Lowther, Hugh Cecil, fifth Earl of Lonsdale 1857-1944, sportsman, was born in London 25 January 1857, the second son of Henry Lowther, later third Earl of Lonsdale, and his wife, Emily Susan, daughter of St. George Francis Caulfeild, of Donamon, Roscommon. J. W. Lowther, Viscount Ullswater [qv.] (a notice of whom appears below), was his cousin. He was educated at Eton, and already at the age of nine had shown his prowess in the shires as a rider to hounds by being in at the death when the field had been reduced to four. Under his father he learnt personally to fulfil every detail of a huntsman's duties. Later he became master in turn of the Woodland Pytchley, Blankney, Quorn, and Cottesmore hounds; the Quorn he raised to an eminence which made it proverbial. There was no more authoritative M.F.H.: one of the many stories relates how he gave personal chastisement to a countryman who had run over and killed a hound. A five-pound note every Christmas always reminded the ill-doer of his offence and his pardon.
In his teens Hugh Lowther toured with a circus in Switzerland, and ever afterwards he loved circus folk, particularly the four-footed. In his early thirties he spent an adventurous year in the Arctic and had the distinction of confirming the presence of gold in the Klondike. A stranger in the House of Lords (he succeeded his brother as fifth earl in 1882), in all sporting circles he was perfectly at ease, genial, forthright, and very knowledgeable. As a judge of a horse or a dog he was all his life recognized as a leading authority; but he had little luck on the turf and the only classic race he ever won was the St. Leger in 1922. Although he showed promise as a steeplechase rider his weight soon extinguished any hope of becoming an amateur jockey. This was no disadvantage, however, in the ring, where his prowess was so remarkable that many judges considered him a potential world champion; a view to which the champion, John L. Sullivan, inclined when Hugh Lowther gave him rough treatment in some sparring bouts in New York and actually brought him down. The Lonsdale Belts of the National Sporting Club remain to associate his name with the sport which he helped so much.
Another of his sports was yacht racing. In 1896 he raced Kaiser Wilhelm's crack cutter Meteor and won seventeen prizes in twenty-two races. When the Kaiser, who was a close friend, went to shoot grouse on Wemmergill moor, Lonsdale entertained him in his palatial but uncomely Lowther Castle with its 3,000 acres of park and 90 acres of gardens. No post-war high-level conference ever had a more exuberant press, although later when the war of 1914-18 exacerbated national dislikes Lonsdale was criticised by the envious and the busybodies for not denouncing his friendship with the Kaiser. He ignored such attacks and the bust of his friend remained in its place of honour in the castle. With the same steadfastness Lonsdale kept to the end of his life a resolve made at the age of twenty-one never again to play cards for money or to bet on a horse.
It was the individualist in Lonsdale which made him the idol of the Victorian and Edwardian populace. With his side-whiskers, his nine-inch cigars, his gardenia buttonhole, he was to the crowds the perfect specimen of the sporting grandee. As Lord Birkenhead wrote, almost alone, he preserves an atmosphere which, to our grandchildren alas! will be nothing but an historic dream. The populace looked to him, as it did also to Lord Derby [qv.], for the same sort of grandeur that their posterity only see at secondhand on the films. When he drove to the royal enclosure from the house at Ascot which he rented for the royal meeting, the crowds watched with wonder the perfect turn-out, the yellow and black wagonette with its exactly matched chestnuts, the grooms and postilions in yellow livery with every buckle and button shining.
In addition to various civic offices in Cumberland and Westmorland, Lonsdale was lord lieutenant of Cumberland from 1917 to 1944. Whether he was the Rutland squire at Barley Thorpe or the chieftain of the Westmorland dales living in princely style at Lowther Castle, the popularity of the yellow Earl (as his friends the costers knew him) was enhanced by his readiness to live up to his role. His establishments were splendid. In his hey-day there would never have been fewer than fifty horses in the stables at both these great places. His clothes came from the wool of his own sheep on the fells. There were two Lonsdale tweeds, one of light grey for the members of his family, another darker for the household. Lonsdale came to his meals with the sportsman's hearty appetite. He drank white burgundy for breakfast. In the mid-morning he liked to relax with his guests over a glass of champagne. His regimen clearly suited him, for he was active until his death at the age of eighty-seven. Throughout his life, until the last decade when his means were straitened, his background favoured him. With an income well into six figures, all the world of sport, racing, hunting, coursing (he won the Waterloo cup), shooting, fishing, yachting, was open to him. His view of dog racing was fun, but not sport.
Except that he had no children, Lonsdale's married life was of the happiest. His wife, Lady Grace Cecilie Gordon (died 1941), daughter of the tenth Marquess of Huntly, whom he married in 1878, was hardly less devoted to sport than was her husband. They celebrated their diamond wedding in 1938 amid congratulations from every class of society, from the royal family to the London pearlies, whose lifelong patron Lonsdale was. King George V showed his high opinion of him in 1925 when he appointed him G.C.V.O. In 1928 he became a K.G. There appeared in the following year the first three of the many volumes of The Lonsdale Library of Sports, Games & Pastimes which he edited with Eric Parker; there could be no more fitting memorial to his name. He died at Stud House, Barley Thorpe, 13 April 1944, and was succeeded by his brother, Lancelot Edward (1867-1953).
There is a portrait of Lonsdale by Sir John Lavery at the Mansion House, Doncaster; of Lord and Lady Lonsdale with the Cottesmore hounds by Lynwood Palmer, and of Lord Lonsdale on Mullach leaping the double at Great Dalby by Basil Nightingale, both in the possession of the family.
Lionel Dawson, Lonsdale, the authorized life, 1946
Contributor: H. E. Wortham.