Tommy Scott-Ellis: Olympian who beat John Lewis store
An athlete who competed in the 1908 London Olympics can perhaps still lay claim even now to the title of one of Britain's most colourful Games competitors.
Anyone wishing to wrestle that title away from Thomas "Tommy" Scott-Ellis, 8th Baron Howard de Walden, would have to beat the following.
He fathered six children, served in two wars, amassed what was then the world's biggest collection of heraldry and medieval armour, competed in both fencing and motorboat racing at the 1908 Games, and was the grandfather of celebrated journalist and literary critic Miranda Seymour.
End Quote Carolyn Latham Chirk Castle
He was involved in so much, and it has been genuinely exciting to discover about his Olympic past with the Games being held in Britain again this year”
On top of that, he was also engaged in a 23-year legal battle with the owner of the John Lewis department store, which resulted in the latter being thrown into jail for contempt of court.
Now the peer's colourful life is to be the subject of an exhibition to coincide with this Olympic year at the 13th Century Chirk Castle, near Wrexham, where he set up home between World Wars I and II.
"It is quite incredible what Lord Howard de Walden achieved in his lifetime," said Carolyn Latham, who manages the castle for the National Trust.
"He was involved in so much, and it has been genuinely exciting to discover about his Olympic past with the Games being held in Britain again this year."
She explained how the Olympic format a century ago favoured men like Scott-Ellis, who had plenty of money, titles, and time on their hands.
"The Summer Olympics of 1908 were very different to this year's games. Back then the competition lasted an incredible 188 days, compared to the 17 days of the modern games," said Ms Latham.Sporting career
"Athletes had to fund their own way through the competition, and obviously had to be able to survive with not working for six months. Of 2,008 competitors at the London Games, there were just 37 women."
Born in Scotland in May 1880, Scott-Ellis was educated at Eton and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and fought with distinction in both the Boer War and WWI.
However, between the conflicts he enjoyed a successful sporting career. He was selected to compete in motorboat racing and fencing at the 1908 Games, and the shortlived 1906 rival Olympics in Athens.
After inheriting his father's estates and titles, and retiring from the Army, he found time and money to indulge his love of history and the arts.
As well as amassing a formidable collection of medieval military equipment, Scott-Ellis wrote numerous plays under the pen name of TE Ellis, learned Welsh, and sponsored several Welsh language writers, as he believed the language had a greater cultural resonance with the arts.Libel case
However, all this largesse came at a cost, which he sought to recoup by increasing the rents of his properties on the fashionable London shopping promenades, one of which was the John Lewis department store.
John Lewis retaliated by erecting placards in his shop, decrying his actions and prompting a long legal battle.
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"At one stage the relationship ended up with the Lord Howard de Walden estate taking John Lewis to court as he had overdeveloped the property on Holles Street which he leased from the de Walden estate," said a John Lewis spokesman.
"John Lewis was found guilty and fined a farthing. When he refused to pay, on principle, he was found guilty of contempt of court and sent to Brixton Prison until he finally paid up."
"John Lewis had come from a very humble background and thought that it was grossly unfair that the landed gentry should have so much money and power and that was why he put notices in the shop windows complaining about this inequality.
"The estate still owns much of the land surrounding John Lewis Oxford Street but our relationship with them now is much better".
The Chirk Castle exhibition took two years and £200,000 to put together.
"With so many strands to the Howard de Walden story to tell, we've a lot to fit into the five key spaces of the east wing, but his royal, theatrical, literary, cultural and Olympic links guarantee it's all going to be fabulous," added Ms Latham.
It will open to the public on 29 September.