George Holford

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Sir George Lindsay Holford circa 1910

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir George Lindsay Holford KCVO CIE CBE (1860–1926) was a British Army officer and courtier. The son of Robert Stayner Holford, he inherited his father's considerable fortune, which included the two properties of Westonbirt House and Dorchester House. He continued his father's work in developing the Westonbirt Arboretum, which still exists today and is open to the public.

Early life[edit]

George was the only son of Mary Ann Holford (née Lindsay) and Robert Stayner Holford. He had three elder sisters, Margaret, Evelyn and Alice.[1] In 1873 George went to Eton and was there for four years. At the age of 20 in 1880 George obtained a commission with the 1st Life Guards, where he remained for almost 30 years. During this time he was closely associated with royalty and court life. From 1888 to 1892 he was equerry to Prince Albert, Duke of Clarence. When the Duke died in 1892 an official Memoir was published in his honour and George's journal was used to outline the Prince's activities when he was in India.[2] An extract from the journal paints a colourful picture of his life in India with Prince Albert.

"His Royal Highness received separate visits from about five-and twenty of the principal chiefs and natives, each coming with his attendants and staying about five minutes. This took up nearly the whole morning....At six o'clock a great fete was given to the Prince by the Calcutta community on the Maidan. It was chiefly a native entertainment. The illuminations were splendid; all the trees on the Maidan were covered with bamboo scaffolding, on which were hung thousands of small lamps. The whole of the ouline of the Fort was also lighted up. The fete took place in an immense group of tents. In the central tent the royalties and the Viceroy were placed on gold chairs while a varied performance took place - juggling, music and nautches. After about an hour there we visited the different booths - a native play in one, some Tibetan dancers with extraordinary masks in another. Last of all two hundred men in white danced the famous kuttak dance round a bonfire. It was very fine".[3]
Sir George Holford (far left) with Royal Party of King Edward and Queen Alexandra in 1908
Caricature of Sir George Holford in "Vanity Fair" 1899.

From 1892 George was Equerry to Prince Edward. Soon after the Boer War began in 1899, George decided to temporarily relinquish his post of equerry and rejoin his regiment who were at the front in South Africa. George's departure is mentioned in a publication of the time and he is praised for his decision. It said "it certainly speaks much for the patriotic spirit which is so rife in the country at the present time, when men like Captain Holford volunteer for active service."[4] The New York Times made similar comments, saying "Among the latest distinguished men going to South Africa is Captain Holford who is one of the closest friends of the Prince of Wales and his equerry. The Captain sails 6 January to join his regiment, the First Life Guards."[5]

When King Edward died in 1910, Holford was equerry-in-waiting to Queen Alexandra and extra-equerry to King George.[6] The photograph of the Royal Party of Edward and Alexandra shows George (far left) in uniform.


When Robert Holford died in 1892, George inherited Westonbirt House and Arboretum. He also inherited Dorchester House in London and the art and book collection that were housed within it. He did not have his father's interest in art and books but he did have a passion for gardens and orchids so he devoted much of his time to his property at Westonbirt.[7]

The Times made the following comment about him.

"He was indeed, one of the most successful amateur gardeners of the time, and though famous as a grower of orchids, amaryllids and Javanese rhododendrons, his garden and estate show a wide catholicity of taste. The arrangement of the many rare and exotic trees there and the skilful use of evergreen species as background and to provide the shelter so needful in a cold district like the Cotswolds, have rarely been equalled; there is no crowding of the trees; each is able to show its true form and all have been well cared for. On few estates has the autumnal colouring of deciduous tress been so cleverly used by harmony and contrast, as, for instance, in the planting of Norway maples and glaucous Atlantic cedars."[8]

"Country Life" magazine wrote extensive articles about Westonbirt Gardens and Arboretum in 1905[9] and again in 1907[10] when George was the owner of the estate. They outlined in detail the beauty of the gardens and made the comment.

"Captain Holford has carried on the work in the same spirit and with the same tradition (as his father) and Westonbirt is now more luxuriant and more beautiful than the late Mr Holford ever knew it. The gardens have been planted not to give an effect for one season only but to be invested with beauty at every time of the year."[11]
Westonbirt Pergola 1905.jpg Westonbirt Italian Garden 1905.jpg Westonbirt pool garden 1907.jpg
Pergola in the garden of Westonbirt
House 1905
The Italian Garden at Westonbirt House, 1905 The pool garden at Westonbirt House 1907

Marriage and family[edit]

Although he was always considered an eligible bachelor, Holford did not marry until late in life and had no children. In 1912 he married the recently widowed Susannah Menzies. The wedding was held in the Chapel Royal, St James. She was 48 and he 52 years old. George V, Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria were present.[12] Although they had no children, it seems that George regarded her three adult sons with affection. They frequently stayed at Westonbirt and Stewart Menzies was allowed to use Dorchester House as his London residence. He also left them some money in his will.[13]

In 1926 George Holford died, having suffered for some time with emphysema.[14] As he did not have any heirs his property passed to his blood relatives in accordance with the will of his father Robert Stayner Holford. The main part of the estate went to George's nephew the 4th Earl of Morley.[15] Susannah survived until 1944.


  1. ^ Marquis of Ruvigny and Raineval,(1994) The Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royal: The Clarence Volume, Genealogical Publishing Company, p. 248.
  2. ^ Vincent, J. E. 1893, His Royal Highness Duke of Clarence and Avondale: A Memoir, John Murray, London
  3. ^ Vincent, J. E. 1893, pp. 233-4.
  4. ^ "The Country Gentleman: Sporting Gazette Agricultural Journal and The Man about Town", 20 Jan 1900, p. 70.
  5. ^ "The New York Times" 31 December 1899"
  6. ^ 'Obituary for Sir George Holford' The Times, 13 September 1926, p. 15
  7. ^ Morris, L. A. 1988, "Rosenbach Abroad: In pursuit of Books in Private Collections", Rosenback Museum and Library, Philadelphia, p. 16.
  8. ^ "The Times", 13 September 1926, p. 15.
  9. ^ "Country Life', 25 March 1905, p. 414-423.
  10. ^ "Country Life", 22 June 1907, pp. 911-917.
  11. ^ "Country Life", 22 June 1907, pp. 911-2.
  12. ^ "Sir George Holford and Mrs Graham Menzies", The Times, 18 July 1912, p. 9
  13. ^ Brown, A. C. 1987, ' "C" The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Menzies', Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, p.157.
  14. ^ Brown, A. C. 1987, p. 156.
  15. ^ UKForestry Commission, "History of the Collection", (accessed 15 Jan 2010)

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