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Marble monument to Sir William Gore (1644–1707) and his wife Elizabeth (d.1705).
The monument shows Gore, in the robes of Lord Mayor of London, and his wife reclining on either side of a funerary urn.
The monument's attribution to Grinling Gibbons or his pupil John Nost is speculative.

Originally most men of influence in the City of London lived near their workplace, but as they grew wealthier, they began to consider more congenial surroundings for their families.  The age of commuting was born, mainly with a north-westerly trend, for the lack of river bridges delayed development southwards; in spite of the discomforts of coach travel at that time, these men of substance began to buy country estates.  Quite why three titled eminent bankers in three separate centuries should chose Tring as their home, is not entirely clear.  Those now living in Tring may think that this showed considerable discernment, but the real reason is probably that suitable properties came to the market at a particular time; this was certainly the case in 1702 when Sir William Gore purchased the Tring Park estate.

Both figuratively and literally Sir William was very much a bigwig in the City, for in 1692 he had been knighted at The Guildhall by William III.  In the same year that saw the arrival in Tring of Sir William and his lady, he achieved the supreme appointment of Lord Mayor of London and, to mark this event, the traditional splendid procession and pageant had progressed through the streets of the City.  The gilded coach was preceded by elaborate horse-drawn floats carrying figures from mythology depicting finance and enterprise.  Among his business concerns Sir William numbered a place on the committee of the East India Company, and was a founder member of the Bank of England, his only setback being a failed attempt to be elected as Tory candidate for the City of London.

Sir William Gore (1644–1707), Lord Mayor of London (1701).
Artist unknown.

Daniel Defoe, passing through Tring on his travels, reported “at Tring is a most delicious house, built à la moderne” which referred to the mansion purchased by Sir William.  It had been erected in the 1680s to a plain but pleasing design, said to be that of Sir Christopher Wren.  Surrounded by a small deer park, it had gardens described as “of unusual form and beauty”.  Sir William’s healthy income soon allowed him to buy another 300 acres to add to his estate.  He and Lady Gore, together with their eight surviving children, presumably settled in happily and started to enjoy the wide vistas of parkland, with a backdrop of the beautiful beech woods along the Chiltern escarpment.  As we all know, even when one finds the ideal property, there is always a snag – at the Tring Park mansion the problem was traffic.  The main road through the town at that time followed a route to the south of the house, passing in front of the windows of the chief reception rooms.  The elegant walnut furniture and Delft china probably rattled as coaches and wagons rumbled by and, an even worse horror, the general populace could catch a glimpse of the family dining.  This state of affairs was swiftly rectified when Sir William’s son inherited the estate, and petitioned to move and sink the level of the road to the other side of the house.  As this then became the route of Tring High Street, much of today’s traffic congestion in the town can be blamed firmly on William Gore junior.

Tring Mansion built in 1682 during the reign of King Charles II by Sir Christopher Wren
for Sir Henry Guy.


Nathaniel Mayer Rothschild,
1st Baron Rothschild, GCVO, PC (1840-1915).

William Gore junior had not to wait too long to gain his inheritance, for by 1707 both parents were dead.  Ever a dutiful son, he erected in Tring Church an enormous memorial.  Their life-sized marble effigies are attired in the height of early-18th century finery, Sir William wearing an immense and elaborate periwig.  Accompanied by a graceful gesture of his hand, he is discoursing to his wife, who stares stonily ahead into space.  Having now heard her husband’s stories for over 300 years, she is probably entitled to look a trifle bored.

The history of Tring Park then followed a fairly humdrum course for some 150 years.  The dynamic change to the town by the coming of the Rothschilds has been written up many times, but no account of our moneymen can be complete without another mention.  In 1872 the estate was bought at auction, and Tring greeted this news with slight apprehension but little surprise, for the Rothschilds were already well established in the Vale of Aylesbury.  Their merchant bank had been founded in St Swithin’s Lane in the City in the early 1800s, and it was Nathaniel, the eldest grandson of the founder who came to live at Tring; he continued to consolidate his family’s immense wealth, and it was the town’s good fortune to acquire this very benevolent Lord of the Manor, as he and his wife took their responsibilities seriously.  The rebuilding of slum housing, improved agriculture, foundation of charities and guaranteed employment greatly helped people living in the town and its satellite villages.  Not all agreed with some of the building programmes for Tring, which included the enlargement and improvement of the mansion house itself.  Wren’s classical facade disappeared behind red brick and a French-style pavilion roofline, and some unkind folk likened the result to the appearance of an institution; this was not far from the truth, for today the building is a well-known school for the performing arts.

Tring Park Mansions front entrance following refacing by architect George Devey c.1889.

It can never be disputed that the Rothschilds brought glamour to Tring.  The guest list at their country house weekends was an impressive mix of the great and the good, headed by the Prince of Wales, Mr Gladstone, and Lord Randolph Churchill.  Sir Nathaniel was created a peer, the first member of the Jewish faith in Britain to be so honoured when his seat in Parliament then passed to his cousin, but his interest in politics never diminished, and he continued to be a powerful influence behind the scenes.  During Word War I, Lord Rothschild’s health was failing and he died in 1915.  This, together with death duties and the after effects of the war, brought great changes for Tring; the estate was gradually broken up, and although reminders of the Rothschild era are still evident all over the town, the life that it represented has vanished.

Sir Gordon Nairne (1861–1945), Bt.
Director of the Bank of England.
Oil on canvas by Walter Westley Russell.

It was not long however before another eminent banker chose to make his home in the Tring.  In 1931 Sir Gordon Nairne did not expect to own anything so grand as a mansion in a park, for his origins were modest, and his success in life had been built upon his own ability, application, and integrity.  He was a son of Scotland, born in Castle Douglas and, after working in Glasgow, he entered the Bank of England in 1880, and served there for fifty years until his retirement.  His talent for financial management was recognised at the comparatively early age of 41 when he was appointed Chief Cashier.  Perhaps Gordon then allowed his grave features a twitch of a smile of pride on the first occasion that he saw bank notes bearing his own signature.  The novelty must have worn off, for he held the post for sixteen years, and part of this time covered the critical period of the Great War.  This was especially difficult for banking as the Treasury issued currency notes through the Bank of England in almost unlimited amounts, with inevitable inflationary consequences.  The Bank was in safe hands however, and Gordon Nairne received his deserved reward.  In 1917 he was created a baronet, and the following year appointed to the newly-created post of Comptroller.  A Directorship followed in 1925, Sir Gordon being the first member of staff to achieve this position.  His wise guidance was appreciated elsewhere too, for he was honoured by other countries, including France, Belgium and Japan.

When Nairne left the Bank in 1931 he and his wife sought a pleasant home in the country.  Their choice fell on The Furlong, a large house of unremarkable design in Park Road, built in the late Victorian period by a wealthy vicar of Tring.  The couple entered into the life of the town, dutifully undertaking the worthy sort of community activities that were expected from people in their position.  Sir Gordon remained a busy man, serving as a Governor of the BBC, and as one of His Majesty’s Lieutenants for the City of London; he also found time for his favourite pastime of horse-riding.  After a happy retirement Gordon Nairne died in 1945 aged 84, and was buried in his family’s grave at Putney Vale cemetery in southwest London.  Later, The Furlong became an annexe of a convent school, and was then demolished in the 1980s to be rebuilt as retirement apartments.

For the time being, Tring’s moneymen have departed.  It remains to be seen whether the twenty-first century will see yet another eminent man of finance wishing to spend his annual bonus on an expensive property and put down roots in our town, although in the current climate of opinion he might not be as welcome as those bankers of the past.

Wendy Austin

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