Lady Cynthia Colville

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Lady Helen Cynthia Colville, née Crewe-Milnes, DCVO, DBE, FRCM, JP (20 May 1884 – 15 June 1968) was an English courtier and social worker, serving as a Woman of the Bedchamber to Queen Mary, while at the same time devoting her energies to alleviating the suffering of Shoreditch, one of the poorest areas of the East End of London.


Helen Cynthia Crewe-Milnes was the third daughter of Robert Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe[1] by his first wife, the former Sibyl Graham, daughter of Sir Frederick Graham (of the Graham Baronets of Netherby) and Lady Jane St Maur.

Lady Sibyl died young, and her children lived for a time with their unmarried uncle the 3rd Baron Crewe, rejoining their father, a Liberal politician, when he was posted to Dublin as Gladstone's Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (from 1892–95). In 1899 Robert Crewe-Milnes re-married, choosing Margaret Etrenne Hannah "Peggy" Primrose (1881-1951), daughter of Lord Rosebery, Liberal Prime Minister (1894-1895), and his wife, Hannah, an heiress to the Rothschild fortune. Cynthia's new stepmother was only 18; Cynthia and her stepmother were but three years apart in age.

Cynthia's maternal uncles and aunts included Violet Hermione, who married Douglas Graham, 5th Duke of Montrose; Margaret Frances, who married as her second husband James Grimston, 3rd Earl of Verulam; and Hilda Georgina, who married Tory politician Denison Faber, 1st Baron Wittenham.[citation needed]

Helen Cynthia married the Hon. George Charles Colville, younger son of the 1st Viscount Colville of Culross and the Hon. Cecile Carrington, on 21 January 1908. Their children were:

  • David Richard Colville (b. 11 May 1909 – d. 9 February 1987)
  • Major Philip Robert Colville (b. 7 November 1910 – d. 11 April 1997)
  • Sir John Rupert Colville (b. 28 January 1915 – d. 1987), the diarist


She started her work in Shoreditch, which was a slum (a "socially derelict square mile", as her son described the area), before World War I, focusing on infant mortality. The Socialist borough council co-opted her to their public health committee.[2] In 1952 she was appointed a lay justice at Bow Street Magistrates' Court.


She raised eyebrows when she introduced a commoner, Thomas Benjamin Frederick Davis, albeit a self-made man, into her own stratum of society, persuading the Queen to invite him to dinner on the royal yacht HMY Victoria and Albert III in the Cowes Week regatta.[3]


In 1948 Shoreditch Council renamed a housing estate on Felton Street estate as "the Colville estate" in honour of her long association. In 1963, Lady Cynthia published her autobiography, Crowded Life.[citation needed]

Honours and awards[edit]


She died on 15 June 1968, aged 84, at 4 Mulberry Walk, Chelsea, London, England.


  1. ^ Sir John Rupert Colville
  2. ^ Footprints in Time (Chapter 4, "Mr Salthouse"; 1974) by John Colville.
  3. ^ Footprints in Time (Chapter 5, "Echoes of the Morning"; 1976) by John Colville.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34396. p. 3084. 11 May 1937. Retrieved 1 September 2015.


  • L. G. Pine, The New Extinct Peerage 1884-1971: Containing Extinct, Abeyant, Dormant and Suspended Peerages With Genealogies and Arms (London, U.K.: Heraldry Today, 1972), page 90
  • Charles Mosley, editor, Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes (Wilmington, Delaware:Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd., 2003), volume 1, page 867

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