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Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942)

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild was the eldest of the three sons of Leopold and Marie. He was born on 25 January 1882. Lionel was educated at Harrow and Trinity College Cambridge before taking his place as a partner at New Court. In 1912 he married Marie-Louise Beer the sister of Nelly de Rothschild (née Beer) who had married Robert de Rothschild in 1907. Lionel and Marie had four children; Rosemary, Edmund, Naomi and Leopold.  Along with Robert, Nelly and their children, Lionel and his family enjoyed long summer holidays touring Europe on his yachts.

Business at New Court

The official insistence that he remain at New Court to direct the affairs of the London House did not prevent Lionel Nathan de Rothschild from serving his country with distinction during the first world war.  He served in the reserves as a major in the Buckinghamshire Yeomanry and managed the City of London's recruiting office, earning an OBE and a 'valuable services' mention. Between the wars, the bank was led by Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), who became Senior Partner in 1923. Under Lionel, the bank began a steady transition towards advisory work and finance raising for commercial concerns, including successful bond issues for the London Underground, and issuing shares in the UK business of F.W. Woolworth. Lionel was closely attached to the Vale of Aylesbury, and served as the Conservative MP for the Aylesbury constituency from 1910 to 1923.

Private passions

When not conducting business as a Partner at New Court, Lionel could be found indulging his passion for horticulture. Indeed, he once described himself as 'a banker by hobby but a gardener by profession'. Selling Halton House which he inherited from his uncle Alfred (1842-1918), Lionel purchased the Exbury estate in 1919. It was Lionel’s gardening passion which led him to choose Exbury with its 2600 acres, and it was here that Lionel realised his horticultural vision. The climate was gentle here and the soil was acid, ideal for the flowers which were to become his passion – rhododendrons. The estate included some 250 acres of overgrown woodland. Labour was recruited in huge force to create the gardens: a team of 150 men and 60 trained gardeners were employed to clear the land, lay paths and manage the planting, and 22 miles of irrigation pipes were laid. Two acres of greenhouses were put up and a million plants were introduced. Here Lionel grew orchids and developed hundreds of new hybrid rhododendons and azaleas (many being named after family and friends) for which the estate has become famous. The Gardens first opened to the public in the 1930s, the entrance fees raising funds for local charities. Lionel's interests extended beyond the boundaries of his estate; he corresponded regulalrly with leading botanists, plant-hunters and garden owners and designers of the day, and was a founder member of the Roads Beautifying Association.

Motoring was another passion. An automotive pioneer, Lionel was a founder member of the Royal Automobile Club. He and his brother Anthony Gustav (1887-1961) were members of the Cambridge University Automobile Club, founded in 1902, and whilst at Trinity College, Lionel was summoned for “driving a motor car at a greater speed than 12 mph”, and fined the sum of £1. Lionel favoured an early make of car called the Orleans. He had a faithful mechanic, a young man called Martin Harper who was working in his brother’s garage in Cambridge when he first met Lionel. Before the First World War Lionel and Harper drove Mercedes, Napiers, Wolseleys and Siddeleys across France, Italy, Spain, Germany and North Africa. Harper writes about these days in his book Mr Lionel: an Edwardian Episode (London: Cassell, 1970). Combining his business skills with his great interest in things mechanical, Lionel served on the board of The Wolseley Tool & Motor Car Company Ltd between 1905 and 1909. Lionel was a keen advocate for Wolseley, and he and Harper often filed test reports back to them from their excursions.

A third diversion, was yachting, which Lionel combined with horticulture, collecting seeds and plants on longer journeys. Lionel’s interest in all things racing began while he was at Cambridge. In 1903, Sir Alfred Harmsworth, proprietor of The Daily Mail, began funding the world’s first powerboat racing prize, The Harmsworth Trophy. In a new Napier motor-boat, equipped with the largest six cylinder engine yet built by the manufacturer S.F. Edge, and sharing the crewing with his friend, the Hon. John Scott-Montagu and Lionel entered the 1905 challenge, a race over 35 miles in the Bay of Arcachon in France. They crossed the finishing-line in a winning time of 2 hours, 2 minutes, 26 seconds. During these two years they won several gold medals in the boats Napier II and Yarrow Napier. The following year the pair won the world water-speed record at 28.8 knots, and in 1907 went on to win the prestigious Perla del Mediterraneo in Lionel’s boat the ‘Flying Fish'.

Lionel also had two large yachts built to his specification by Camper & Nicholson; the Rhodora, followed in 1929 by the Rhodora II. Lionel's son Edmund recalled “Rhodora II had a hold which was large enough to carry a motor car – latterly an immensely powerful 50.7-hp Rolls-Royce touring saloon which my father bought in 1936. She was manned by a crew of twelve, and could comfortably accommodate my parents and us four children, our first cousins Alain, Diane, Cecile and Elie, who would sometimes join us.”

Lionel was a keen photographer and early experimenter with film, and the short-lived but exquisite autochrome, the first colour widely available photographic process, launched in Britain in September 1907. Lionel’s earliest experiments appear to date from 1908 and by 1909 he was bringing back from his tour of Spain colour plates of Granada and other points en route. At home he began to take pictures in the gardens of Ascott in Buckinghamshire, the family home designed for Lionel’s father in the 1880s. Other images were taken at Gunnersbury Park in west London, and the French estate of his cousin Edmond at Boulogne-sur-Seine, outside Paris. His work also includes portraits of family and friends. The 733 glass plates in his collection (now in the Archive) represent the largest single collection of autochrome plates by an individual British photographer to have survived.

After a full and varied life, Lionel de Rothschild died at his London address, 18 Kensington Palace Gardens, on 28 January 1942, three days after his 60th birthday.  

Archive sources

The Archive holds comparatively little private correspondence of Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942).

For sundry business papers of Lionel, papers of the Jewish War Services Committee 1915-1919, papers concerning his parliamentary career, and private papers and receipts retained in NMR files see Partners' Room, Lionel Nathan de Rothschild » These papers include files in the NMR XI/15 series, Partners' Room, Special Correspondence, Lionel de Rothschild. The files concern matters that were dealt with from New Court, and concern a mixture of business and personal affairs covering many aspects of Lionel’s work, life and interests, in particular horticulture, motoring, Lionel’s activities as a Member of Parliament, his estates and purchases. 

See also Named Collections, The Exbury Collection » for further papers of Lionel de Rothschild, including The Rothschild Collection of Autochromes taken by Lionel.

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), artefacts, presentation synagogue key, 1905

000/1962, 1 item

Members of the Rothschild family supported synagogues across London, offering both financial and practical assistance. In the mid-19th century the Jewish population in north-west London was increasing. In 1900 the first meetings of Brondesbury Synagogue were held, and in 1905 a new synagogue was constructed in Chevening Road. Its catchment area was Cricklewood, Willesden, Willesden Green and Brondesbury. Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), performed the official opening ceremony of the new Brondesbury Synangogue on 9 April 1905, and was gifted this decorative enamelled presentation key, in a blue silk lined leather box. In 1923 a new synagogue, the Willesden Green and Cricklewood Synagogue, was opened on Walm Lane to ease overcrowding in the Brondesbury Synagogue. It became a constituent synagogue of the United Synagogue in 1931 and changed its name to Cricklewood Synagogue. The original 1905 building, was destroyed by arson in 1965, but then rebuilt. It was sold in 1974 to Iman Al-Khoei Foundation and is now a Shia mosque.

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), artefacts, ‘La Perla del Mediterraneo’, 1907

000/2121, 1 item

Plaque designed by René Lalique and awarded to Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942) who, in his English boat Flying Fish, won the ‘La Perla del Mediterraneo’ competition in, 1907. The plaque is a high carat gold and enamel Plaque, made using the lost wax process, designed and signed by René Lalique, with a scene of a power boat (the Flying Fish) at sea creating a wake, with a coastal view beyond, within the sky is a large natural pearl mounted within three flying fishes in low relief (thus creating a visual reference to the name of the boat), the sea in dark blue enamel and the sky and wake wave in light blue enamel, the whole scene within a double-rope border connected to an anchor in the lower left corner, along the base in low relief: PERLA DEL MEDITERRANEO 1907, signed 'R Lalique' in dark blue enamel, 17.8 cm wide x 12.2 cms, housed in a fitted brown velvet-lined morocco case embossed in gold lettering Perla de Mediterraneo 1907, the case 22 x 16.4 cms.

The ‘Pearl of the Mediterranean’ was a prestigious speed boat race of ten laps of ten km each that took place in the waters of Mondello, Addaura and Acquasanta, Italy on 28th April 1907. Attracting Sicilian aristocrats and wealthy sportsmen from Italy, France and England, competitors paid an entrance fee of L.100 for admission to the race, the prize of which was the coveted  Lalique plaque in gold and enamel, with a stunning pearl valued at L.8,000. Watched by hundreds of spectators from the elegant hotels and terraces of Palermo, the race took place on a fine spring day. With clear skies and calm waters, Lionel’s boat, Number 4, The Flying Fish (entered in the ‘Racers’ category) led for all 10 laps recording a total time of 2 hours, 18 minutes and 50 seconds at an average of 560 Km/h.

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), artefacts, motor-boat racing medals, c.1910

000/2121, 6 items

Six gold medals in leather cases: motorboat racing awards to Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942). Six gold medals in six red leather cases comprising a group of six 15 carat gold Medallions, one side modelled in low relief with two power boats racing at sea, one in the foreground, the reverse stamped British Motor-Boat Club and engraved beneath with date and Championship inscriptions, all relating to Lionel Nathan de Rothschild’s motor boat, within a low relief laurel garland, 4.4 cm diameter.

In 1903, Sir Alfred Harmsworth, proprietor of The Daily Mail, began funding the world’s first powerboat racing prize, The Harmsworth Trophy. In a new Napier motor-boat, equipped with the largest six cylinder engine yet built by the manufacturer S.F. Edge, and sharing the crewing with his friend, the Hon. John Scott-Montagu and Lionel entered the 1905 challenge, a race over 35 miles in the Bay of Arcachon in France. They crossed the finishing-line in a winning time of 2 hours, 2 minutes, 26 seconds. During these two years they won several gold medals in the boats Napier II and Yarrow Napier. In the following year the pair won the world water-speed record at 28.8 knots, and in 1907 went on to win the prestigious Perla del Mediterraneo in Lionel’s boat the Flying Fish.

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), correspondence, Buckinghamshire charities, 1911-1915

000/891, 1 file

Correspondence of Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942) regarding Buckinghamshire charitable concerns, 1911-1915. 

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942) and Marie-Louise Beer (1892-1975), wedding testimonial from 'Shopkeepers', 1912

000/1656, 1 item

Framed testimonial from shopkeepers presented to Lionel Nathan de Rothschild and Marie-Louise Beer on the occasion of their wedding, 8 October 1912. Marie-Louise Beer was the sister of Gabrielle (Nelly) de Rothschild (née Beer) (1886-1945) who had married Robert de Rothschild (1880-1946) in 1907.  Lionel and Marie had four children; Rosemary (1913-2013), Edmund (1916-2009), Naomi (1920-2007) and Leopold (1927-2012). 

The testimonial accompanied the gift of a pair of silver gilt vases. The 'shopkeepers' subscribing to the testimonial and gift were all suppliers of goods to the Rothschild family and include the jewellers and silversmiths Asprey & Co. and Garrard & Co., and the horticultural suppliers, Veitch J & Sons.

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942) and Marie-Louise Beer (1892-1975), wedding testimonial from ‘Constituents and friends of the mid-division of Buckinghamshire', 1912

000/1960, 1 volume

Testimonial from the ‘Constituents and friends of the mid-division of Buckinghamshire’ to Lionel Nathan de Rothschild and Marie-Louise Beer on the occasion of their wedding, 8 October 1912. Marie-Louise Beer was the sister of Gabrielle (Nelly) de Rothschild (née Beer) (1886-1945) who had married Robert de Rothschild (1880-1946) in 1907.  Lionel and Marie had four children; Rosemary (1913-2013), Edmund (1916-2009), Naomi (1920-2007) and Leopold (1927-2012). 

The Aylesbury seat was held by members of the Rothschild family from 1865 when Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915) was returned unopposed, backing the Liberal Unionists.  On his elevation to the peerage in 1885, the seat was taken by his brother-in-law, Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898). In the 1899 by-election caused by Ferdinand's death, Nathaniel's son, Lionel Walter, 2nd Lord Rothschild (1868-1937) was elected unopposed for the Liberal & Liberal Unionists, retiring from politics at the January 1910 General Election. Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942) then held the seat of Aylesbury for the Conservatives from 1910 until 1923.

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), correspondence, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, 1930-1932

000/2165, 1 file

Photocopies of letters from the archives of The Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. The letters relate to Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942) and his dealings with the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, particualrly those concerning the recovery of the body of the botanist and plant-hunter George Forrest (1873-1932). Lionel had been in contact with Forrest since the early 1900s,  supporting his work financially and taking a great interest in Forrest’s discoveries. Lionel's particular passion was for rhododendrons and azaleas, many species of which originated in China and the Himalayas. In 1932, Forrest suffered a fatal heart attack while hunting game in the hills near Tengchong, South-west China; he was buried at Tengchong. Lionel was shocked, and suggested to the Foreign Office that Forrest’s effects should be brought back to the UK, at his own personal expense. The letters make reference to bringing back Forrest's seed collections to the UK. See 000/2341 for a collection of phtographs by George Forrest taken on plant-hunting expeditions, in China, c.1919. 

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, (1882-1942), horticultural papers, George Forrest photographs, c.1919

000/2341, 3 files

Set of 65 mounted photographs, taken by the Scottish botanist George Forrest (1873–1932) on plant-hunting expeditions, in China, c.1919. Many of the plates have manuscript annotations and captions. Forrest became one of the first explorers of China's then remote southwestern province of Yunnan, generally regarded as the most biodiverse province in the country. Forrest made his first to Yunnan in 1904, and became perhaps the foremost collector of Yunnan flora, amassing hundreds of species of rhododendron, and other shrubs and perennials, making seven trips to Yunnan, collecting samples and seeds for the Herbarium and for avid collectors willing to pay for new species to add to their collections. In total, he brought back over 31,000 plant specimens, many of which were avidly collected by Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, who contributed to, and sponsored many of Forrest's expeditions. Forrest's team lead collector was Zhao Chengzhang, who appears in some of the photographs. 

NMR files of Lionel concerning correspondence with Forrest will be found in the XI/15 series, Partners' Room, Special Correspondence, Lionel de Rothschild; the papers concern correspondence regarding Forrest’s field notes and the sending of the specimens back to England, together with list sof specimens and details of Forrest expeditions in China. See also 000/2165 for copies of Lionel's correspondence with the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, 1930-1932, concerning Forrest's specimens and the repatriation of his body from China after his sudden death at Tengchong, South-west China in 1932.

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild, (1882-1942), horticultural papers, awards and competitions, 1930-2005

000/2227, 1 box

Papers of Lionel de Rothschild and his son, Edmund de Rothschild (1916-2007) from Exbury concerning horticultural matters. Most of the papers are Royal Horticultural Society plaques, certificates and awards for growing and showing orchids and cymbidiums, awarded to Mr Lionel de Rothschild, and Mr Edmund de Rothschild. A few papers relate to local Hampshire shows: Medal Award plaques, 1930-1953; 1959; 1983; 1989; 1992; 1997; certificates of Merit, 1930-1952; 2004-2005; correspondence and papers concerning competitions, 1930-1939; 1947, 1982-1985, 2004; watercolour of an orchid 'Cym. Swallow Var.Phantasy, RHS A.M. April 2, 1935'.

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), horticultural papers, orchid cultivation, 1928-1938

000/2201, 3 boxes

Papers concerning the cultivation of orchids: correspondence and papers, including receipt books, lists of plants, catalogues and display cards from flower shows. Includes a typescript‘ Copy of Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s procedures for the aseptic germination of orchids’, and papers concerning the experiments to germinate and grow orchids and the Royal Mint Refinery in the late 1930s.

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), 'Lloyds Annals' and 'Lloyds Register of Yachts', 1884; 1904, 1925-1938

000/2147, 29 volumes

During the early twentieth century Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942) had a passion for motor boat racing. He also owned successively two large yachts built to his specification by Camper & Nicholson, the Rhodora, followed in 1929 by the Rhodora II. It is believed that these volumes of yacht registers were kept in the the Partners' Room, New Court, or in the New Court Library. Lloyd's Register of Yachts was published annually from 1878 to 1980, except during the two World Wars. The entries provide information about the construction, dimensions and ownership of registered yachts. Both the Rhodora and the later Rhodora II are recorded in the registers.

  • Lloyds Register of Yachts, 1904
  • Lloyds Register of Yachts, 1925-1938
  • Lloyds Annals, 1884
  • Lloyds Annals, 1934

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), 'Rhodora' and 'Rhodora II', photographs, c.1920-1935

000/2166, 2 items

Framed photographs of the yachts Rhodora and Rhodora II. The yachts were built to the personal specification of Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942) by Camper & Nicholson, the famous Gosport yacht builders, first the Rhodora, followed in 1929 by the Rhodora II.  Lionel's son Edmund (1916-2009) recalled “Rhodora II had a hold which was large enough to carry a motor car – latterly an immensely powerful 50.7-hp Rolls-Royce touring saloon which my father bought in 1936. She was manned by a crew of twelve, and could comfortably accommodate my parents and us four children, our first cousins Alain, Diane, Cecile and Elie, who would sometimes join us."  NMR files of Lionel concerning the specification, registration and maintenance of the Rhodora II will be found in the XI/15 series, Partners' Room, Special Correspondence, Lionel de Rothschild. 

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), publications, articles published in 'The Car', 1909

000/1348, 1 volume

Bound volume containing two articles by Lionel Nathan de Rothschild published in The Car: 'A run through Algeria' 1906 (in two parts) and 'In sunny Spain' 1909.  The articles, with photographs, describe Lionel's motoring tours in Algeria and Spain.  The volume bears Lionel's book plate. Note: also enclosed is a letter from Vere (Earl Bessborough) to Edmund de Rothschild, dated 27 February 1952.  Vere accompanied Lionel on the Spanish trip, and the letter inter alia describes the taking of a photograph in the Alhambra, published in the 1909 article.

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), publications, horticulture articles, 1940

000/1563, 1 item

Barberries, cotoneasters and viburnums by Lionel de Rothschild. Published in: F.J. Chittenden (ed.) Ornamental flowering trees and shrubs (London: Royal Horticultural Society, 1940). Report of the conference held by the Royal Horticultural Society at the Greycoat Street Hall, 26-29 April 1938.

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942), Memorial Service, 1942

000/1891, 1 item

Order of service for the memorial service held at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue for Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942).