The Friends of St. Peter's Berkhamsted

Friends of St Peter's, Great Berkhamsted

The Smith-Dorrien Family


The Smith, the Dorrien and the Smith-Dorrien families played a prominent role in Berkhamsted’s history for more than 150 years. They are linked with two adjoining estates – that of Haresfoot and that of Ashlyns Hall – which still stand today. Both families had their roots in banking. John Dorrien, whose son George was Governor of the Bank of England 1818-1819, purchased Haresfoot towards the end of the 18th century. In 1801, James Smith, a member of a well-known Nottinghamshire banking family, bought Ashlyns Hall.

The history of the two families became inextricably linked when Robert Algernon Smith, the younger brother of Augustus Smith of Ashlyns Hall and the Isles of Scilly, married the grand-daughter of John Dorrien, Mary Anne Drever. She bore him fifteen children. Robert changed his name to Smith-Dorrien. His eldest son, Thomas Algernon Smith-Dorrien was to become Lord Proprietor of the Scilly Isles at the death of Augustus Smith. Most of this very large family together with some of the Pechell family (Mary Anne Pechell was the second wife of James Smith) are commemorated by a very fine memorial in St Peter’s Church. Elsewhere, on the walls of the north transept, two tablets commemorate members of the Dorrien family.

In Rectory Lane Cemetery, three members of the Smith-Dorrien family are buried – military and naval men – whose names are known well beyond the town of Berkhamsted,

Rear Admiral Arthur Hale Smith-Dorrien 1856-1933 was born at Haresfoot, the son of Col. Robert Algernon Smith-Dorrien and Mary Anne Drever. In 1870 he enlisted as a cadet in the Royal Navy on the Britannia. From 1872 he served as a midshipman in the Volage and the Sultan. He became a sub-lieutenant in December 1875 and served in the Shah flagship during the engagement with the Peruvian rebel ship Huascar. While still a sub-lieutenant he landed with the Naval Brigade in Zululand in May 1877 and is mentioned in despatches in 1879. He took part in operations of the Egyptian War of 1889-93. He was promoted to Captain in 1900, retired in 1904 and was promoted to Rear-Admiral on the retired list in 1909.

On retiring he returned to Berkhamsted and lived with his unmarried sister, Beatrice, at New Lodge. He was active in local affairs, arranged garden parties to raise money for charity, defended the reputation of his brother General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and was an avid supporter of the British Legion. In June 1933 he was found dead by the railway line near his home apparently having been struck by a passing train, which he may not have heard because he had become quite deaf.

Smith Dorrien2Lieut. Commander Henry Theophilus Smith-Dorrien 1850-1931 RN also had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy, beginning as a cadet in 1863, but since on retirement he did not return to Berkhamsted, but lived instead in London, he is perhaps less well-known. He was married but there were no children. After his cadetship he served under the Duke of Edinburgh in HMS Galatea, which sailed round the world. He was promoted to Lieutenant and then Flag Lieutenant to Rear Admiral Algernon de Horsey in 1882. In 1882, during the War in Egypt, he disguised himself as an Arab, visited some of the Egyptian forts and reported they were re-mounting guns. This led to the bombardment of Alexandria.

General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien GCB GCMG DSO ADC 1858-1930 had a distinguished if at times controversial military career and is greatly respected in Berkhamsted. He distinguished himself in the Second Boer War and held senior commands in the British Expeditionary Force in World War I. He commanded the British II Corps at the Battle of Mons and the battle of Le Cateau, where he fought a vigorous and successful defensive action contrary to the wishes of the Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French, with whom there was a personality clash. History has rather vindicated Smith-Dorrien’s action. In the spring of 1915, he commanded the British Second Army at the second battle of Ypres. French relieved him of his command when he requested permission to retreat from Ypres to a more defensible position.

Smith-Dorrien played no significant role in the rest of the War. His final position was as Governor of Gibraltar from July 1918 until May 1923.

He married Olive Crofton Schneider in 1902. There were three sons. Lady Smith-Dorrien played an active role on the Home Front in World War I for which she received several awards.

General Sir Horace died on 12th August 1930 from injuries sustained in a car accident in Chippenham, Wiltshire.

Jenny Sherwood

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