth Sir Robert came of age, he was guest of honour at a party held for him by the employees of the family estate at Drayton.  His mother was absent in Switzerland, his father absent in London.  But the good looking young man held an especially warm place in the hearts of the locals as “our Bobby”.  He had absconded from Harrow school during the Great War, gave a false age and joined the army.  He desperately wanted to serve his country.  He was hauled back in disgrace to continue his studies, and went on to Christ’s College, Cambridge, and from there he enrolled in the Coldstream Guards.  Unfortunately for Bobby, he was invalided out with suspected tuberculosis and went to Australia to recuperate.

When he eventually returned to England, he tried to make a living selling used cars, ignoring pleas from his father, who had recently become bankrupt for the sixth time, to marry a wealthy woman to recoup the family fortune.  Sir Robert found himself being invited to fashionable parties in London’s West End theatre world, regularly socialising with Ivor Novello, Noel Coward, George Robey, Gladys Cooper, Gertrude Lawrence and a charming young man, always incognito, known as Bertie – of course this was the Prince of Wales who later became Kind Edward VIII and who later abdicated to marry the love of his life, Wallis Simpson.

London was an exciting place with new jazz music and smart reviews, which had replaced the old style music halls.  Already a firm favourite with London audiences was the tiny Canadian actress/comedienne Beatrice Lillie, who had risen to stardom in such shows as Andre Charlot’s Bran Pie, Tabs and Oh Boy.  Bobby Peel fell madly in love with her and soon the gossip columns were full of their romance.  They were married in January 1920 at St. Paul’s Church in Fazeley.  The locals had never seen anything quite like it. Reporters from national glossy magazines and a galaxy of stars from the London stage arrived at Drayton Manor for the wedding.  Bobby’s father stormed off to London in a fit of temper because his son was not to marry an heiress.

On a cold Monday morning, a special train drew into Tamworth from which the cream of showbiz personalities including Florence Desmond, Jack Buchanan and Gertrude Lawrence all made their way to see their very own Bea wed Mr. Robert Peel, heir to the baronetcy.  The bride wore white brocaded satin with silver tissue, a coronet wreath of orange blossom and a full court train help by Anthony Pellissier, who was Fay Compton’s son.  The wedding was watched by cheering villagers who ran along side the bridal car as it drove to the manor.  In the evening there was a huge fireworks display in the grounds of Drayton Manor.  The following day Bobby and Bea departed to spend their honeymoon in Monte Carlo.  It was not really the best of destinations as Bobby had inherited a love of gambling from his father.  During the first night of the honeymoon, instead of retiring with his new bride to the marital bed, Robert spent the whole night at the gambling tables.  At first his luck was in, but like many unfortunates before him, he did not know when to stop.  He lost all of his winnings, plus a great deal more and had to borrow money from Beatrice to settle his hotel bill.

When the couple arrived back in England they went to live in a small house in St. John’s Wood and it was there that their son, another Robert was born the following December.  On returning to Drayton Manor to show their new son to the old baronet, Beatrice Lillie engaged a local girl, Jessie Mountfort, daughter of the family at Home Farm, who was trained as a nurse and nurse-maid to Master Bobby Peel.  They took Jessie back to London with them so Bea could resume her career. Sir Robert didn’t have a career, but he did try his hand at everything.  He managed the Little Theatre in London for a while and then the PalaceDance Hall in Erdington.  He formed his own jazz dance band and Beatrice and her performing friends would helped him obtain bookings by occasionally appear with him.  Bobby Peel and his band would often play at the Fazeley Victory Club and other local dances, meanwhile Beatrice Lillie went from success to success when Charlot took his reviews to New York.  She joined the company, leaving Jessie in charge of little Bobby.  Her wonderful humour made her a star on Broadway, but in February 1925 she received a cable to say that the old baronet had died and she was now Lady Peel.  She would inherit the title but very little else.  There was no money.  Beatrice quite rightly had to look to provide for her family and she resumed her career and gradually she and Bobby Peel drifted apart.

Master Bobby grew up and went to HarrowSchool.  Occasionally he would visit the theatre in his holidays to see one of his mother’s shows.  But in 1934 he received a telegram; his father had died suddenly of appendicitis.  Young Bobby Peel was now Sir Robert Peel.

Sir Robert Peel – Sixth Baronet

Sir Robert Peel, sixth baronet was the last of the Tamworth line.  He never lived at Drayton Manor, although he did visit occasionally, staying with old servants of the estate.  His home was in London where he lived with his grandmother in St. John’s Wood.  By the time he left university, World War II had broken out and he joined the Navy.  In 1942 he was on the troop ship HMS Tenedos in Columbo Harbour, Ceylon.  On the morning of Easter Sunday 1942, Japanese bombers flew through the flimsy air defences of Columbo Harbour where the naval frigate was anchored.  The Tenedos took a direct hit from a 500 pound bomb and sank.  Sir Robert Peel was one of 15 men who died aboard the ship.  Although enrolled for an officers training course at Dartmouth, he had preferred to get into the action and at the moment of the raid, was among volunteers carrying ammunition from below decks to the stern guns.

For more information on The Peel Family, contact The Peel Society

www.thepeelsociety.org.uk