The secrets you didn’t know about Surrey’s remarkable Lushington family
PUBLISHED: 16:44 23 July 2020 | UPDATED: 14:24 03 August 2020
Historian Dr David Taylor has uncovered the stories of Surrey’s answer to the Bloomsbury Group in a new book
It is not uncommon for those with a passion for heritage to disappear down historic rabbit holes, curiosity piqued by a particular character, an intriguing place or event or an evocative photograph. For historian Dr David Taylor, busy conducting research for his book on the story of Cobham’s Grade II Pyports building back in 1982, it was the connections of onetime residents the Lushington family which immediately captivated him.
“I discovered that Vernon Lushington was involved with the Pre-Raphaelites, he knew Thomas Hardy and he was also a friend of Ralph Vaughan Williams,” explains Dr Taylor. “I found it quite remarkable that I had my favourite group of artists, my favourite musician and my favourite author all wrapped up in one man. But I had no idea at that stage just how extensively the family were involved with events of the 19th century.”
The Lushingtons were an extraordinarily well-connected and influential family. Notable among them was Sir Stephen Lushington, an eminent lawyer who represented King George IV’s wife Queen Caroline and later Lady Byron in their high-profile divorces, campaigned against capital punishment and worked with William Wilberforce on the abolition of the slave trade. His fourth son Vernon, a lawyer who also served as a Surrey County Court judge, rejected his Christian faith to become a Positivist, following philosopher Auguste Comte’s Religion of Humanity, the subject of Dr Taylor’s PhD. It was Vernon who first introduced artists Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His musically talented daughters were tutored by his friend Sir Hubert Parry… and so the 19th century ‘Who’s Who’ continues.
These gentlemen are just two of the many characters among the three generations of Lushingtons examined by Dr Taylor in his new book The Remarkable Lushington Family: Reformers, Pre-Raphaelites, Positivists, and the Bloomsbury Group. Researching this book has taken David around this country and abroad. He has met modern day connections to the family and their circle, and experts on the subject areas they touched, a long list of acquaintances which includes HRH Prince Charles. “I have made some really amazing friends along the way and it has enriched my life greatly. My wife and I often laugh because everywhere I go, I seem to find a Lushington connection! I’ve also had to learn a great deal about the 19th century art, history, literature and more and it has been a wonderful journey, expanding my knowledge and my understanding.”
David previously had previously undertaken the mammoth task of cataloguing almost 7,500 items in the Lushington archive held at the Surrey History Centre, among them correspondence shedding new light on historic greats such as William Morris, at whose home Vernon had been a guest, and Virginia Woolf.
“Vernon’s daughter Katherine ‘Kitty’ Lushington was the model for Mrs Dalloway and Woolf also drew on other family members for her semi-autobiographical novel To the Lighthouse. I found letters from Lushington family members staying with Virginia’s family at Talland House in Cornwall when she was only a girl, which were of great interest to the members of the Virginia Woolf Society, as were phrases used by Vernon’s wife Jane which are echoed in To The Lighthouse.”
A lifelong Cobham resident, David’s passion for history was inspired early on by his own family history and honed as a teen, listening to the stories of elderly Cobham locals. These days, his responsibilities include chairing the Surrey History Trust and acting as a Trustee of Painshill Park Trust, which looks after the stunning landscape gardens whose acquisition and restoration resulted from the public awareness of the park created by his research and early attempts at local press journalism in the 1970s. A place, incidentally, Vernon Lushington is known to have visited, in the company of the poet and artist Edward Lear.
Stalwarts of Cobham society during their residence in the summer months, one wonders what the Lushingtons would make of Cobham in 2020.
“There are only small parts that they would recognise, now,” says David. “They were concerned about the wellbeing of local families and Vernon’s three daughters would visit families in need around the area, so they had a real sense of community. There is only an element of that here now, because there are very few families around who have lived here for a generation or two. They would miss that.”
Other than talks on his new book, David has now concluded his studies of the family to work on a new book for the Cobham Conservation Heritage Trust. “I have lived with the Lushingtons for a long time,” he says with great satisfaction as
he eyes the book on the desk before him. “I would like to think that they would be pleased with what I’ve done.”
The Remarkable Lushington Family: Reformers, Pre-Raphaelites, Positivists, and the Bloomsbury Group by Dr David Taylor is available via Amazon and can be ordered via local bookstores. Price from £70.
On the Lushington trail
• The majority of Ockham Park, Stephen Lushington’s rented country seat, was lost to fire in 1948 but it is possible to view his memorial, recently restored, in nearby All Saints Church.
• Vernon Lushington’s home Pyports in Cobham is one of the town’s most historic buildings, now partially occupied by offices, while his Wheelers Farm residence in Pyrford is now privately owned. Vernon and wife Jane’s graves can be seen in the churchyard of St Nicholas at Pyrford.
• View the Lushington archives at Surrey History Centre in Woking. “There is a great deal of material still to be mined there, such as the wonderful diaries of Susan Lushington from the 1890s which need transcribing – ideal for a PhD student
perhaps,” says David. “I am hoping that new aspects of the Lushington family will be investigated. My book includes detailed references and hundreds of footnotes which other historians will find useful for their own research on the subject. I would love to hand over this chalice.”