Supermodel Jodie Kidd has always known that she has a distinguished family background. Her paternal great-grandfather was Lord Beaverbrook, the famous newspaper magnate and cabinet minister. But Jodie didn't know anything about the rest of her ancestors. She had grown up being told that in all families there are 'good people and bad people'. This had always intrigued her, so she wanted to find out whether the phrase related to anything in particular in her family's past.
Whilst Jodie knew something about her father's line, she had no information about her mother's side of the family. All she knew was that her mother, Wendy Hodge, was also from a titled family. We needed to contact Wendy to see if she could tell us anything significant about the Hodges.
Family members are always a rich source of insight and information about shared relatives. It is particularly useful to speak to parents about their recollections of conversations or experiences involving their own parents and other older relatives.
Jodie called her mother, Wendy, who is based in Barbados. The only ancestor Wendy knew anything about was Jodie's great-grandfather, Sir Rowland Frederick Hodge, who came from Newcastle. She thought that he had had something to do with shipbuilding, and that he had been given a baronetcy. We now had a few key facts to enable us to start investigating the Hodges.
Census returns can be very useful in tracing an ancestor's career. From 1841 onwards, they reveal a person's occupation and residence at the time of the census, as well as information about his or her birthplace (if local to the place of residence). Census returns can be found at the National Archives in Kew, London, and in many archives and family history centres around the country. They can also be searched online (see Related Links).
Newcastle was the obvious place for us to search for information about Sir Rowland. The only other significant clue we had was that he was involved in shipbuilding. So we headed for Trinity House, an ancient shipping and seafaring organisation which has kept records of maritime-related industries in Tyneside for hundreds of years (see Related Links).
Jodie met Captain Stephen Healy, the deputy master of Trinity House. He showed her a series of censuses that revealed Rowland Frederick Hodge's career progression. In the 1881 census, we discovered that he was registered as a clerk. Just 10 years later in 1891, Rowland was head of his household and manager of a shipbuilding firm. By the time of the 1901 census Rowland owned a shipbuilding company himself, and was an employer of other Tyneside workers.
If you know your ancestor's profession, guilds and trade organisations can be a great source of biographical information. Captain Healy also directed us to a book kept in the Trinity House library that contains biographies of significant local people, some of whom were associated with the shipbuilding industry. Rowland Hodge featured in this.
We discovered that Rowland was the founder and director of the Northumberland Shipping Company. Jodie wanted to discover more about her great-grandfather's company and the types of ships he was building in the early 20th century.
When investigating an ancestor who has an association with a particular field of interest, it can be useful to contact a specialist historian. You can often find such experts through museums or libraries that specialise in the relevant area, or by approaching associated organisations. Jodie met up with Tyneside historian Ron French. Ron was able to give some details about Rowland's meteoric rise from clerk to shipbuilder.
We learned that Rowland arrived on the banks of the Tyne at the age of 15 to spend five years as an apprentice naval architect. He then went to Glasgow for a while before returning to Tyneside as a manager for the Swan Hunter Yard.
In 1898 he seized the opportunity to buy a very compact site and went on to create a modern and highly competitive shipbuilding business. Ron explained how Rowland brought in electric power on a large scale, which none of the other shipyards had really embraced. In addition he built large sheds enabling his employees to work under cover. Rowland's yard specialised in creating standard ship designs that could be adapted to individual needs at a low cost.
We discovered that the First World War inevitably presented a grim business opportunity for Rowland. With around 1,000 boats lost to enemy action every year, replacing such vessels made him a very wealthy man.
Local newspapers and publications can be a very good source of information about people and past events in a local area. The British Library Newspapers collection in Colindale, London, holds a large collection of British national and local newspapers, alongside overseas publications (see Related Links). Local papers and directories can also be found in local archives or record offices.
Using local newspapers, Ron told us that by 1917 Rowland Hodge was such a valuable contributor to the war effort that King George V made an official visit to his shipyard. However in 1918, despite his evident success on the Tyne, Jodie discovered that after 20 years in business Rowland suddenly stopped featuring in local directories. Had he left his business and hometown?
Another newspaper article showed that despite his disappearance from Tyneside, Rowland was made a baronet in 1921 and was credited with services to wartime shipbuilding. The article also revealed that his title was Sir Rowland Frederick William Hodge, 1st baronet of Chipstead. It appeared to Ron that as Rowland had married a lady from Kent, he might have moved down there from Northumberland.
Whilst Ron didn't know why Rowland had left the area, he did know Rowland's last known address in Newcastle and could even show us the layout of Rowland's home, the grand Coxlodge Hall, on an old map.
Local directories are often kept in history centres or local archives. There is a large national collection at the Guildhall Library in London and a smaller collection online (see Related Links). They can be helpful in working out when an ancestor arrived in a town, the length of stay and where he/she lived. Town layouts may have changed over the years, but old Ordnance Survey maps can help with locating the address today.
Jodie went in search of the former home of her great-grandfather, the imposing Coxlodge Hall. We thought we had found it, but the impressive building we identified turned out to be just the stables! We met Mark Dutton, who now works for the firm of quantity surveyors that uses the former stables as their premises.
The firm have a file on the history of the building. Mark showed Jodie old photographs of the Hall and told us that it had been demolished in 1939 after a fire. He also mentioned that Rowland had left in 1918 at the end of the First World War, and that he believed the departure took place amidst some kind of scandal. The mystery had intensified.
As ever, local newspapers proved a great resource for investigating rumours and mysteries involving family members. At the local archives Jodie searched through the newspapers published at the time of Rowland Hodge's departure from Newcastle. She was shocked to discover that in 1918 Rowland Hodge and his wife were prosecuted for food hoarding!
She read that the Hodges had to pay penalty fines for hoarding such amounts as 1,148lbs of flour and 85lbs of jam and marmalade. At a time when food was scarce, the hoarding of food was made illegal to prevent panic buying and resources being siphoned off by the rich. Rowland Hodge was found guilty of concealing over a ton of food.
It appeared that, in his defence, Rowland had indirectly blamed his wife! He said he had nothing to do with the housekeeping, as he had been too busy building ships for the war.
Despite the conviction, we knew that three years later Rowland was made a baronet. Jodie didn't understand why he would have been honoured in this way following such a disgrace. Honours like Rowland's baronetcy are awarded by the government of the day, so we went to London to search for information in the Parliamentary Archives (see Related Links).
The Parliamentary Archives are a great resource, not only for political history but also for personal stories. They store thousands of letters between great political figures. The letters range from missives about crucial world events to personal 'thank you' notes.
Jodie knew that Rowland received his honour in 1921. His name would have had to cross the desk of the prime minister David Lloyd George, so we searched amongst his correspondence.
We found two letters referring directly to Rowland Hodge. The first was written 19 days after Jodie's great-grandfather had been made a baronet. It was written from King George V's secretary to Lloyd George, and expressed the King's annoyance that a man with a 'notorious career' and conviction for 'a most disgraceful case of food hoarding' could have been given a baronetcy. The letter was unreservedly critical of Rowland's character, manner and appearance.
We found another letter written three years before the King's letter in December 1918, eight months after Rowland's food hoarding conviction. It was from Winston Churchill's secretary, again to Lloyd George.
Shockingly the letter revealed that Churchill had been approached by an intermediary who had suggested that he should 'procure a baronetcy for a certain Hodge'. If Churchill 'delivered the goods' he would then receive £5,000! Churchill was writing to warn Lloyd George in case he was approached in the future. However, it appeared that Lloyd George didn't heed the warning and Rowland Hodge was very likely embroiled in an early 'cash-for-honours' scandal!
Hodge was one of a number of businessmen, tax evaders and fraudsters who acquired titles in exchange for substantial donations to Lloyd George's Liberal party. The sale of honours to undeserving people became so brazen that the Tories finally blew the whistle at the famous Carlton Club meeting in 1922, and withdrew from Lloyd George's coalition government. This split forced a general election in which Lloyd George suffered a heavy defeat.
The implications for Rowland Hodge would have been minimal, as those who bought their honours were never named. Living in a palatial home, Chipstead Place in Kent, he kept his title and baronial crest with its somewhat ironic motto, 'Glory, the reward of virtue'. In line with her family's old saying, it seemed that Jodie had found one relative who was a mixture of 'good and bad'.
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