Francis William Holmes à Court, 6th Baron 5
- Born: 8 November 1931, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
- Christened: 17 December 1931, St. Stephens Church, Cheltenham
- Died: 5 October 2004, Tarrant Keynston, Dorset aged 72
A tribute spoken at Francis' funeral at Tarrant Keynston Church on
14th October, 2004:
I have been asked by Alison Holmes à Court and the Reverend James
Langton-Brown to speak to you about Francis and his life and work, but
first, on behalf of all of us here, I express our sympathy for the
loss of Francis to Alison, to their son James and their daughter
Camilla and James's wife Polly and Camilla's husband, also James, and
their three children and to Alison's mother Griselda Balfour and her
sisters Roseanne and Corinna. I mention them all, because, although
Francis was an only child, whose parents died some years ago, he was a
loyal and enthusiastic friend of all his own family and of Alison's
family. They are a united group. Francis told me in one of our last
conversations, how grateful he was to Alison for her support during
his illness and to Camilla and James for their help. Together Francis
and his family have, throughout the years, kept the flame of family
loyalty and affection alive and, though it shines in only one house,
its benign light spreads over its neighbours. Long may it burn.
Francis and I first met 52 years ago during the annual December visit
of the Cambridge University Mountaineering Club to North Wales. A
dozen or so students took a climbing hut in the Nant Ffrancon pass,
climbed all day and in the evening cooked and talked and tried to
wriggle out of the washing-up - well, not Francis and myself, only the
other brutes. It was a wonderful way to make friends. Digressing for
a moment for the younger members of the congregation, I should also
explain, that 52 years ago was the tail end of the ice age. It was
very cold in December and the mountains were covered in snow and ice,
which added to the interest of our expeditions.
Francis and I became friends from the time of that first meeting all
those years ago. Later we spent many days together in the hills,
often with larger groups. He was a better mountaineer than me and
generously introduced me to Alpine climbing. Then, after we married
and had children of much the same age, we all enjoyed family holidays
together in Derbyshire and the Lakes, as Francis and Alison did with
other family friends, some of whom are with us today. Then later,
when we were possibly more cultivated but certainly less vigorous
Francis and Alison booked us all into the Keats-Shelley house in Rome
and the Browning's flat in Florence. The mountains were I think,
Francis's most abiding pleasure, from the time he was evacuated to
Wales during the war to his recent scoring of Monroes in Scotland, but
for many years he had also taken a deep interest in the Romantic
poets and he developed a profound knowledge of their work and lives.
Alison and he regularly attended the residential meetings of the
Wordsworth Society and Francis pursued his studies steadily over the
years. He also enjoyed gliding and sailing and passed his enthusiasm
to James and he enjoyed the Opera, particularly Wagner. He approached
all these interests with zest and often with much wry banter.
Francis was educated at Bryanston, the great school near to here and
at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he was an exhibitioner. He was
highly intelligent and physically strong. He was from a distinguished
Wiltshire family and he was a Peer of the Realm, being the 6th Baron
Heytesbury. The first Lord Heytesbury had, between the 1820's and
40's, been the British ambassador to Spain, Portugal and Russia,
Viceroy of Ireland and was appointed Viceroy of India, but never took
up the position. Francis was also descended from Sir Robert Holmes,
the daring naval man, who in 1664 took New Amsterdam from the Dutch*
and changed it into New York and whatever one may think of that, it
was a significant historical event.
Francis's attitude to his family history was intelligent and modest.
He was, I think, quietly proud of it, but he never paraded it and
neither did he reject it, but he, and I believe his father before him,
did recognise, that the profound social and fiscal changes of the last
century must radically affect the lives of the landed aristocracy. He
simply accepted the situation into which history had placed him. He
was a liberal in the broadest sense - a Guardian reader for 50 years -
and like the Romantic poets he loved, he believed in the social
progress of humanity and, more important, in the brotherhood of man
and in the individual's duty to foster them both.
After university, Francis worked in industry and subsequently, full
time and professionally, for the charity Oxfam. Then, without
sentiment, he disposed of some family land and acquired Manor Farm,
here in Tarrant Keynston, with the farmhouse opposite this church. A
middle-aged man, he learned the arduous and difficult business of
farming and, working himself on the farm, he made a success of it.
Francis was certainly a gentleman but he was certainly not a gentleman
farmer. He did much of the work himself. It was a project which
Wordsworth might have approved. In this enterprise he was greatly
helped by two men, who had worked the farm before him, Frederick
Holland and William Attwell, who I hope are with us today. He was
grateful for their knowledge and loyalty and enjoyed their friendship.
On retirement from farming, Francis disposed of the farmland to a
neighbour and kept Manor Farm House, where sadly he died last week.
In reflecting on Francis all who knew him will, I believe, recall his
modesty and courtesy and his affability and for those who had any
dealings with him, either social or business, his soundness and
reliability, but for his family and his friends he was also tremendous
fun to be with.
He spoke with splendid fluency and a ready wit and the room came alive
when he regaled us with an anecdote, always pointed but never coarse
or cruel, or he took off into one of his provocative challenges to
convention or common assumptions, with a great flight of extemporary
language. At other times he would fall completely inert and nothing
on earth could shift him until, he would, like Achilles bursting from
his tent, rejoin us with revived vigour. How we shall miss all that.
Francis was in some ways a very private person, whose heart was not on
his sleeve, but yet one always knew what he was. There were no hidden
quirks or surprises and the reason, I believe was, his pervasive
integrity of spirit, which he maintained throughout his life. He was
that quite complex man, who we all loved and respected and nothing
else. Let us remember him with gratitude and affection.
* There is some doubt as to the part played by Sir Robert Holmes in
the conquest of New Amsterdam, which was surrendered by the Dutch
without a fight but on generous terms on 27/08/1664. Only 11 days
after the arrival of an overwhelmingly superior English force off the
coast of the colony commanded by Richard Nicholls, but the D N B
credits the victory to Holmes. I speculate, that Nicholls commanded
the whole expedition and Holmes commanded the ships by which it was
carried, but some arduous research into the Navy records, some of
which were published in the 20th Century might resolve an interesting
Written by Trevor Williams.
Born in a nursing home in Cheltenham 6
Noted events in his life were:
1. He was confirmed on 13 March 1945 in St. Peter's Church, Codford.
2. His funeral was held on 14 October 2004 in All Saints Church, Tarrant Keynston, Dorset.
Francis married Alison Jean Balfour, daughter of Professor Michael Leonard Graham Balfour and Ethel Grizel Wilson.