Ernest Beckett, 2nd Baron Grimthorpe

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"Whitby"
Beckett as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, January 1904

Ernest William Beckett, 2nd Baron Grimthorpe (25 November 1856 – 29 April 1917), born Ernest William Denison, was a British banker and Conservative politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1885 until 1905 when he inherited the Grimthorpe peerage.

Biography[edit]

Beckett was the eldest son of William Beckett, younger son of Sir Edmund Beckett, 4th Baronet and Hon. Helen Duncombe, daughter of William Duncombe, 2nd Baron Feversham. Beckett was the nephew of Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe and great nephew of Sir John Beckett, 2nd Baronet.

Beckett was educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge,[1] though he failed to complete his first year at university and dropped out to travel abroad. He later became a partner in the banking firm of Beckett & Co, of Leeds, owned by his father. He was also a captain in the Yorkshire Hussars Yeomanry Cavalry.[2]

In 1885, Beckett was elected Member of Parliament for Whitby, a seat he held until 1905, though he is rarely mentioned in Hansard.[3] In 1886 he resumed the name Beckett in place of Denison. In 1905 he succeeded his uncle Lord Grimthorpe as 2nd Baron according to a special remainder in the letters patent, as well as in the family baronetcy. However, he squandered much of his inherited family wealth and in 1905 he was also sacked as a senior partner in the family bank by his two brothers because of his expensive tastes and personal debts. He had once commissioned a bronze bust of his then fiancée Eve Fairfax from the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin which he subsequently couldn't pay for.[4] He was forced to sell his houses in London and Virginia Water. He was even forced to sell his family home Kirkstall Grange to Leeds city council to repay massive debts, and it is now part of Leeds Metropolitan University.

Beckett is believed to have been the father of Violet Trefusis (1894–1972), whose mother, Alice Keppel was a mistress of King Edward VII.[5] In a recent biographical study, Michael Holroyd describes Beckett as 'a man of swiftly changing enthusiasms ... a dilettante, philanderer, gambler and opportunist. He changed his name, his career, his interests and his mistresses quite regularly.'[6]

In 1904, Beckett bought a ruined farmhouse outside Ravello, on the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy. He transformed it into a fortified palace with towers, battlements and a mixture of Arabic, Venetian and Gothic details, and called it Villa Cimbrone.[7] Between the house and the cliff edge he built a garden, high above the Gulf of Salerno. The garden is an eccentric mixture of formal, English rosebeds, Moorish tea houses, picturesque grottoes and classical temples. Today the house is a luxurious hotel, and the garden is open to the public.

Lord Grimthorpe died in April 1917, aged 60. He was succeeded in the baronetcy and barony by his son, Ralph William Ernest Beckett. Lord Grimthorpe's younger brother, Gervase Beckett, also sat as a Conservative Member of Parliament and was created a baronet in 1921 (see Beckett baronets).

His grandson, by his daughter Lucy, Manfred Beckett Czernin was a famed Royal Air Force pilot and Special Operations Executive operative.

In Leeds, Beckett Park is named after Lord Grimthorpe.

Leeds Beckett University[edit]

In 2013, it was announced that the Board of Governors at Leeds Metropolitan University had applied to the privy council to change their name to Leeds Beckett University.[8] The proposed change has been welcomed by many Leeds Metropolitan University students and staff wanting to transition away from the image that the name 'Metropolitan' portrays.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Michael Holroyd, A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers (Chatto, 2010).

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Arthur Pease
Member of Parliament for Whitby
18851905
Succeeded by
Noel Edward Buxton
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Edmund Beckett
Baron Grimthorpe
1905–1917
Succeeded by
Ralph Beckett