Tufnell Family


The Tufnell family headed by Lady Frances Tufnell lived at The Priory, Church Street from 1920 to 1927. She had one of the first telephones in the village, with the number Steeple Morden 9. It was at The Priory that a daughter, Mary Victoria, bred West Highland White Terriers from 1924 to 1927, using the kennel name Under The Steeple.

 The Family

Lady Frances Elizabeth Erskine was the daughter of the Scottish peer Walter Henry Erskine, 13th Earl of Kellie and 11th Earl of Mar and was born 17 February 1877. On 29 July 1899 she became the second wife of the Reverend Frederick Tufnell, who was 16 years her senior.

After marriage Frances Elizabeth was styled as Lady Frances Elizabeth Tufnell. Frederick Tufnell was not some impoverished country vicar and in 1911 he was Rector of Sudbury in Derbyshire, with the family occupying the substantial rectory house of 24 plus rooms and he was maintaining a household that embraced a governess, nurse, cook, lady’s maid, two housemaids, kitchen maid and footman.

The marriage produced three children:

Mary Louisa Victoria born 15 May 1901, who never married and died 15 January 1986 at Newbury, Berkshire.

Henry Frederick Erskine born 5 May 1903, who married Susan M Pember in 1936 and died 24 September 1982 at Eastbourne, Sussex.

Elyne Frances born 4 November 1906, who married Frederic H Pollard in 1930 and died 1992 at Camden, London.

From Frederick’s first marriage the three children had a half-sister, Honoria Margaret born 21 Dec 1888, who married Joseph Albert Mayhew in 1930 and died 5 June 1962 at Repton Derbyshire.

Father Frederick died 28 February 1920, leaving a modest net estate of £2994 6s 5d [equivalent to £135,000 at 2020 values].

Arrival in Steeple Morden

By July 1920 his widow Lady Frances had taken up residence at The Priory, Church Street, Steeple Morden; in a much smaller property and with a much-reduced household. As regards family, step-daughter Honoria would have been 33, although as yet unmarried. The other three children would have been 20, 18 and 15 and presumably they would have moved with their mother to the new home.

Lady Frances was one of the first in the village to have a telephone installed and appears in the 1924 Directory as Steeple Morden 9. This may have been to accommodate daughter Mary Victoria, who had started a business breeding dogs, apparently this was an acceptable trade activity for a young lady. She had dropped using her middle name Louisa, by this time.

Mary bred West Highland White Terriers and her kennel name was Under the Steeple, which implies that she started her dog breeding career at Steeple Morden. She exhibited at the Luton Dog Show in October 1923, when she would have been 22, and from August 1924 she was a regular advertiser in both local newspapers and further afield, for example, Birmingham, Sheffield and in the Western Mail. In 1925 Essex was a particular focus. The last advertisement appeared 16 July 1927. She exhibited at local dog shows and at Crufts, with some success

In the summer of 1927, the Tufnell family left Steeple Morden.

Life after Steeple Morden

Mary moved to Rooksnest, Lambourn, Berkshire, where aged 26 she took up residence with Mrs Evelyn Anne Venables Spottiswoode, aged 44, a divorced lady of some fame arising from the high profile manner in which she managed the divorce process. Evelyn Spottiswoode was also a successful breeder of West Highland Terriers and the two of them went into partnership. Evelyn who was Welsh, had used the kennel name Gwern, which is derived from the Welsh for alder tree; odd for a kennel of West Highland terriers. The new partnership took the kennel name Caw, from the cry of the rook; appropriate for kennels based at Rooksnest.

In 1939 Evelyn Spottiswoode and Mary Tufnell were still living at Rooksnest, along with two other ladies: Nesta de Robeck, who was single and born 1886 and Dorathea [sic] M Macnee married and born 1898. All four were described as living on private means. Evelyn Spottiswoode died 19 August 1948 and her estate was valued at £219,657 17s 5d gross and £201,037 15s 0d net [equivalent to £736,000 at 2020 values]. In her will there were bequests of £1,000 to her chauffeur and £500 to her former maid, which suggests she had enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. To Telacre Abbey, Prestatyn, North Wales she left £100 for the nuns to say Masses for the repose of her soul and after other bequests totalling £6,200 to family and friends the residue “of all my real and personal estate” was left to Mary Victoria Tufnell.

Mary Tufnell continued living at Rooksnest until 1983. On 28 March 1984 the contents of the house were sold on the premises, by Sothebys, on behalf of Miss M V Tufnell, Mary made her will 8 March 1984, when she was living at Edgecombe Nursing Home, Hamstead Marshall, Berkshire. The will was read to her before signature as she was blind. She added a codicil on 2 September 1985 and died 15 January 1986 at the Nursing Home. She left £1,110,002.00 gross and £946,124.00 net.

The main beneficiaries of her will were “my friend and companion Joan Russell-Roberts” £50,000 plus one-third of residue for life and two nephews and two nieces to share equally.

Lady Frances on leaving Steeple Morden in 1927, moved first to Firwood House, Brownshill, Chalford in Gloucestershire and subsequently 21 Avenue Road, St Albans. She is recorded at St Albans in 1939 and 1959 and latterly was described as an academic/intellectual. She made her will at a residential home St Katharine’s, House, Wantage 8 January 1960 and died there 22 January 1967. Her daughter Mary left £10,000 to St Katharine’s House in her will.

Lady Frances left £2979 101s 0d gross and £2810 7s 0d net and bequeathed her estate to her three children, although the unmarried Mary received a larger share than the other two. Lady Frances had earlier put two-thirds of her wealth in trust for the children and in her Will dealt only with the remaining one third.

Last Updated on November 24, 2020