edgar speyer

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The Jewish Chronicle, 16 July, 2015

 

The ‘spy’ who saved the Proms

The Proms begin tonight but few who attend or listen on the radio will be aware that in 1902, barely seven years old, they were saved from bankruptcy by music lover Sir Edgar Speyer, a naturalised German immigrant of Jewish parentage. Speyer took over the running of the Proms. He lavished on them the equivalent of £19 million until 1915, when he was hounded out of Britain, the main target of a wartime campaign against prominent Anglo-Germans.

 

As the author of a book on Speyer - whose downfall an obituarist described as ''one of the minor tragedies of the Great War'' - I am surprised that the BBC, despite its wonderful coverage of the First World War, has no plans to commemorate the man without whom there would be no Proms. Especially in this, the centenary of his departure from these shores.

 

Sir Mark Elder, conductor of the Hallé Orchestra at this year's Proms, says: ''Had it not been for Sir Edgar Speyer, the Proms would no longer exist and the Hallé would not perform at such a prestigious festival each year."

 

Speyer personally financed the Proms from his own pocket. He also professionalised the orchestra and encouraged the broadening of its repertoire, offering the best of classical and modern music to large audiences at modest prices, which is still a priority of the Proms today.

 

Persecuted - but perhaps it's time Sir Edward Speyer was honoured at the Proms. He hosted composers such as Grieg, Elgar, Debussy, Enesco and Grainger at his home in London, and invited them to conduct at the Proms, where major works received their first English performance. Indeed, at the Proms this year, Sir Mark and the Hallé will be performing works by both Elgar and Debussy.

 

Speyer also introduced the tone poems of Richard Strauss at the Proms. In 1903 he invited Strauss to conduct the first English performance of Ein Heldenleben. Three years later Strauss dedicated his opera Salome ''to my friend Sir Edgar Speyer''. Sir Henry Wood recalled the ''many thousands of pounds' Speyer devoted to make Strauss's Symphonic Poems known to England. However many rehearsals I asked for in order to ensure a perfect performance of a work, he agreed without a murmur. On one occasion - for Strauss's Ein Heldenleben - I had as many as 17.'' Till Eulenspiegel featured under Speyer every year from 1903 to 1914 (and at 102 Proms in all) and will feature on the Last Night of this year's Proms. It's an obvious spot for a tribute to Speyer.

 

A successful merchant banker, Speyer financed the construction and electrification of the deep-level Tube lines to become ''King of the Underground'' and head of London Transport. He was the key fundraiser for Scott's Antarctic expeditions, a founder and patron of Whitechapel Art Gallery and a major donor to the Poplar and King Edward VII London Hospitals. He was honoured with a baronetcy and a privy councillorship.

 

However, in August 1914, Speyer was denounced as a German agent by the proprietor of the Queen's Hall, who gave him notice to quit and ended his connection with the Proms. This unleashed a remorseless campaign against him by politicians and the press. Unable to cope with the personal hounding, he, his wife and three young daughters went into exile.

 

In 1921, Speyer appeared before a judicial tribunal, which found him guilty of disloyalty and of communicating and trading with Germany in wartime. He was stripped of his British citizenship.

 

In his foreword to my book, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC condemns the procedure: ''It reflected no credit on the legal system''. Sir Louis attributes Speyer's ordeal to ''political bigotry, nationalistic hostility and an undercurrent of antisemitism".

 

There is indeed still much debate over whether he was guilty or innocent - there are factors that point to both. But, a century after these events, Speyer surely deserves credit for his massive contributions to British life? Last autumn, for instance, the Scott-Polar Research Institute in Cambridge put up a commemorative plaque to Speyer. Why not the Proms?

 

Last Night promenaders joining in Land of Hope and Glory or Parry's Jerusalem and paying homage to the bust of Sir Henry Wood, will probably be unaware that Parry wrote to Speyer to express shame at his treatment, and that Elgar wrote to Speyer to record "the indebtedness of the English people to you" as "a great uplifting force" in British musical life.

 

In this centenary of Speyer's flight from England, ''is it too much to hope'', wrote Martin Kettle in the Guardian, ''that the evening's conductor will spare a thought for the Proms conductor who was so vindictively treated?'' Radio 3 music presenter Kate Kennedy has called for a statue to be raised in Speyer's honour, to match the bust of Sir Henry Wood.

 

Lord Black of Brentwood has pleaded in the House of Lords that ''the contribution to music of this man, who was so unfairly treated, is properly recognised with a fitting memorial". He is among those who have called on the BBC to mark the centenary of Speyer's departure with a mention on the Last Night of the Proms.

 

These calls have so far met with a complete wall of silence from the BBC.

 

Many of us are left with a compelling conundrum of our own.

 

Why?

 

By Professor Tony Lentin is the author of Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy? The Troublesome Case of Sir Edgar Speyer

 

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27 November 2014

Press release

Lord Black calls for memorial to be created for Sir Edgar Speyer

 

A prominent peer, Lord Black, has called for a memorial to be created in honour of Sir Edgar Speyer, a German-born philanthropist who was ostracized and forced into exile following World War 1 during strong anti-German feelings in Britain when he was suspected of being a spy.

 

Lord Black, who is a trustee of the Imperial War Museum and a member of the council of the Royal College of Music, as well as being an Executive Director of the Telegraph Media Group, said Speyer had been unfairly treated 100 years ago – and it was now time to put the record straight.

 

He raised the issue during a debate on First World War Commemorations in the House of Lords on Wednesday, 26 November, saying:

 

“In a year when it is right to remember the sacrifice of individuals as much as the scale of the horror that unfolded, I will highlight one small individual musical tragedy of the war. Sir Edgar Speyer is not a household name, perhaps because so much effort has been made to expunge his name from the history books.

 

“An immigrant to this country from Germany, Sir Edgar was an eminent philanthropist, a friend of Asquith and Churchill and a member of the Privy Council. It was his generosity before the war that single-handedly saved the Proms and guaranteed their accessibility to a popular audience. He was a patron of many early 20th century composers and, in another walk of life, he funded Scott’s expeditions to the Antarctic.

 

“Because he was of German birth, however, this remarkable man who gave British life so much fell from grace in 1914. He was eventually hounded out of Britain with his honours and even his British citizenship stripped away.

 

“A century on, when we can look back with calm perspective on some of the events that happened in the heat of the moment, it would be right to ensure that the record is set straight and that the contribution to music, science and the arts of this man, who was so unfairly treated, is properly recognised with a fitting memorial.

 

“I hope that this might be something that one of the many institutions—those that are so finely taking the events of a century ago and placing them in a modern setting—might be prepared to take on.”

 

Prof Tony Lentin, a senior member of Wolfson College, Cambridge and author of Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy? The Troublesome Case of Sir Edgar Speyer, has campaigned for Speyer’s generous acts of philanthropy to be recognised today. He said:

 

“I am not alone in wishing that Speyer’s crucial support for so many British causes should be recognized. Earlier this year the BBC 3 radio presenter, Dr Kate Kennedy, told listeners that she felt Speyer should be honoured with a statue for saving the Proms when it faced financial ruin and extinction.

 

“And only last month, a plaque was unveiled in Speyer’s honour at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge in recognition of his support in financing Captain Scott’s expeditions to the Antarctic.

 

“We owe so much to this man, his company also financed the expansion of the London underground, and he supported other national institutions that we take for granted today.”

 

Speyer, a friend and supporter of Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, was a naturalised British citizen of German parentage who was made a baronet and privy councillor. However, at the outbreak of war in 1914, he was immediately subjected to a long and vicious campaign of vilification and denounced for “aggressively Germanic” music at the Proms.

  

He was accused of signalling to German submarines in the North Sea from his cliff-top country house in North Norfolk. He was hounded out of the country by unscrupulous politicians and the press, exiled with his wife and their three young daughters to America. In 1921 he was found guilty of wartime disloyalty by a judicial tribunal set up to investigate the conduct of naturalised Britons. Speyer and his family were all stripped of their British nationality.

 

Prof Lentin says, “Whether guilty or innocent – this question is discussed in my book – I believe this is the right moment for giving Speyer credit where credit is due. It would be fitting if Speyer was somehow commemorated now, a century on, for his generous patronage of the Proms and the many other causes he supported.”

 

Ends

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29 October 2014

Press release

Tribute paid to Sir Edgar Speyer for his contribution to Polar research – 100 years after funding Scott’s expeditions

 

Edgar Speyer memorial plaque Scott Polar ResearchOne hundred years on, Sir Edgar Speyer has been commemorated for his support in helping to fund Captain Scott’s expeditions to the Antarctic, and for his major contribution to polar research.

 

On 29 October 2014 a memorial plaque was unveiled at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge where he was toasted for his philanthropy, having been exiled and airbrushed out of history after WW1 following a furore over his German ancestry.

 

Tribute was also paid to Prof Tony Lentin, who campaigned for recognition to be given to Speyer, by Prof Julian Dowdeswell, Director of the SPRI.

 

He said: “I would like to give many congratulations to Prof Tony Lentin who has written the book about Speyer and has  really brought to the attention of the wider world the fact that Speyer really was indeed very badly treated by, it is fair to say, the British establishment, considering all the magnificent support he gave to Captain Scott taking expeditions to the south pole.”

 

Edgar Speyer memorial plaque Scott Polar ResearchThe ceremony began with the ringing of the bell from the Terra Nova. This was the relief ship sent out in 1903, at Speyer’s personal expense, to rescue Scott on his first expedition in 1903 when the Discovery was stuck in the Polar Ice.  The Terra Nova was purchased for the second expedition 1910-12 by the British Antarctic Expedition, for which Speyer was Hon. Treasurer and chief fundraiser.     

 

The plaque was unveiled by Dr David Wilson, great nephew of Edward Wilson, who died with Scott on their fateful expedition, and is a former Chairman of the Friends of the SPRI.

 

He said: There’s a little note in the archive currently on show in the Friends’ room by Sir Clements Markham in about 1903 and it’s a shopping list, a list of the cost of putting together another rescue mission together to go and rescue Capt Scott’s expedition aboard Discovery which was stuck in the ice. It amounted to about £5,000 which was a lot of money in those days and there’s a little note in Markham’s hand saying ‘Edgar gave it all’.

 

Edgar Speyer memorial plaque Scott Polar Research“That to me seems to summarise Edgar Speyer very nicely. He was one of the greatest philanthropists in this country in the early part of the 20th century. He was known as the King of the Underground; it was due to his business acumen in raising the funds that a lot of great underground lines were built through London and he was also an extraordinary philanthropist in supporting the promenade concerts and the musical scene in this country and was friends with Debussy and Elgar. His musical accomplishments and achievements through his support are extraordinary.

 

“What is often forgotten is that we wouldn’t be standing here today if it wasn’t for Speyer’s contributions to polar exploration. Not only did he put forward the money to rescue the first expedition of Captain Scott, but then he then got to know Scott and became the treasurer of the second expedition, putting up some of his own money for the expedition, but also fund raising with his friends. Scott’s second expedition was funded largely through Speyer’s efforts, so it’s true to say that Captain Scott did the great exploring work and my great uncle headed the science team, but none of them would have been able to do it without Speyer’s backing.

 

“When Scott died he chose to write one of his last letters to Edgar Speyer, which I think says a very great deal about him.

 

“The aftermath of that was an appeal for the families and Speyer was very much behind that appeal, helping to raise the money to pay off the debts of the expedition, and, of course, it was the remains of that public fund, the Mansion House Fund, which went towards the funding of this institute.

 

“So it’s true to say that not only would none of Scott’s work have been done on the second expedition without Speyer’s support, and British polar research in total would look very, very different without Speyer’s contribution. We wouldn’t be standing in one of the world’s leading polar institutes if it hadn’t been for Speyer.

 

Edgar Speyer memorial plaque Scott Polar Research“But then, of course, came the First World War. He was of German descent, even though he was a naturalised British citizen, he had been a leading Liberal, he got caught up in the waves of anti-German feeling, and in the collapse of the Liberal party through the war, he was stripped of his citizenship and sent into exile, which is why I will lay money that none of you here will have heard of Speyer. He has been airbrushed out of history, and, given his contribution to this country, particularly to polar research, it is time we put that right. I thank Prof Lentin for writing his book which has done so much towards that.”

 

A message from Scott’s granddaughter, Dafila Scott, to Prof Lentin said:

 

“I am so glad that there will be a plaque unveiled at the Scott Polar Research Institute to commemorate Sir Edgar and his role in supporting my grandfather Captain Scott's expeditions.

 

“His story is a fascinating one, and he was clearly a remarkable man. Hopefully this will go some way to honouring his exceptional achievements, despite the awful treatment he received.”

 

Prof Lentin said it had been a very special day for him.

 

“Really the book was quite a simple matter. The moment I went to the National Archives and the boxes arrived, they were everything I wanted. The story told itself, all I had to do was transcribe the documents.”

 

Ends


 

27 October

Press Release

Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute commemorates Captain Scott’s forgotten benefactor Sir Edgar Speyer

 

Media invited to attend – 4 pm, Wednesday, 29 October, Scott Polar Research Institute, Lensfield Road, Cambridge

 

German-born banker Sir Edgar Speyer is to be honoured on Wednesday, 29 October at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge after more than a century for his support in financing Captain Scott’s expeditions to the Antarctic.

 

Dr David Wilson, the great-nephew of Edward Wilson, who died with Scott and his companions in 1912, will unveil a plaque at the SPRI in memory of the philanthropist and friend of the explorer. 

 

 At 4.00p.m, the bell of the Terra Nova will be rung. This was the relief ship sent out in 1903, at Speyer’s personal expense, to rescue Scott on his first expedition in 1903 when the Discovery was stuck in the Polar Ice.  The Terra Nova was purchased for the second expedition 1910-12 by the British Antarctic Expedition, for which Speyer was Hon. Treasurer and chief fundraiser.     

 

The commemoration follows an unstinting campaign by Prof Tony Lentin, a senior member of Wolfson College, Cambridge and author of Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy? The Troublesome Case of Sir Edgar Speyer, to gain recognition for Speyer who supported  both of Scott’s expeditions.

 

Speyer, a member of the Privy Council and friend of the Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, was vilified at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. He was accused among other things of signalling to German submarines from his North Norfolk home. Hounded out of the country and forced into exile in the United States, he was found guilty of wartime disloyalty by a judicial tribunal in 1921. He, his wife and British-born children were all stripped of their British citizenship. 

 

Dr Wilson, a former Chairman of the Friends of the Scott Polar Research Institute  said: “What happened to Speyer was one of the great wrongs that happened through the Great War. It is good to put that right in its centenary by acknowledging his support for Scott.”

 

Prof Julian Dowdeswell, Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute, added:

“The role of Sir Edgar Speyer in supporting Captain Scott’s expeditions has been largely forgotten. He was a committed supporter of Scott’s expeditions, a good friend who raised the funds for Scott’s last trip to the Antarctic. It is only fitting that Speyer is given recognition for his philanthropy. I believe Scott would have approved.”

 

Prof Lentin says: “Speyer personally put up the £5,000 necessary to pay for sending out a ship to rescue Scott and his companions when their ship, the Discovery, was stuck in the polar ice on their first expedition.  Scott and Speyer were good friends. Speyer became treasurer of the British Antarctic Expedition in 1909 and raised funds for the second expedition. He was among a small crowd of well-wishers who saw Scott off at Waterloo station. In a last poignant letter to Speyer on 16 March 1912 Scott told his benefactor, “I thank you a thousand times for your help and support and your generous kindness,” adding “we have been to the Pole and we shall die like gentleman. I regret only for the women we leave behind.”  This letter was sold in 2012 for £163,250.  Speyer helped to fundraise for the dependents of the explorers and for what later became the Scott Polar Research Institute.

 

Ends.

 

Note to Editors:

Media are welcome to attend. For further information or interview requests, please contact Prof Lentin’s press officer Ellee Seymour on 01353 648564 or 07939 811961.


 

10 September 2014
Martin Kettle writes in The Guardian

Dark night of the Proms: how the festival’s saviour fell victim to wartime prejudice

 

A century ago Sir Edgar Speyer, the great Proms benefactor, was forced out of England by a campaign of vindictive jingoism

 

In a piece of timing so excruciating it will have Alex Salmond rubbing his hands in glee, this Saturday the BBC will broadcast the annual flag-waving Brit-fest that is the Last Night of the Proms. It would be hard to think of a moment when Britain’s long lazy reluctance to take a critical look at itself in the mirror seems more particularly wilful and inappropriate. Yet Scotland is not the only reason why this is so.

 

Sir Edgar Speyer has an important part in Proms history. Today he is a forgotten figure. A century ago, however, he was the most high-profile victim of a dubious and vindictive legal process with strong contemporary echoes and resonances: what the veteran human rights lawyer Sir Louis Blom-Cooper says was the result of “an unyielding prejudice against a distinguished man”.

 

Speyer was born in 1862. A member of a banking family, he became an immensely rich Edwardian financier and philanthropist who, in 1909, was made a member of the privy council by his friend Herbert Asquith, the Liberal prime minister. When Asquith threatened to flood the House of Lords with Liberal appointees in 1910, Speyer’s name was on the list of likely nominees.

 

At the time, Speyer’s greatest claim to fame was the use to which he put his money. At the top of this list of investments was the Edwardian-era expansion of the London Underground, in which Speyer was the principal backer for the electrification of the Metropolitan and District lines, and the construction of what became the Bakerloo, Northern and Piccadilly lines.

 

But Speyer was also a major philanthropist. He was a big donor to the King Edward VII hospital and to University College London. And in 1911 he was the main guarantor of Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. One of Scott’s last letters, found with his body in Antarctica, was to Speyer, thanking him for his generosity and promising: “We shall die like gentlemen.”

 

Speyer’s greatest private passion, however, was music. His American-born wife, Leonora, was an outstanding violinist. Elgar, Grieg and Richard Strauss were among the composers who dined with the Speyers at their Mayfair house, where a portrait of Leonora by John Singer Sargent hung in the music room. Strauss dedicated his opera Salome to Speyer in 1907. And in 1902 Speyer stepped in to save the Proms after their founder, Robert Newman, went bankrupt. Speyer continued to underwrite the Proms for 12 years.

 

In 1914, however, everything turned. The Speyer family was German. Speyer himself had been born in New York and came to this country in 1887; he was naturalised as a British subject in 1892. But his family were Frankfurt Jews, and Edgar Speyer ran their London banking house while his relatives ran those in New York and Frankfurt.

When war broke out in 1914 Speyer continued his financial and family contacts with Germany until they were prohibited. Yet even then, the Speyer financial house in the US continued to deal with Germany (until 1917 the US was not at war).

 

Some of Speyer’s behaviour in those early wartime months was undoubtedly ill-advised and even, on some counts, illegal. But there is no suggestion that Speyer was pro-German in the conflict. Even so, in 1915 he was forced to flee to the US because of anti-German feeling. Then, two years after the war, his British citizenship was removed and his privy council membership struck down following a tribunal, when the home secretary, Edward Shortt, ruled that Speyer had been “disaffected and disloyal”.

 

Today, according to Blom-Cooper’s foreword to Antony Lentin’s book on the Speyer case – evocatively titled Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy? – such a process and verdict would have been impossible, a breach of human rights. Even during the war, many took Speyer’s side, including Asquith himself, who refused Speyer’s 1915 offer to resign from the privy council with a dismissal of “these baseless and malignant imputations upon your loyalty to the British crown”.

 

At the time of the 1921 tribunal, the Manchester Guardian also reported that Speyer had many friends (including George Bernard Shaw) who “will entirely refuse to believe that he has been guilty of the charges laid against him”. When Speyer died in 1932, his Guardian obituary concluded that he was “the object of attack by those who sought during the war years to drive out of the country or have interned every resident of German parentage”.

 

Few now realise it was Speyer’s money that made sure “the world’s greatest musical festival”, the Proms, exists to this day. A century on from the first world war, few know either that Speyer was the principal victim of wartime anti-German hysteria. And, at a time when David Cameron is trying to make it much easier to deprive British jihadis of their statehood, few remember that Speyer was one of the very first Britons to be stripped of their nationality in a manner marked as much by prejudice as by proper legal process.

 

This year the Proms have focused many concerts on music of the first world war, almost all by British composers. On Saturday, as they sing Parry’s Jerusalem and Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory, few in the audience will be aware that both the Liberal Parry and the Conservative Elgar supported Speyer against those who waved union jacks, and worse, in his face a century ago. Is it too much to ask that someone in the hall – perhaps the evening’s conductor, Sakari Oramo, in his traditional end-of-season speech – will spare a thought for the Proms benefactor who was treated so vindictively by the pig-headed jingoism of an earlier age?


 

15 July 2014

Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute to commemorate Sir Edgar Speyer

The pivotal role of the German-born banker Sir Edgar Speyer in bankrolling Captain Scott’s expeditions to the Antarctic is to be acknowledged by the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge with a plaque dedicated in his memory.

 

Prof Tony Lentin, a senior member of Wolfson College, Cambridge and author of Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy? The Troublesome Case of Sir Edgar Speyer, welcomes this recognition of the support Speyer gave to both of Scott’s expeditions.

 

The plaque is to be unveiled on Wednesday, 29 October by Dr David Wilson, until recently Chairman of the Friends of the Scott Polar Research Institute and great-nephew of Edward Wilson, who died with Scott and his companions in 1912.  

 

Dr Wilson said: “What happened to Speyer was one of the great wrongs that happened through the Great War. It is good to put that right in its centenary by acknowledging his support for Scott.”

 

Prof Julian Dowdeswell, Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute, added:

“The role of Sir Edgar Speyer in supporting Captain Scott’s expeditions has been largely forgotten. He was a committed supporter of Scott’s expeditions, a good friend who raised the funds for Scott’s last trip to the Antarctic. It is only fitting that Speyer is given recognition for his philanthropy. I believe Scott would have approved.”

 

Prof Lentin says: “Speyer personally put up the £5,000 necessary to pay for sending out a ship to rescue Scott and his companions when their ship, the Discovery, was stuck in the polar ice on their first expedition.  Scott and Speyer were good friends. Speyer became treasurer of the British Antarctic Expedition in 1909 and raised funds for the second expedition. He was among a small crowd of well-wishers who saw Scott off at Waterloo station. In a last poignant letter to Speyer on 16 March 1912 Scott told his benefactor, “I thank you a thousand times for your help and support and your generous kindness,” adding “we have been to the Pole and we shall die like gentleman. I regret only for the women we leave behind.”  This letter was sold in 2012 for £163,250.  Speyer helped to fundraise for the dependents of the explorers and for what later became the Scott Polar Research Institute.

 

Speyer, a member of the Privy Council and friend of the Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, was vilified at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. He was accused among other things of signalling to German submarines from his North Norfolk home. Hounded out of the country and forced into exile in the United States, he was found guilty of wartime disloyalty by a judicial tribunal in 1921. He, his wife and British-born children were all stripped of their British citizenship.  

 

Speyer founded and chaired the company which financed the construction of the deep-level tubes and the electrification and expansion of the London Underground. His philanthropy in pre-1914 England extended to medical research and funding the Proms when they faced financial ruin. 

 

Prof Lentin said: “Speyer was a visionary entrepreneur who supported the arts, innovation, science and exploration.  Scott named a mountain discovered by his first expedition on the western side of the Ross Ice Shelf ‘Mount Speyer’ as a token of his appreciation. Edgar’s wife, Leonora, described it in a letter to Scott in 1906 as ‘our mountain’. 

 

“It is good that, a century on, a memorial will be placed at the Scott Polar Institute dedicated to an inspirational man who I believe has unjustly been airbrushed out of British history. It would also be fitting if the Proms were to show the same kind of recognition for Speyer’s generous acts in saving the Proms from extinction.”

 

Ends

For further information or interview requests, please contact Prof Lentin’s press officer Ellee Seymour on 01353 648564 or 07939 811961.


 

19 February 2014

Sotheby's sells letters showing support for Speyer

Killik & Co, who currently occupy Edgar’s former house at 46 Grosvenor Street, London, bought two signed letters by Prime Minister Asquith showing support for Speyer at Sotheby's auction.

 

H.H. Asquith, two autograph letters signed, expressing his sympathy for Speyer when he was being publicly vilified for his supposed pro-German sympathies ("...I am not a little ashamed of the readiness of some of my fellow countrymen to suspect & believe evil...") and rejecting his offer to resign his baronetcy, 3 pages, 8vo, 10 Downing St., 8 October 1914 to 22 May 1915; Edward Elgar, autograph letter signed, expressing his sympathy for Speyer's treatment in the press, 3 pages, 4to, Hampstead, 22 October 1914; George Bernard Shaw, two autograph letters signed, expressing sympathy for Speyer's position after the Lusitania disaster ("...the conduct of so many of us exposes all the rest to suspicion of having gone stark mad with indignant war fever..."), 3 pages, folio and 8vo, 30 May 1915-15 November 1921; David Lloyd George, typed letter signed, 1 page, 9 April 1908; together with typescripts, later letters, cuttings, and ephemera, concerning Speyer, his wife, and his homes in Norfolk and Mayfair, many items annotated in pencil by Lady Speyer, altogether c.28 items.

 

A second lot of 2 signed letters to Edgar Speyer relating to Captain Scott have also been sold by Sotherby's and will be archived by the Scott Polar Institute, Cambridge.

 

the first advising him of planned "incompetent and ignorant" Admiralty interference in the Discovery expedition and asking for "about £4000" to avoid this and pay for the despatch of the relief ship and other expenses, with an accompanying summary breakdown of costs, the second PROVIDING A PERSONAL TESTIMONIAL FOR ERNEST SHACKLETON ("...accompanied Captain Scott on his memorable journeys to the south, and, having broken a blood vessel owing to his exertions ... had to be invalided out..."), 9 pages, 8vo, London and Hampshire, 20 June to 20 October 1903, some later pencil annotations by Lady Speyer, some dust staining; together with a later letter and telegram by Richard Byrd to Lady Speyer concerning Captain Scott's last letter to Speyer, 1934-38


 

19 September 2013

A memorable musical evening at Sir Edgar's former home

 

More than 100 guests, Chelsea Pensioners and supporters joined Veterans Aid patron the Dowager Viscountess Rothermere at a fund raising charity. It was the first musical event to be held at 46 Grosvenor Street, the former home of Sir Edgar Speyer, since 1914. A year later he was driven into exile as a suspected traitor and ‘highly placed spy’.

 

The house is now occupied by Killik & Co and the concert was provided by Chelsea Concerts, founded in 2009 by friends Alexandra Kennedy (soprano) and Oliver Gerrish (countertenor) to create a platform for talented, young Classical musicians and to attract a more diverse audience than would usually listen to Classical music. They were joined by violinist Victoria Lyon, harpist Marged Hall and classical guitarist Matthew Robinson.

 

Tony Lentin signed copies of his book - Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy: The Troublesome Case of Sir Edgar Speyer (Haus Publishing, 2013) at the event and Haus Publishing donated three-fifths of the retail sale price of all copies sold to Veterans Aid.

 

Before the concert, Tony gave a brief address: “I feel it is particularly fitting that a charity concert should take place in this music room”, he said. ”First because Edgar Speyer was so generous in his charitable gifts. If you scan the Times of a century ago, scarcely a day goes by without the mention of some new donation.  Of course, you may say that this was easy for a multi-millionaire living in a house like this. But Edgar Speyer lived up to his principles. Every week he visited the A & E department of the Poplar Hospital. He would speak to every patient, and if that patient was the family breadwinner, Edgar would draw out his cheque-book to make sure the family did not go short.”  He had a kind and generous heart.

 

“But who was Sir Edgar Speyer?  Time permits only two hints.  If you travelled here tonight by Underground, safely, smoothly and rapidly, it is by courtesy of Edgar Speyer, chairman of the company that extended, electrified and modernized the tube system as we know it.  If you attended the Proms, or watched and enjoyed them on TV, you have Edgar Speyer to thank. He saved the Proms when they went bankrupt.”

 

“At one end of this magnificent music room, a hundred years ago Edgar installed a pipe-organ, modeled on one in the royal chapel at the Palace of Versailles.  At the other end of the room, where a mirror now stands, there hung a full-length portrait by John Singer Sargent of Edgar’s wife, Leonora, for which Edgar paid the then unprecedented fee of 1500 guineas. Beautiful, flamboyant and ten years younger than Edgar, Leonora performed as a concert violinist at the Proms. It was “to please my wife”, Edgar said, that he saved the Proms from extinction.  But next to Leonora, music was Edgar’s greatest passion. Several of the composers we shall hear this evening were friends of the Speyers and performed in this room: Edvard and Nina Grieg, Edward Elgar and Richard Strauss, whose “Morgen” was sung at a concert here in 1909.”

 

Dr Hugh Milroy, CEO of Veterans Aid, said:  “The evening exceeded all expectations – the historical resonances of the Speyer connection and the screening of the Veterans Aid film “Smith” (1939) were the icing on the cake. I must thank Nicholas Brandram, from Killiks, who enabled us to use this wonderful room, so redolent with history.”