Alfred Charles de Rothschild : 1842-1918: My Father



Like me, my father Baron Alfred de Rothschild, had small feet. He was Jewish and possessed a gigantic fortune. Alfred was a handsome man of medium stature and dark complexion. He owned a London house at 1, Seamore Place which he acquired from Mr Christopher Sykes, the second son of Sir Tatton Sykes. It was bought for a sum that Sykes was unable to refuse. It was said there was no more popular a host in Mayfair than Alfred de Rothschild. He did not confine his hospitality to his own class. He ordered that every day good food be sent from his kitchens – always the very best of his -cook's efforts - to his many friends, especially those who were sick, and he sent many supplies to the poor and needy. In the year following my birth, 1878, The Shah of Persia conferred the Order of the Lion and Sun upon my father as a token of appreciation in regard to certain financial dealings. He was always an astute man of business when he was called upon to be and was sometime a director of the Bank of England. My Father and his two brothers Nathaniel and Leopold had certain resemblances to Dickens' Cheeryble brothers. They met every day, except for a month in the year, and spent most of the day together at the N M Rothschild & Sons, Merchant Bankers at St Swithin’s Lane, New Court, London. Sadly they all died within three years of each other. All the Rothschilds were generous benefactors. My father regularly entertained Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Queen Victoria. Sunday concerts were a particular favourite of Bertie, the Duke of York and other male members of the Royal Family. There was no formalities, no speeches, no few remarks, nor healths to be drunk but if anybody had a good story that did not exceed three minutes he was welcome to fire it off. There was always a brilliant supper party provided, and artists including Madame Patti and other stars of music opera supplied the singing to which there was sometimes dancing. Madame Adelena Patti would only appear at Alfred’s house in a private capacity and at no other house in London. Dinner parties were given by Alfred for all of London great theatricals, including the Bancroft, Tree, Terry, Irving and Seymour Hicks acting luminaries and impresarios. In January 1884, when I was barely aged seven, The Prince of Wales did my father the great honour of visiting him at Halton House, the Estate among the Chiltern Hills of Buckinghamshire he inherited in 1879 when my grandfather, Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild died. HRH stayed two days, during which he shot on the bird-rich preserves and was guest of honour at a very grand dinner party. Halton was my father’s country house, built to his own desire for entertaining at weekends, the last time it saw rejoicing was in 1914 before the horrors of the Great War, which left my dear father confused and depressed. How much he clung to happier memories. When Bertie became King, Alfred loaned his private symphony orchestra to Mr Whitelaw Reid, the American Ambassador in 1906 to play sweet music during the dinner at Dorchester House, Park Lane, in honour of King Edward VI. Queen Alexandra was not excluded from Alfred’s considerations. Her pet Pekinese spaniel Xerxes was given to her by him. She remarked factiously that he was almost as silly as herself about his pets. Alfred also counted Lord Kitchener amongst his closest friends. He was so desirous of keeping alive his never-to-be-forgotten memory that he left £25,000 to the Lord Kitchener National Memorial Fund, in 1918. A neighbour of Alfred was Lord Inchcape at No 4, Seamore Place, he proved a god send in finding safe passage for Lord Porchester and my daughter from Cairo after Lord Carnarvon’s death in 1923. Alfred could be eccentric but always for the right reasons. For instance he had all the water he used in his London house brought up in special cars each day from his wells on his Estate at Halton House near Tring in Hertfordshire. This was more by way of ensuring his good health was sustained as he found London water quite horrific. Alfred always had a delicate body constitution. Like my husband, Lord Carnarvon, Alfred often was most comfortable in old fashioned clothes. He clung to old fashioned ways of living too. But when he travelled about he travelled in style, very dapper, with two valets and in his own private railway carriage. We often saw each other with my Mother in Paris and at Cannes or joined him in his private box at Covent Garden. He enjoyed the company of many other ladies too. Madame Nellie Melba broke with the taboo of looking at her audience. She always gazed up at my father in his box. They were great chums. She spent time at Halton in 1913 and before her triumphant season of 1914. Her charm was something over and above her enchanting voice. My father once interested himself in training a team of zebras to work in tandem driving his carriage through the streets of London. During the summer passers-by could see almost any morning before breakfast the animals going round Hyde Park. After a time the spectacle became so much advertised that my father gave up driving himself in London and removed his zebras down to the Estate at Halton. My Father kept a private zoo and circus at Halton. There are performing monkeys, ponies, dogs, gazelles and trained tumblers and acrobats. In 1899, the departure of the Scots Guards to South Africa was a great event in London Society. Everybody of importance from the Prince of Wales downward, was interested in the fate of the men. My father sent an unlimited supply of champagne and cigars to the Officers so that as long as they did not get shot by the Boers they had a pleasant enough time. My father had a 15 horse power Standard Phaetan motor car supplied by the Armstrong Siddeley Motor Company Car No V1689. Alfred de Rothschild, enjoyed life and living and he was loved. When his younger brother Leopold died in 1917 “Mister Alfred ” – the affectionate name that he was given by many was reduced to being a semi-invalid. Although he continued as a partner in Rothschilds he was no longer actively interested in the firm. He devoted himself to music and art, and served as a trustee of the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection. My father was principally proud of being a fine art collector and a cultivator of friendships. He gave me ( and Lord Carnarvon ) a great deal of money during his own lifetime. He left me and Lord Carnarvon including my only son Lord Porchester and my daughter Lady Evelyn Herbert large additional sums of money as well as gifting to me personally his most beautiful Town House containing important works of art at No 1, Seamore Place, Mayfair, London.