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In the later 19th and early 20th centuries, the society magazine, Vanity Fair, published caricatures of leading celebrities of the day as a supplement to its weekly editions. On 26th October 1876, a caricature appeared of Francis Charles Needham, Viscount Newry and Mourne, who was then well known in the world of London theatre.

Francis Charles Needham was born in London in 1842, the son of Francis Needham, heir to Francis Jack, second Earl of Kilmorey. Francis Charles became his grandfather’s heir when his father died in 1851 and was then able to use the courtesy title of Viscount Newry and Mourne. After attending Eton, Lord Newry went on to Christchurch College, Oxford. Between graduating in 1863 and gaining his MA in 1867, he travelled widely, including America during the final stages of the Civil War. In 1866 – 1867, he was in the retinue of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, a son of Queen Victoria, on a world tour.

Vanity Fair caricature of Francis Charles, Lord Newry and Mourne, published in 1876. Lord Newry was a talented amateur actor and musician as well as being a successful theatre owner. As an entertaining raconteur, he was a popular guest at society dinner parties. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A Vanity Fair caricature of Francis Charles, Lord Newry and Mourne, published in 1876. Lord Newry was a talented amateur actor and musician as well as being a successful theatre owner. As an entertaining raconteur, he was a popular guest at society dinner parties. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Despite his travels and Royal service, Lord Newry did not neglect his position in Shropshire and south Down where his family had their estates. He was commissioned in 1865 in the Shropshire Yeoman Cavalry and was an officer in the South Down Militia. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he represented Newry in parliament and was M.P. for the borough from 1871 until 1874.

The ice rink at Rostrevor which Lord Kilmorey helped to finance. Lord Kilmorey made a speech against Home Rule at a ‘Great Unionist Meeting’ held at the rink in 1893. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The ice rink at Rostrevor which Lord Kilmorey helped to finance. Lord Kilmorey made a speech against Home Rule at a ‘Great Unionist Meeting’ held at the rink in 1893. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Lord Newry lived mostly in London in a succession of properties before settling c.1896 at 5 Aldford Street in Mayfair which remained the Kilmorey town house until 1924. His connections at Court may have been one reason for his focus on London but perhaps the main reason was his involvement in the theatrical life of the capital. He was a highly successful theatre owner and impresario; among other ventures, he was involved in the building of the Globe Theatre and leased the St. James Theatre. From these two theatres, he was reaping an annual income of £7,000 (just over £900,000 today) by 1885. Notable among his other theatrical interests, was his support for the Royal Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall.

After becoming the third Earl of Kilmorey on the death of grandfather in 1880, Francis Charles took a closer interest in his estates in south Down. He was particularly interested in the development of Rostrevor as a tourist resort and gave financial backing to the Warrenpoint and Rostrevor tramline and the Mourne Hotel (later the Great Northern Hotel) with the adjoining ice rink. However, declining land values curtailed many of Lord Kilmorey’s other ambitions for the area.

The third Earl of Kilmorey pictured wearing the insignia and mantle of the Order of St. Patrick, c.1890. The mantle is now on display in Newry and Mourne Museum. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The third Earl of Kilmorey pictured wearing the insignia and mantle of the Order of St. Patrick, c.1890. The mantle is now on display in Newry and Mourne Museum. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

In 1881 Lord Kilmorey married Ellen Constance (Nellie) Baldock, daughter of Edward Holmes Baldock, M.P. for Shrewsbury. Together they re-established the Kilmorey family at Mourne Park, near Kilkeel, and played a greater role in local affairs. Lord Kilmorey was a Justice of the Peace and a Deputy Lieutenant for County Down. He was an avid supporter for Unionism in the face of Home Rule and was instrumental in raising a strong contingent of the Ulster Volunteer Force in the area. As commandant of the South Down Nursing Corps, Lady Kilmorey played a significant role in supporting the wounded of the Ulster Division during the First World War. 

Lord and Lady Kilmorey also maintained their connections with Royal circles during these years. With the support of Edward, Prince of Wales, Lord Kilmorey became a Knight of the Order of St. Patrick in 1890 and was appointed an aide-de-camp to the Prince when he became King Edward VII in 1901. The Kilmoreys also kept their close friendship with the family of the Duke of Teck, particularly Prince Frederick, a brother of the future Queen Mary, and a frequent visitor to Mourne Park.

A portrait in watercolour of Ellen Constance, Countess of Kilmorey in 1914. A society beauty, the Countess was a favourite of Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, and had a relationship with Prince Frederick of Teck, a frequent visitor to Mourne Park. Courtesy of Down County Museum
A portrait in watercolour of Ellen Constance, Countess of Kilmorey in 1914. A society beauty, the Countess was a favourite of Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, and had a relationship with Prince Frederick of Teck, a frequent visitor to Mourne Park. Courtesy of Down County Museum

In the days when the lives of the aristocracy were documented in the Court Circular, published daily in The Times, it was announced on 22nd July 1915 that the Earl of Kilmorey was ‘seriously ill, suffering from an attack of pneumonia. His son, Viscount Newry, had been recalled from the front’. The Court Circular for 23rd July reported that the Earl had had ‘a good night’ and ‘a restless night’ on 26th. On 29th July, it was announced that Lord Kilmorey had died the previous day at his London home. The funeral took place at Kilkeel and a memorial service was held for him on 31st July at the Chapel Royal in St. James’ Palace.

Newry and Mourne Museum is open Wednesday – Saturday 10.00 am – 12 noon and 2.00 pm – 4.00 pm. Please call 0330 137 4422 for further information.

by Ken Abraham

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