Frank Jones Balme (1834-1911)

Frank Jones Balme

Written by Kevin Grice

Occupations: Land Agent and Philanthropist

Early Life and Family Background

Frank Maude Taylor Jones was born in Hackney in East London on 3rd May 1834 and was baptised on 28th June that year at St John of Jerusalem Church. He came from a family of merchants, his paternal great-grandfather William Jones (c1735-1795) and his paternal grandfather Edward Kendall Jones (1757-1813) having been fishmongers in the East End of London. However their status within that trade can be seen by the fact that Edward Kendall Jones was made a Freeman of the City of London through the Company of Fishmongers in 1781. Frank Jones’ father Edward Henry Jones (1790-1865) was also initially a fishmonger and was himself similarly made a Freeman of the City in 1813. However he then became a wine merchant, trading as E H Jones & Co. firstly in Well Street in Hackney and then at the more prestigious address of 11, Queen Victoria Street in the City. The business clearly prospered as in time he retired to the leafy surroundings of Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. In 1818 at St Clement Danes Church he married Mary Emma Collier (1795—1869) of Southwark, the daughter of Joshua Collier (c1760-1830) who was also a London merchant. They had ten children in all, six sons and four daughters. Frank Maude Taylor Jones was the eighth born and the fifth son, so his route into the family business was effectively blocked by two of his elder brothers who duly joined their father as wine and spirit merchants. 

By 1851, Frank Jones was receiving education as a boarder at a school at 50, Falkner Street in Liverpool run by Thomas Lloyd-Jones. He was made a Freeman of the City of London through the Company of Fishmongers, by patrimony, on 8th December 1859 and at the time of the 1861 Census was described as a gentleman and was staying with John Gray, a land agent, in Kingweston in Somerset. This may give a clue as to his future career when in time he arrived in Westmorland. It remains unclear how this occurred but his grandfather Edward Kendall Jones had married Anna Kendall (a distant relation) in Ulverston in 1784 and the Kendall family were by then and subsequently well-established as merchants and landowners in the Furness of Lancashire (now Cumbria). Hence it may be that time spent with his grandmother and her family introduced the young Frank to potential employers in the region. Certain it is that before 1865 he had become Steward and Land Agent for the Le Flemings at their Rydal Hall Estate and he lived initially at Rydal Cottage. Through this work he then became acquainted with Edward Balme Wheatley-Balme (1819-1896), owner of the adjoining High Close estate of which he also in time became the land agent. In 1865 he was as a consequence to marry Hannah Wraith (1839-1901) and it changed his life.

The Balme Inheritance

Abraham Balme (1706-1796) came from a family of yeoman farmers in the Thornton area of the West Riding of Yorkshire. He was ‘a man of great enterprise and energy’ but also made two judicious marriages to local heiresses in 1739 and 1753, the second to the widow of his first wife’s brother. He acted as scrivener, land valuer and agent for a range of landowners in the Bradford and Doncaster areas and in time accumulated substantial land holdings in the district in his own right, particularly around Hopton near Mirfield. He then bought up mineral rights under these and other lands and began working the coal seams, before investing further in canals, turnpike roads and enclosures. By way of example he acquired as agent on commission most of the land needed for the construction of the canal from Bradford to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Abraham Balme had one son from each marriage but disinherited the elder and instead bequeathed all his property to the younger, the Reverend Edward Balme (1754-1822), the vicar of Finchingfield in Essex and a Fellow of Magdalene College Cambridge (1776-1782), a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (1794) and a Fellow of the Royal Society (1802). He however died without issue and in turn bequeathed the estates back to the children of his half-brother Abraham Balme (1740-1814), in particular his eldest daughter Mary Balme (1776-1855). In 1798 she had married Thomas Wheatley (c1773-1849) of Hopton, thus further increasing the family estate. They built a handsome two-storey three bay residence at Cote Wall in Hopton in the late 1820’s in which they brought up their family.

In all Thomas and Mary Wheatley had six children, five daughters and finally, when Mary was 43 years of age, a son and heir Edward Balme Wheatley (1819-1896). Educated as a gentleman at Rugby School and then Trinity and Downing Colleges Cambridge (matriculated 1837, BA 1841, MA 1844), he was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1850 but never practised as he inherited all the family estates of the deaths of his parents in 1849 and 1855 respectively. He was described as one of the richest men in the West Riding on account of the family coal revenues and transport undertakings and when he died in 1896 he left a fortune of £269,343. He put his legal qualifications to use however as co-chairman of West Riding Quarter Sessions, taking an active interest in the treatment of prisoners, upon which subject he published a number of pamphlets. He was a JP and Deputy Lieutenant for the West Riding and from 1865 was a JP for Westmorland. He was High Sheriff of that county in 1876 and was President of Langdale Institute when it agreed to take over Langdale Library from the Parish Rooms in March 1891 and he funded the establishment of the new premises which included billiard and reading rooms. An active churchman, he was a supporter of and major donor to the new diocese of Wakefield and paid for the refurbishment of several churches and schools in both the West Riding and Westmorland, including Ambleside Parish Church. In particular he paid a major contribution towards the rebuilding in 1857-8 (to a design by the Carlisle architect John A Cory (1819-1887)) of a 16th century chapel of ease in Chapel Stile in Great Langdale which became Holy Trinity Church.

Edward Balme Wheatley took the surname Wheatley-Balme by royal licence in 1857 to become Edward Balme Wheatley-Balme and in 1861 he married Hannah Maude (1810-1889), the youngest daughter of Francis Maude of Hatfield Hall and Alverthorpe Hall near Wakefield. However his wife was 51 years of age at the time of the marriage and hence beyond child-bearing age. To supply the want of an heir, Edward Balme Wheatley had however already adopted Hannah Wraith (1839-1901) when she was orphaned in 1851. She was his first cousin once removed, being the granddaughter of Mary Balme’s younger sister Sarah Balme (1779-1811). She had married James Wraith (1767-1818) of Hopton and their son William Wraith (1810-1851) had married Hannah Oates (1818-1839). Hannah Wraith was born on 7th January 1839 but her mother died in childbirth and when her father died on 18th March 1851 aged only 41, Hannah aged 12 was made an orphan. After her adoption she was brought up at Cote Wall and then High Close near Rydal, where Frank Maude Taylor Jones was by then her adoptive father’s agent. They may have been distant relations but certainly then became acquainted and they married at St. Mary and St. Michael’s Church, Whitley Lower in the West Riding of Yorkshire on 10th August 1865. She brought to the union the prospective inherited wealth of both the Yorkshire and Westmorland estates (in which she had at that time a life interest); he brought financial acumen and consequently the family fortunes flourished.

High Close

The original house on this site at Loughrigg on the fell road from Grasmere to Great Langdale was a two storey, three bay 17th century farmhouse, typical of the Lake District, which is still identifiable as part of the present east elevation. This was extended to the north-west and south-west by first the Benson family and then the Law family, who through George Law (1736-1802) of Brathay Hall acquired it in 1792. On his death it passed first to his brother Henry Law (c1745-1830) and then his nephew John Law Beetham (1774-1856). He sold it in about 1843 to the Greenwood family who in turn in 1857 sold it to Edward Balme Wheatley-Balme. This was his family’s first substantial connection with Westmorland and as well as the house it comprised a 535 acre estate stretching from Elterwater to Grasmere. He extended High Close further (again to the designs of J A Cory of Carlisle), first as a holiday home including what is now known as the Pink Cottage at the north-west end and then in 1866, finding that he enjoyed living in the area very much, into a main residence, again to designs by Cory & Ferguson of Carlisle. He built new ranges to the south and west en echelon, creating a rambling house around a narrow courtyard. The irregular garden front has a veranda carried on a tunnel-vaulted basement that offers stupendous views over Lake Windermere. Inside the house has a double height hall with a baronial fireplace and a staircase carried up one long wall on brackets. The main reception rooms have complex shapes and good fireplaces but lack any plasterwork decoration. Thus was created the present building which ‘combines solidly comfortable interiors with the picturesque whimsy of a sinuous veranda following the plane of the external walls’ (Pevsner).

Public Life and Philanthropy

Frank Maude Taylor Jones became from 1865 one of the leading citizens of the area and played a significant role in the development of Ambleside from its chrysalis as a little old-world village into a bustling town catering for the growing tourist trade. He was one of the founder members of the Joint Fisheries Committee for the River Kent (1867), was a Member of and then Chairman of the Ambleside Local Board (1882-1906), Chairman of the Stock Ghyll Park Committee (1900) and a County Councillor for the district until 1905, after which he became an Alderman. As Chairman of the local Gas & Water Company he skilfully negotiated the potential conflict of interest with the local Board. He was a Deputy Lieutenant of Westmorland, a JP and Chairman of the Ambleside Bench, where his judgment was ‘always of the highest soundness if inclined towards mercy’. Frank Maude Taylor Jones was High Sheriff of the county in 1899, an office he filled ‘with the greatest dignity’. A staunch Conservative, in 1892 he was one of the proposers of Sir James Savory as MP for the constituency, a role he performed alongside Stanley Le Fleming of Rydal Hall. A keen churchman, he was for many years Superintendent of the Boys’ Sunday School and for over twenty years acted as a churchwarden. He contributed significantly in 1898 to the memorial in Ambleside Parish Church for the late Reverend J W Aston and in addition also paid a large amount towards the further extension of Chapel Stile Church in 1878. Frank Jones was a keen and able golfer, becoming President of Ambleside and District Golf Club where on 18th August 1903 he formally opened the new clubhouse. Notwithstanding his failing health, he still recorded the best score in the annual President’s Cup in 1909, when aged 75.

Own Family

Frank Maude Taylor Jones next lived at the Stepping Stones in Ambleside then primarily at Lesketh How on Rydal Road, which formed part of the Rydal Hall Estate of which he was Land Agent. After his marriage in 1865 he continued to live there with Hannah since he still needed to be resident full time in the district. The family employed three or four servants, as well as a gardener, according to the Census returns for 1871, 1881 and 1891 and they had three children, Mary Frances (1867-1935), Frank Edward Thorp (1869-1951), and William Wheatley (1881-1904). Mary married the Reverend Guy Landon (1865-1947) in 1890. He became Canon of Portsmouth Cathedral and she is buried in St Peter’s Cemetery in that city. William died aged 23 after an operation for appendicitis; he was unmarried.

Frank Edward Thorp Jones was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford (matriculated 1889, BA 1892, MA 1895). He was an officer in 4th Battalion, Border Regiment between 1904 and 1918 and served as both Captain then Treasurer of Ambleside Cricket Club. He was also a JP for Westmorland. In October 1908 at Holy Trinity Church, Chapel Stile he married Maud Astley (1876-1967), the only daughter of John James Astley, the manager of the Elterwater Gunpowder Company. The service was conducted by his brother-in-law and was described as ‘a charming country wedding’. Frank and Maud had two daughters, Edith Mary (1909-1992) and Constance Maud (1912-1920). Edith served in the Red Cross in the Second World War and married a wealthy financier James Winder (1907-1985) so that on her death in August 1992 she left an estate of £691,081.

On the death of her adopted father at High Close in 1896, Hannah Jones inherited both estates and the family took the surname Jones-Balme by royal licence the following year and with it the family coat of arms. They let Cote Wall and instead continued to live at High Close from 1897 until Hannah died suddenly in London on 2nd March 1901 although she was returned to Westmorland for burial at Holy Trinity Church, Chapel Stile. In the Census for that year the family employed three servants and a nurse, the latter no doubt because of Frank’s deteriorating health. The deaths of his wife and younger son in quick succession were very severe blows and, added to heart trouble from about 1903, led to a gradual weakening in his health. Frank Maude Taylor Jones-Balme died on 13th November 1911 at High Close after a lingering illness and was buried alongside his wife. His will was proved on 8th February 1912, the net estate being £29,268. His obituary described the sorrow not just of the family but of the whole local community at the passing of a man who ‘spent practically the whole of his life in the interests of the public welfare’.

On the deaths of his parents, both the estates passed to their eldest son Frank Edward Thorp Jones-Balme. He sold Cote Wall to its tenant in 1920 but continued to live at High Close until his own death on 6th November 1951. He was buried alongside his parents at Chapel Stile. In his will Frank Jones-Balme requested that his wife Maud keep and look after his flock of prize Herdwick sheep. Sadly however this request was frustrated by the taxes owing on his death, which obliged his widow to enter into an arrangement for disposal of the estate, including presumably the sheep. The estate and house were thus made over to the Treasury in lieu of death duties via the National Land Fund. This body in turn presented them to the National Trust, which found the land a significant addition to its portfolio of protected Lakeland landscapes. It struggled however to find a use for the house as it was ‘not valued’ for its architecture and was deemed too big (it had eighteen bedrooms) for a private tenant. It did however have a superb location and a very suitable use was found for it as a Youth Hostel. The Youth Hostels Association accordingly began to lease it on 1st January 1954 and it opened its doors to its members the following Whitsun, which was 6th June 1954. It still serves that admirable purpose today.


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