From the Thorley Archives

The Bartle Frere Mystery


The Frere family were prominent members of the Thorley community for over 150 years. They were most generous benefactors to the church, respected landowners and employers and almost every Thorley child in the 1930s and 1940s remembers being taught to swim in the River Stort by Beryl Frere, the last surviving member of the Thorley Freres.

Throughout my researches into this family I have been intrigued about the origin of the Christian name Bartle, which seems to be peculiar to the Frere family, and to discover a connection between our Thorley Bartle Freres and the illustrious 19th century career diplomat Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere.

George Frere (1774 - 1854) came to Twyford House after his wife, Elizabeth Raper, inherited the grand Queen Anne mansion and estate from her grandfather John Raper. He was a founder and sometime President of the Law Society (c. 1836) and his 6th child Bartle John Laurie Frere, born in 1814, himself became President in 1867/68. When his father died in 1854 Bartle J.L. Frere financed and organised the complete renovation of the fabric of the St. James, as a memorial to his father. Through his London connections he employed Lewis Vulliamy (of Regent Street fame) as the architect and Sir Gilbert Scott to design some of the furnishings. In 1892, following an occasion when he had to send a friend all the way to Cambridge for treatment, he conceived the idea of a hospital for Bishop's Stortford. After his death, his wife Adelaide Frere and family completed the fund raising. His nephew, Eustace Frere, was the architect and Rye Street Hospital was opened in January 1895.

Bartle J.L. Frere's grandson, Bartle Laurie Stuart Frere was born in 1896 the eldest child of Laurie and Maud Frere. Following his education at Eton he was expected to join the family law firm at Lincolns Inn. In 1915, before he had finished his education, he enlisted as a Lieutenant in the 4th Batt. Bedfordshire Regiment went to France and was killed November 1916 at Beaumont Hamel. An oration delivered at his memorial service at Thorley church gives a flavour of this young man. It contains references to 'a strong character for a boy so young …….. infectious sense of humour …… quick witted …… life and soul of any gathering. He had a fine singing voice, a true ear and glorious lungs but it was the rich humour of his personality that made his comic singing what it was'.

B.L.S. Frere
1896 - 1916

Many references can be found for the most honoured of the Bartle Freres, Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere (1815 - 1884). Following a long and distinguished career in the Indian Civil Service, he was created a Baronet in 1876. In 1872 he had successfully negotiated the abolition of the slave trade with the Sultan of Zanzibar. In 1877 he was appointed to be the Governor of the Cape Province, South Africa to implement the policy of confederation. To this end he provoked a war with the Zulu tribes, the first battle of which in 1879 ended in a disastrous defeat for the British army. Despite eventually winning the trust of the Boer element of the proposed confederation he was recalled to London in 1880. Sadly he died of a chill in 1884 and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. In 1888 Edward Prince of Wales unveiled a statue to him in the Victoria Embankment Gardens Whitehall Extesnion that was paid for by public subscription.

Sir Henry Bartle
Edward Frere
1815 - 1884

Whilst walking in Dorset last year I visited St, Mary the Virgin church at Thorncombe. There I chanced upon the recently signed name and address of a Bartle Frere in their visitors' book. From this I was able to make contact with him and other distant members of the Frere family. I learned that our Bartle J.L. and Henry Bartle E. were first cousins. They were born within a year of each other and this seems to be the earliest record of the name 'Bartle'. However, so far, the derivation of this forename remains a mystery.

Bill Hardy
February 2004

From the Archives