The Kempson Family
We are very grateful to Barry Lawrence of the Bromyard and District Local History Society for this commentary on the Kempson family. It first appeared in the BDLHS Journal 32, 2010.
From: BDLHS Journal 32.2010
MEET THE KEMPSONS – A Mystery Solved
Since coming to live in this area 15 years ago I have been intrigued by the occasional reference in speech or print to the wartime visits to Bromyard by children of the Michael Redgrave/Rachel Kempson acting family. What were they doing here? Who were they visiting? What connections did they have with this area? These were questions I hoped I could answer by some diligent searching. Various theories were put to me as to the reason for the visits but nobody seemed to have any positive information.
Over the years I have built up snippets of background material on the Kempson family greatly assisted recently by the amount of detail available from the internet. A further impetus was the Centenary of the Morgan Car in 2009 which put the focus on Stoke Lacy for it was here in 1836 that the Herefordshire based Kempson story started.
In that year John Kempson (Senior) who was born in 1761 and was a Druggist from Hornsey in Middlesex purchased Rectory House in Stoke Lacy from Thomas Hill. During his long life (he died in 1851, aged 90) he also purchased the Birchyfields estate. These properties were inherited by his sons John (Junior) – Birchyfields, and William – Rectory House.
William Brooke Kempson, born in 1796 became Rector of Stoke Lacy from 1839 until his death in 1859. It was from him and his wife Elizabeth (nee Roberston) that the Kempson line descended into the 21st Century. The couple had seven children – four sons and three daughters. It was two of the sons who particularly interested me but for very different reasons and it was from researching them and their families that the answers to my queries were eventually revealed.
William John Kempson was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1835, the first son of his parents’ marriage in 1831. He joined the Army and on his marriage in Pembrokeshire in 1864 he is recorded as a Brevet Major in the 99th Foot Regiment. His bride was Louisa Frances Wedgwood the elder daughter of Henry Allen Wedgwood who was himself the grandson of Josiah Wedgwood of pottery fame. William’s profession meant that the family had no settled home with their first child Jessie born in Worcester in 1867 and her siblings, Hester Louisa b 1869, John Wedgwood b. 1870 and Lucy Caroline b. 1874 all born whilst staying with relatives in Kent. Sadly William died in Folkestone in 1877 of a ruptured aneurism aged only 42 which left his family scattered once again. In the 1881 Census Louisa is staying with her sister-in-law Madeleine Kempson at Hampton Park, Hereford whilst her children were with their grandfather Henry Wedgwood now in Cheltenham. In 1887 the family were reunited in the house which was to become their home for the next thirty years. They rented from Mrs. Elizabeth Higgins what was then called “New House” (now Moreton House) at Moreton Jeffries which had been vacated by Rev. Henry George Morgan who moved to Stoke Lacy Rectory on the death of his father and who was Rector there until 1937. He was the father of the founder of the Morgan Car Company, H.F.S. Morgan, who was born at New House.
The Kempsons entered into the social life of the district with frequent mentions of their activities in the diaries of Ruth Bourne of nearby Cowarne Court.
In 1903 Louisa Kempson died and both she and her husband are remembered on a window in Stoke Lacy Church. Another mystery then presented itself as Louisa’s death is not recorded in any of the UK National Death Indexes. It is only recently that due to the previously mentioned internet I found that she died on April 18th in Las Palmas, Grand Canaria with her Death Certificate signed by the British Vice Consul. Passenger Lists record her leaving London for Las Palmas in January of that year accompanied by her daughter. She left a three page Will made in 1899 with her major assets divided between her four children. Regrettably I have been unable to trace where she (or her husband) were buried.
The “children”, now all grown up had gone their separate ways and at that time all remained unmarried. Jessie and Hester are recorded as “living on their own means”, whilst John was a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery who then emigrated to America where he ranched for several years only returning to England on the outbreak of the First World War. Lucy Caroline, the youngest daughter, is recorded in her obituary as being “among those women who were the first to receive an university education”. She had a distinguished academic career but both she and Hester kept their base at the house in Moreton Jeffries. Hester surprised everyone when in June 1911 at the age of 42 she married Henry Richardson, a retired bank manager from Torquay. The marriage was however a short one as Henry died in 1914 and Hester remained at Moreton Jeffries.
After the War John returned to Bromyard as a Captain and built “Whitegate” on the Hereford Road – now “Whitegates” and used as a nursing home. He died in London after an operation in 1928 aged 58 and was buried in Stoke Lacy. Hs three sisters inherited his property but Hester was herself to die in 1930 and is also buried at Stoke Lacy. The house in Moreton Jeffries had to be relinquished in 1918 on the death of John Smith of Thinghill Court who had purchased the Moreton Jeffries Estate in 1898 from the executors of Mrs Higgins. Jessie who had lived for many years in London also had a cottage in Bosbury and later moved to West Malvern where she died in 1939 leaving her property to her remaining sister Lucy and her jewellery to her great niece Rachel Redgrave. Jessie was buried at Bosbury.
By the time of the Redgrave children’s visits to Bromyard in the 1940s and 1950s Lucy Kempson had retired and was living at Whitegate. Ruth Bourne (then Ruth Baily) remarks in her Diary at the time that she was “invited to a sherry party at Lucy Kempson’s charming house in Bromyard”. Miss Kempson had a busy retirement – she was Governor of Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, a Cottage Hospital Trustee, a member of Bromyard Parochial Church Council and had involvement in many other town activities. Unlike the rest of her family she had a long life and died in 1958 aged 83. After cremation her ashes were buried in the grave of her sister Hester at Stoke Lacy.
By far the better known of the two brothers, in this locality at least, was Frederick Roberston Kempson who was born at Stoke Lacy in 1838 and who died in Chelsea in 1923. He trained as an architect and in 1866 married Julia Madeleine Jay with whom he had six children amongst whom were Eric William Edward b. 1879 and Helena Joan b. 1882. Frederick Kempson became a Diocesan Architect in the 1860s and as such was responsible for the restoration or rebuilding of many of Herefordshire’s churches including Stoke Lacy (1863) and Tupsley (1864).
Frederick’s second son Eric married Beatrice Ashwell in Totnes in 1908 and it was in Dartmouth where he was master at the Royal Naval College that his daughter, Rachel was born in 1910. Eric Kempson became a Major in the Royal Engineers during the First World War where he saw service in Egypt. He died in London in 1948 aged 69.
Eric’s sister Helena had a distinguished nursing career and retired to Dumbleton Cottage in Church Street., Bromyard and like her kinswoman Lucy had a very active retirement involving herself giving lectures and demonstrations for the British Red Cross and becoming the Society’s County Nursing Superintendent. She too was a member of Bromyard PCC and assisted the town in many other ways. She died in December 1957 aged 75. Amongst the mourners was Lucy Kempson who was herself to die three weeks later and at both funerals “Mrs Michael Redgrave” who was by then the famous actress Rachel Kempson and the mother of Vanessa, Corin and Lynn.
It is obvious from my researches that Rachel Kempson, her father Eric, and later her children kept in constant contact with the family in Bromyard and sought there the relative peace and tranquillity during the days of the Second World War. The two Miss Kempsons still living in the town at that time must have had many stories to tell these young children and it is good to know that the family name is perpetuated today in the playing fields of York Road.