Oswald Hedley (1884-1945)

Written by Jean Warburton

Occupation: Philanthropist

Life and family

Oswald Hedley was born on 27th March 1884 in Beckenham, Kent and baptised on 31st May 1884 at St Jude’s, South Kensington. He had two sisters, Eveline Margaret (1885-1927) and Mabel Violet (1888-1955). Their father was Edward Hedley (1851-1897), the son of Oswald Dodd Hedley (1803-1882) a coal proprietor, although Edward described himself as ‘Gentleman’ or ‘living on own means’. Edward married Sarah Jane Kent (1845-1914) on 5th July 1883 at St Jude’s, South Kensington. She was the daughter of John Frederick Augustus Kent, gentleman and was, at the time of her marriage, housekeeper to the Hedley family. Oswald Hedley went to Shrewsbury School and was there when his father died on 18th October 1897. He then went up to Trinity College, Cambridge.

On 2nd August 1905, Oswald Hedley married Marguerite Cecil Withers (1883-1909) daughter of Colonel Joseph Withers (1842-1899), late of the Indian Army of Briery Close, Windermere. They had two children, Eileen Marguerite born in the last quarter of 1906 and Edward born on 2nd December 1908. His wife, Marguerite, died of peritonitis on 16th January 1909 and was buried at Troutbeck Churchyard on 20th January 1909. Oswald Hedley then married Marguerite’s older sister, Ethel Mary (1873-1916) in the second quarter of 1910. They did not have any children and Ethel Mary died on 11th March 1916 of influenza. Oswald Hedley’s third wife was Edith Leetham Wall (1894-1958), daughter of Thomas Leetham Wall JP (1852-1921) of Hazelthwaite Windermere. They married on 14th August 1918 at Holy Trinity Brompton, Kensington and had a son, Thomas William Ian (1919-2001) who was born on 7th July 1919 and a daughter Ann (1924-2003).

Oswald Hedley died unexpectedly of a heart attack on 24th December 1945. Edith survived him, dying on 4th October 1958. His son Edward moved to Kent and died there on 21st January 1987 and his daughter, Eileen Marguerite, also died there on 14th April 1952. His second son, Thomas remained at Briery Close, breeding Arab horses there with his wife Annette. He served his country and county becoming Major Hedley OBE, DL, JP and was High Sheriff of Westmorland in 1965. He died in August 2001.

Source of his Wealth and his Residences

The family wealth was based on coal mining in the North East and commenced with Oswald Hedley’s great grandfather, William Hedley (1779-1843) who was the manager of Wylam Colliery on the Tyne. He designed Puffing Billy, one of the earliest adhesion steam locomotives which took coal on iron rails to the dockside at Lemington-on-Tyne. In 1828, William Hedley rented the South Moor Colliery in East Durham. The family’s interest thereafter centred on the Craghead, also known as Holmside, Collieries and South Moor Collieries, the firm of Messrs Hedleys being well established by the 1850s. In 1923, Oswald Hedley became a director of Thomas Hedley & Bros. Ltd, the then holding company. His father had a considerable interest in the firm but was not a director. Oswald Hedley became a director of the successor company, Holmside and South Moor Colleries Ltd in 1933 and remained a director until his death in 1945. His sons, Edward and Thomas, then became directors until Nationalisation in 1947. The companies acquired and sold mines over the years but were usually operating at least eight separate mines and, in 1925, employed 8,765 men above and underground. The profits from the mines allowed the family, and Oswald Hedley in particular, to acquire a large number of properties.

William Hedley acquired Burnhopeside Hall, Lanchester, an eighteenth century house, which he considerably enlarged in the early nineteenth century. The Hall remained a family property with Oswald Hedley’s father living there from about 1885 until his death in 1897. Oswald Hedley spent time there as a child, being left in the charge of the housekeeper when his parents were away. By 1912, he had become the owner of Burnhopeside Hall.

Oswald Hedley was born at 13 The Avenue, Rainham, Beckenham, Kent, a property originally acquired by his grandfather, Oswald Dodd Hedley, and which remained a family home for his mother and sisters. For a period, Oswald Hedley rented Dilston Hall at Corbridge which he and Ethel used as one of their homes but he gave up the lease after his wife’s death in 1916.

On 5th July 1908, Oswald Hedley purchased the Calgarth Park Estate, Windermere for £15,000. The house was a handsome, substantial mansion built in 1789-90 for Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff (1737-1816) and the estate extended to 156 acres. Calgarth had previously been owned by the Philipson family. Oswald Hedley lived there with his first wife, Marguerite, but after November 1914 it was used as a hospital. Also, in 1908, he purchased Fell Foot, Newby Bridge from the estate of George Ridehalgh (1869-1907), the cousin and heir of Colonel George Miller Ridehalgh (1835-1892; DCB), for £21,000. He demolished the eighteenth century villa and started to build a neo-Jacobean mansion at a cost of £60,000. The work had got no further than the cellars when Marguerite died in 1909. Oswald Hedley then virtually abandoned Fell Foot for the rest of his life. His third wife, Edith, gave the property to the National Trust in his memory.

In 1944, Oswald Hedley bought Townend, Troutbeck for £5,000 and paid the same amount at auction for the related farm and other property. He had intended the house to be used as a retirement home by Canon Luard-Selby, Vicar of Troutbeck (1884-1951). The Canon was a close friend and their children shared a governess.

Colonel Withers, his father in law, owned Briery Close, a three gabled cottage orne extended in 1870 which had previously been owned by Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth (1807-1877; ODNB). The Colonel left the house to his daughters when he died in 1899. After Oswald Hedley and Ethel Mary Withers married in 1909, it became their home. Between 1910 and 1912 the house was extended by architect, Francis Whitwell (1871-1943) in the Arts and Crafts style. The interiors were sumptuous with a 40 foot music room opening on to a billiard room and externally there was a lead finial celebrating Louis Bleriot’s cross Channel flight of 1909. The gardens were designed by Thomas Mawson (1861-1933; DNB). Briery Close remained Oswald Hedley’s main residence for the rest of his life.

Oswald Hedley lived on a grand scale. In 1911, the live-in servants at Briery Close included two nurses, a lady’s maid, three housemaids, a kitchen maid, a scullery maid, butler and two footmen. In 1939, he was still keeping a similar sized establishment with a governess having replaced the two nurses. He had a fleet of vehicles including a 24 hp Wolseley-Siddeley and a 90 hp 6 cylinder Napier which had done 104 mph on the Brooklands circuit. In 1925, Oswald Hedley celebrated his year of office as High Sheriff with a ball at Briery Close for 360 guests. They were entertained to supper with dance music provided by the Van Liers orchestra from London.

When Oswald Hedley died in 1945, he left £1,095,902. Unfortunately, this produced a large liability to Estate Duty. To settle part of this bill, Townend was passed to H.M. Treasury in lieu of Estate Duty at a valuation of £6,135. H.M. Treasury then made over Townend to the National Trust.


Oswald Hedley was a very generous benefactor with his liberality mainly directed to the support of medical provision. In the North East, he provided funds for the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle and equipped a wing of Dilston Hall as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital in December 1914. In Westmorland, in the same year, he offered Calgarth Park as a convalescent hospital for wounded Belgian soldiers. Calgarth Park then continued until 1919 as an Orthopaedic War Hospital operating as an auxiliary unit of the military base hospital in Manchester. The cost of wartime reconstruction and maintenance of the hospital was borne by Oswald Hedley at a cost of over £100,000, including the provision of a fully equipped motor ambulance. The wounded soldiers arrived at Windermere by special train from Southampton and were ferried to Calgarth Park in cars belonging to Oswald Hedley and his friends. Until her death in 1916, Ethel Hedley played an integral part in the organisation and running of the hospital in addition to the work she always did in supporting members of the local community who were ill or in need.

After the end of the first world war, Calgarth Park was opened as a special hospital school for the education and treatment of children suffering from poliomyelitis and other crippling conditions. The hospital was named The Ethel Hedley Memorial Hospital for Crippled Children. Oswald Hedley funded the capital conversion costs of the new hospital and endowed the children’s hospital with an income of £5,000 a year. He also provided a considerable amount of medical equipment. Calgarth Park then became a voluntary hospital charging fees to local authorities and private patients treating 60 to 70 patients a year with long term care. Oswald Hedley’s establishment of the hospital ensured that many local children had leading-edge treatment that would not otherwise have been available. As the incidence of polio declined, so did the number of patients and the hospital closed in 1970.

The family tradition of philanthropy was continued by Edith Hedley who, badly affected by the liability to Estate Duty on her husband’s death, set up the Hedley Foundation funded out of the proceeds of the nationalisation of the family colliery assets. The purpose of the Foundation was to support small to medium sized charities which worked with young people.

Public service

Oswald Hedley served in the first world war with the Tyne Electrical Engineers RE as a 2nd Lieutenant. He bought two ambulances and left for France, driving one of them, in April 1915. The other was driven by the architect Francis Whitwell who left his assistant to supervise the conversion of Calgarth Park into a hospital. Oswald Hedley then acted as a Chauffeur in a Motor Ambulance Unit for the British Red Cross and the Order of St John returning to England in June 1915. He served with the Tyne Electrical Engineers for the rest of the war based in Newcastle and remained seeing some service until at least 1923. During the second world war, he commanded the local Home Guard and was an ARP Warden.

In 1917, Oswald Hedley was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Westmorland and later awarded an OBE. In 1925, he was High Sheriff for Westmorland. In politics he was a Conservative, although he did not hold political office. He was active in the Primrose League supporting Ethel who became Dame President of the Grasmere ward of the Ambleside Habitation of the League. Oswald Hedley was also a Mason being initiated into the Ambleside Lodge on 16th October 1913.


Oswald Hedley was undoubtedly a very wealthy man who enjoyed the fruits of his inheritance in a very comfortable lifestyle which he managed to maintain after the First World War. Although noted for his hospitality, he was of a retiring nature. His outstanding characteristic, however, was his philanthropy both in well-known projects such as the Ethel Hedley Memorial Hospital and his many private benefactions known only to himself and the recipient. t.

Primary sources

  • England and Wales Census 1861-1911
  • London, Church of England Births and Baptisms 1813-1917
  • London, Church of England Marriage Banns 1754-1932
  • England and Wales Civil Registration Marriage Index 1827-1915
  • England and Wales Civil Registration Marriage Index 1916-2005
  • England and Wales Civil Registration Death Index
  • National Probate Calendar. Index of Wills and Administrations
  • Absent Voters List and Electoral Registers, Newcastle 1918-1923
  • 1939 England and Wales Register
  • CAS(K) WDEC 19
  • England United Grand Lodge of England Freemasons Membership Registers 1751-1921
  • Ambleside Oral History Group, transcripts Freda Jennings, Albert Booth
  • Lakes Chronicle and Reporter 25th September 1908, 27th January 1909
  • Lakes Herald 19th March 1915, 30th April 1915, 17th March 1916
  • Newcastle Daily Chronicle 20th October 1897
  • Yorkshire Post and Intelligencer 19th August 1912
  • Newcastle Journal 26th November 1914, 4th October 1916, 22nd June 1917
  • Lancashire Evening Post 16th July 1908, 12th July 1919, 6th August 1925
  • Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 6th July 1908
  • Penrith Observe 5th July 1927
  • Westmorland Gazette 5th January 1946

Secondary sources

  • http://www.dmm.org.uk/colliery/C007.htm
  • https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1299442
  • https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fell-foot/features/history-and-significance-of-fell-foot
  • M Hyde and N Pevsner, The Buildings of England Cumbria (2010), 643, 644
  • M Hyde and E Whittaker, Arts and Crafts Houses in the Lake District (2014), 112, 194
  • Paul Cheeseborough, ‘The Ethel Hedley Orthopaedic Hospital for Crippled Children Calgarth Park Windermere’, (2013) Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 3rd series Vol 13, 215-231.
  • Tom Macan, ‘Townend. The Final Years and Transfer to the National Trust’. Unpublished paper held by the National Trust at Townend.