The Victorian era is become a catchword in our time, calling to mind the strait laced, the inflexible, Puritanism. Yet it was not compounded, no more than is our own, of a single viewpoint, nor cut out all of a single piece of cloth. Even Alexandrina Victoria, monarch of Great Britain and Ireland. Empress of India, that Queen who ruled importantly enough to give an era her name was multi-faceted.
To picture her as some grim faced old dowager would not be accurate. At the latter part of the last century she was a tiny, white haired woman with intelligent, kind eyes and a face that held sadness, the sadness one sees in the face of Lincoln. He lost the girl he loved very much to death, while he was a young man. Death claimed two of his three sons. Sons still very young, and whom he was close to, and deeply loved.
Victoria endlessly mourned the loss of her husband, Prince Albert. He had been her life. She remained in mourning to the end of hers. If she were anything to the people over whom she ruled perhaps it might best be termed their Mother image. An example is an event, which occurred close to the end of the sixtieth year of her reign when, as was a habit she had, she went riding out in an open, unmarked carriage. Dressed as simply as some ordinary woman of her time, without fanfare of any sort, and someone with sharp eyes recognized her. Teeming traffic came to a standstill. From all directions came greetings, cheers were raised, blessings were called. She bowed from side to side in the great open carriage, flapping her black edged ''mourning'' handkerchief, smiling while tears ran down her face. Finally, utterly undone, she put down her head and wept.
Later writing of this in her diary she spoke with humility and deep affection. Victoria loved her nation, desired its good, and was an honorable woman. Yet her reign was pocked with sores of evil conditions, both at home and abroad. England trafficked in the drug market, selling enormous amounts to China. Groups of Chinese banded together to resist. The Chinese Emperor protested in writing and strongly its being brought in to his nation. English war ships enforced the traffic. Perhaps it isn't fair to expect any single individual, be they ever so dedicated, to erase the wrongs of a nation or an era. Possibly such power might seldom lie with an individual, even one that wears a crown.
A mighty nation, far-flung and important, England exhibited great contrasts, with beautiful countryside, rich meadows, country children with ruddy cheeks, cottages, flower gardens, large country estates and wealthy members of a landed aristocracy. Cities belching smoke, grimy bustling conglomerate masses of growing, enormous industrialization, spewing at once wealth and activity, poverty, disease, crime and despair. Employing great numbers of people at wages where whole families could not feed themselves without the added wages of young children, six and seven year olds labored in mills and factories eleven and fourteen hours a day. Frequently they fainted at their places from lack of nourishment and exhaustion. All too often they fell into the unprotected wheels and cogs of machinery, to be mangled or crushed. Management of the factories and mills simply replaced them with another child.
Tuberculosis was very prevalent. Called consumption, wasting sickness, lung fever and several other names, lack of fresh green vegetables and fruits, when refrigeration of any effective sort did not exist to any great extent, it fed upon long winters, and damp chill air. America as well as France had its share of this disease.
Drug addiction was far from uncommon, especially among the wealthy. Writings of the time, such as those of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reflect a casual attitude toward it. A nation which trafficked in it reaped its own harvest of tears.
Some of the privileged set frittered away their days in gossip, endless parties and bored and desperate, their frustration took many avenues. Among the monied and the important, at the top of the strata of the social structure moved the beautiful and the wealthy Lady Anne Isabella Noel King, sister of the Earl of Lovelace, related to the great poet, Lord Byron. In the same circles also moved handsome, self assured and highly popular Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. Blunt was employed by the British Foreign Service and while not so wealthy as Lady Anne, he was socially accepted and a brilliant, articulate man. He was a published poet, and writer. He was well known as a critic of his nation's policies, and existed in a state of increasing tension in his position with the Foreign Office.
They met in London. Like flint and steel, these beautiful, volatile people. Both had lost their parents in adolescence, both had traveled extensively. Wilfrid with the Foreign Office and Lady Anne furthering a musical education. At one time she owned two rare Stradivarius violins. The two married in 1869 and shortly after Wilfrid resigned his position, no doubt wisely, and with mutual lack of affection.
In 1872 Wilfrid lost his older brother to tuberculosis. He left a large estate to Wilfrid, Crabbet House and property, otherwise known as Newbuildings and a large forested area at Worth in Sussex, south of London. Crabbet was, unfortunately, in a sorry state of disrepair, almost ruin.
During 1872 Wilfrid was himself diagnosed as tubercular. He had thought of it. Had often black, pessimistic moods, where he voiced expectation of short life. When he was diagnosed tubercular, he was dismayed, without doubt. But it is improbable, that he was really surprised. Many have speculated on the lives of these two and their offspring and given varied opinion on which and what was the actual "trigger" of events in those lives. But it is questionable if any were more fateful, then that single fact of tuberculosis. Only those acquainted with the inward terrible isolation of the truly ill, in a world of well, while they are physically surrounded perhaps with people, the sense of doom and pointlessness, the inward loneliness, perhaps only these could come close to being accurate.
In this same year, 1872, Lady Anne gave birth to a son. He lived but a few short days. In spite of the turmoil the two restored Crabbet House in the same year.
In 1873 Judith Anne Dorothea was born. Medical books of the time held the opinion infants and young children were particularly vulnerable to affectations of the lungs. Probably Blunts own Doctor encouraged the couple in their decision to leave England when Judith was but a few weeks old. They took a six weeks vacation to Yugoslavia and Turkey, during which trip Wilfrid was to acquire Turkeycock, his favorite mount, first Arabian to come to Crabbet, though there existed some question of the purity of his blood. Wilfrid thought very highly of this horse and often praised his courage and intelligence.
Dry, warmer air especially in winter, when England was bitterly cold, held attraction for the young man with the affliction that brought in its wake weakness and pain. No doubt there was hope the dry air and warmer lands might arrest, even cure the condition. They had a consuming interest in the horses of those lands. They conceived the idea of bringing some of the finest they might locate and acquire, to Crabbet and there breeding them.
Both Lady Anne and Wilfrid were extensive writers. They had the writing habit. Notes and records, personal Journals and letters, books and articles, writing of theirs and their daughter Judith, exist in abundance. All show high intelligence, wit, (sometimes even barbed), outspoken opinion, (this was to be especially true of Judith).
Wilfrid became convinced that to infuse the blood of the Arabian into or better yet, to use the Arabian exclusively, as a race horse was to revolutionize the world of racing and began promoting his convictions with customary zeal. Thoroughbred owners and breeders dedicated to these animals for many long years did not accept his beliefs. Frustrated and angry, he butted his head against the proverbial "stone wall".
In 1875 they traveled from Egypt, via Palestine to Damascus, and various tribes brought horses for them to inspect, or took them to view them. They began to be as well known among the Bedouins as, due to their letters home and their friends, they were becoming celebrated in England. Their travels became the topic of a great deal of interest. Lady Anne and Wilfrid became acquainted with the tribes, she began a serious study of Arabic, becoming fluent. wilfrid learned to speak and understand it, but never attained the fluency of Lady Anne. Perhaps due to his illness, he was more drawn to their religion. Becoming interested, he began a study of the Mohammedan faith, eventually becoming a convert to it. The tastes of the Bedouin began to assert itself in their thinking, classic heads and shorter backs pleased their taste more then the long backs of the English animal. A stallion by the name of Kars and several mares were purchased. Wilfrid rode and worked this stallion, using him as an example of the Arabian breed, in his endless promotion of it. Once, he entered Kars in a two-mile race. While the stallion did not win it, he gave such a good showing for himself he must have come as a great shock to those who held that only a Thoroughbred could run. Some years later, in 1882, Blunt was to enter a stallion by the name of Pharaoh in a match race and won impressively. He never was able to alter the thinking of the racing community of his time, and after a long and bitter war he finally gave it up.
In 1877 they traveled to Aleppo, and on Christmas Day they bought the mare Dajania. Via her daughter NEFISA by HADBAN he is linked to such animals as *SERIFIX and INDIAN MAGIC.
During the winter of 1878 the Blunts traveled through the desert to Bagdad, to northern Mesopotamia and finally to Damascus. From a Gomussa Sheik they bought a beautiful mare whom they held in such esteem, they made the claim for her, that she was worth a Kings ransom. Her name was QUEEN OF SHEBA.
During the winter of 1878 the Blunts chanced to make the acquaintance of His Highness, Ali Pasha Sherif and his Abbas Pasha Stud. Collector of ability and skill, Abbas Pasha Stud contained the finest. Years later when forced to sell his beautiful animals the Blunts were able to have their pick. This, of course, greatly built up the quality of Crabbet. In 1881 the Blunts returned to Egypt, on their way to Arabia. Wilfrid, of definite opinions and outspoken temperament, became embroiled in Egyptian politics, and again found himself embarrassing to his own government. He and Lady Anne purchased Sheykh Obeyd, a garden property consisting of about four hundred acres near Cairo, originally belonging to a son of Prince Mohammed Ali. They went back to England, Wilfrid continuing to voice his support of the Egyptian cause and drawing the anger of such personages as the Prince of Wales. A cache of guns was found at Sheykh obeyd, hidden by an employee, without doubt, but bringing on a great deal of unpleasantries, during which Wilfrid was banned from Egypt and not until 1887 did he and Lady Anne return there. By 1888 the Blunts and their daughter Judith were living at Sheik Obeyd and bought the first of their Ali Pasha Sherif horses. MESAOUD was one of these. They followed the custom of sending the cream of the crop home to England. They spent the late Autumn and the Winters away from England, and Summer at Crabbet, usually.
By 1904, convinced he had not long to live, he turned Crabbet over to Judith, by now married and the mother of a son and two daughters, to manage. He visited Sheykh Obeyd for what was to be the last time, in 1905. He and Lady Anne lived apart and Crabbet was divided by agreement, by 1906. Lady Anne made her home at Sheykh Obeyd, and Wilfrid made his at Newbuildings. Lady Anne maintained a lively correspondence with Arabian breeders and fanciers throughout the world until her death.
During the year 1882 the Blunts had held the first of many promotional sales at Crabbet, a huge affair that had attracted a number of people, local and from abroad. Among these had been Count Potocki of Antoniny Stud, in Poland. In April of 1920, Judith was to purchase one of the most important Arabian stallions of all time. Bred at the Antoniny Stud, the beautiful gray SKOWRONEK, his name in the Polish meaning "Lark".
Due to the English attitude toward the Arabian, most of the horses at Crabbet were sold to other countries. Some came to America, Australia, a few went to Spain.
An indoor tennis court was completed in 1907 at Crabbet, its walls bearing copies of seals appearing on all Crabbet pedigrees, few of the horses of Crabbet are pictured with any background other then the tennis court. Because of this court, a man named Geoffrey Covey came to Crabbet. From being tennis marker for Judith's husband, Neville Lytton, he became manager of the Stud, for Judith.
Post world War I found life far from serene. Lady Anne died at age eighty at Sheykh Obeyd and was buried in Egypt, leaving her part of Crabbet to her granddaughters, Judith's daughters Anne and Winifred, sixteen and thirteen years of age. She left her horses to them as well, angering Wilfrid, and he and Judith began what was to be a long and bitter controversy, denouncing one another in what might be called colorful terms. The lawsuit ensuing was finally settled in favor of the granddaughters, however since they were minors, Judith assumed control. Judith was now Lady Wentworth, having been divorced from her first husband, Neville Lytton. It would be difficult to describe the bitterness which existed between Judith and Wilfrid.
She spent many years compiling notes on the Arabian horse, much of this and work done by her Mother, was published in 1945.
The American cereal king, W.K. Kellogg purchased some of her finest horses, and they became important to America. The beauty of Judith's youth never left her, when she died in 1957 she was described as a beautiful woman. Unfortunately, and unhappily, she was estranged from her three children, and in her will left Crabbet Stud to her former manager Geoffery Covey, however he had died just a few days before she did. The Stud passed to his son, Cecil. Suddenly confronted with over seventy horses, and forced to pay inheritance taxes, he had no choice but to sell some. Among those who purchased these was Bazy Tankersley of the Al-Marah Stud in the United States. Thirty-two Crabbet Arabians went to Al-Marah.
Lady Wentworth had bred and kept at Crabbet imported welsh ponies, a number of which she bred to the stallion, Skowronek. She had kept and bred to welsh since the early 1920's. At the time of her death she was interested in the crossing of Arabian with Welsh, and in creation of a particularly refined pony. We cannot but feel she would have been interested greatly in what today in known as the Welara.
In 1970 work began on a major highway which completely bisected the property, Mr. Cecil Covey realized it would not be possible to continue to operate the Stud, and it was dispersed in 1971. A great tradition came to an end as result of the British M 23 motorway. But a legacy of magnificent horses and the thoughts and writings of beautiful and brilliant people, and a scent of roses, remain behind.
Crabbet Park House as it looks today.
Photo credits: by Barbara Byrd
Lady Judith Wentworth is quoted as having written and also stated she considered the "Welsh - Arabian as a cross produced the most beautiful pony on the face of the earth". She is quoted as having said this in numerous places among which is the fine and informative book "The Arabian Horse in America" by H. Reese.
More reading on this subject is available in the informative book "The Crabbet Arabian Stud" this book is a comprehensive history of the Crabbet Stud, founded and operated by Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt and later by their daughter Judith Blunt-Lytton (Lady Wentworth). The authors are Rosemary Archer, well known English breeder and authority on Arabian horses, Colin Pearson (former Registrar of the Arab Horse Society of England) and Cecil Covey (manager of the Crabbet Stud and its final owner, upon Lady Wentworth's death in 1957). Available through your local library or bookstore.