Hey big spender! The Yellow Earl and Trinity Hall

What has the Yellow Earl, who left Eton at the age of 12 and devoted his youth to playing sport, to do with Trinity Hall, a premier academic institution? The link is tenuous, as you will discover if you read on, but nonetheless tangible, as will be immediately apparent: in our special collections we have a set of books that came from the earl’s library at Lowther Castle!

Trinity Hall's set of books from the library of Lowther Castle

Trinity Hall’s set of books from the library of Lowther Castle

The Yellow Earl was the second son of the Third Earl Lonsdale and little importance was given to his education (hence his misspent youth on the sports field). His elder brother duly inherited the title and the management of the estate at the young age of 23. However, St George (the Fourth Earl had a most unusual name!) unfortunately died three years later in 1882 after a short illness. It was now the turn of poorly prepared Hugh Cecil Lowther, the Yellow Earl, to take up the title and he made a spectacularly bad job of it.

The Yellow Earl set about spending his fortune, and he spent in a big way! According to Wikipedia “He bought chestnut horses, carriages and many other extravagances. He had yellow-liveried footmen, a groom of the bedchamber, a chamberlain and a master of music to supervise the 24 musicians who travelled from house to house. His household travelled in a special train.” He loved horses (he became Senior Steward of the Jockey Club), he loved cars (he was first President Automobile Association) and he loved yellow. Indeed it was his passion for yellow – the Lowther family’s traditional racing colour – which gave rise to his nickname the Yellow Earl.

Portrait of the Yellow Earl outside Lowther Castle (BBC's Antiques Roadshow)

Portrait of the Yellow Earl in the grounds of  Lowther Castle (BBC’s Antiques Roadshow)

It took a while, but by 1935 the Yellow Earl was spent up. He was forced to move out of Lowther Castle because he could no longer afford its upkeep. When he died in 1944 the title passed to his younger brother Lancelot Edward Lowther, who was an alumnus of Magdalene College Cambridge. To raise money, the Sixth Earl held a large auction of the contents of Lowther Castle, including its library (and our set of books), in 1947.

Detail of the title page of

Detail of the title page of our set of books

After an interval of five years the books found a new home. Here another big spender (on a less spectacular scale) enters the story! This man was George Edward Larman, an alumnus of Trinity Hall and a bibliophile. Larman was a very different kind of man – he was not a spendthrift, instead he used his wealth to build up his own personal library. In 1952 he bought a handsome set of books “An essay towards a topographical history of the County of Norfolk” to add to his collection. The books, which are by Francis Blomfield and were published between 1739 and 1775, came from the library of Lowther Castle. They are handsomely bound in gauffered leather, with a gilt centrepiece of a wreath of oak leaves surrounding the family name “Lowther” and surmounted by a coronet.

The gilt-stamped centrepiece on the Lowther bindings

The gilt-stamped centrepiece of the binding

It is doubtful if the Yellow Earl ever looked at these books when they were in his library (he was too busy living it large) but we can be sure that Larman did! He proudly inscribed his name and the date of his acquisition in the front of volume 5. Larman was fascinated by Tudor and Stuart history, heraldry, the history of British Catholics and local history. He read widely and his library was immensely important to him. He bequeathed his extensive library to Trinity Hall and we continue to make fascinating discoveries in the process of completing the project to catalogue his collection.

Larman's inscription recording the acquisition of the volumes in 1952

Larman’s inscription recording the acquisition of the volumes in 1952


Lowther Castle is now a magnificent ruin and is open to the public. You can find out more about the Yellow Earl in the two latest episodes of the Antiques Roadshow from Lowther Castle. The first episode was transmitted on Sunday 19 April and the next episode will be aired on Sunday 16 April. People in the UK can watch the programmes on iPlayer for 28 days after the original transmission date.


Biography of Hugh Cecil Lowther Wikipedia

Lowther Castle http://www.lowthercastle.org/

BBC Antiques Roadshow