Sir John Lubbock, Lord Avebury
1834 – 1913
Sir John Lubbock was the MP who gave us Bank Holidays, steering the Act through Parliament in 1871. The days were so popular that they were initially called St Lubbock’s Days.
Sir John lived in Chislehurst from 1861 until 1865 when he returned to his family estate at High Elms, Farnborough on the death of his father. Lubbock Road, off Old Hill is named in his honour. He was an accomplished amateur man of science, writing Prehistoric Times (as illustrated by Ancient remains and the Manner and Customs of Modern Savages), and the first edition was published from Chislehurst. He was a successful author, writing books which were translated into many languages. He was an eminently successful banker, creating the cheque clearing system still in place today and he was the most successful law maker of his time.
He should be remembered for passing the Shop Hours Act, Open Spaces Act, Public Libraries Act, The Ancient Monuments Act which paved the way for the creation of English Heritage as well as the Bank Holiday Act among many others.
Before he came to Chislehurst his gift for natural history endeared him to his neighbour, Charles Darwin, at one point when Darwin was depressed young Lubbock was the only visitor he would allow. In 1852 in a remote chamber of the Chislehurst Caves he scratched his name on a smoked section of wall and was particularly interested to discover horse-shoe bats in the galleries.
He married Ellen Hordern, a distant cousin, in 1856 and had three children together before moving to Chislehurst. They initially rented Lamas, named after their family ancestral home in Norfolk, a large villa in a private road on the Camden Park estate for £17 15s per anum before buying the freehold in 1864. Sir John was a great cricket lover, for some years acting as secretary to West Kent Cricket Club; he was good friends with Philip Norman who wrote the annals of the club. He used to practice in Chislehurst every Saturday and with a train connection to his London bank from Bickley, Chislehurst made an excellent place to set up home. A friend wrote “We used to go to Lamas on Sunday afternoons and sit on the long flight of steps having delightful talks with all the rising scientific men of the day”. Two more children, Norman and Gertrude were born here.
Sir John became an MP for Maidstone in 1870 and his long political career with the Liberal party began. He continued his scientific interests, keeping a pet wasp and training his pet dog to read! He published another best seller, Ants, Wasps and Bees in 1882. Apparently his dog came from Chislehurst, bred by a Mr Tidman and once when it had been returned temporarily to its original owner the story goes that ‘Van’ the black terrier made his way onto the Chislehurst train to be reunited with Sir John!
In 1888 he was made President of the London Chamber of Commerce and a Privy Councillor in 1890. A peerage was conferred on him on Christmas Day 1899; he took the name Lord Avebury after the stone circle in Wiltshire which he had brought in order to protect it from builders! He often referred to himself as ‘Abury’, like the name of an old house in Chislehurst.
In May 1908 he went before the House of Commons giving evidence in support of the Daylight Saving Bill. He wrote warning of the danger in Europe in 1909 and was a founder member of the Albert Committee trying to forge better Anglo German relations. Sadly he passed away on 28th May 1913 and was to lose two sons and a son in law to the destruction of the Great War.
His memorial cross at St Giles, Farnborough, shows all the interests of his life, ancient monuments, Bronze Age axes and a bee skep. His living memorial continues today in the work of the excellent BEECHE Centre at High Elms; his family home is no longer standing having burned to the ground in 1967, the actual day? Ironically August Bank Holiday!
Lamas, Sir John's house in Lubbock Road, now demolished