Henry Blofeld is renowned cricket commentator in England © Getty Images
Henry Blofeld is renowned cricket commentator in England © Getty Images

 

A commonly quoted ‘fact’ about the much-loved Test Match Special commentator Henry Blofeld is that he is the nephew of Freddie Calthorpe, the amateur all-rounder who captained England in a four Test series in West Indies in 1930. As “Blowers” celebrates his 75th birthday, Michael Jones delves into the archives to investigate whether this is actually true.

As the much-loved Test Match Special commentator Henry Blofeld — “Blowers” to colleagues and listeners alike — celebrates his 75th birthday, it is worth re-examining a commonly quoted ‘fact’ about him: that he is the nephew of Freddie Calthorpe, the amateur all-rounder who captained Warwickshire in the 1920s and, thanks more to his social status than his cricketing ability, England in a four Test series in West Indies in 1930 (while another England team was simultaneously involved in a series in New Zealand). Records list the other as a relative, and both their Wikipedia articles state the relationship as fact — but is it?

It is easy to see how such a supposition may have arisen: Blowers’s Eton and Cambridge education, along with his bow ties and general jolly-good-show demeanour, mark him out as the sort of “dear old thing” who might well be related to a player who bore the style “Honourable” — and, most tellingly, his middle name is Calthorpe.

Until the early 20th century it remained common practice in England to keep a woman’s maiden name in the family by giving it as either a first or middle name to children of subsequent generations. Freddie Calthorpe himself is an example of this: his second forename of Somerset was the first forename of both his father and grandfather, who in turn inherited the name from Calthorpe’s great-grandmother, Lady Charlotte Sophia Somerset. Blofeld’s middle name, then, suggests that he is related to the Calthorpe family in some way, but it may not be such a close relationship as uncle and nephew: in the example of Somerset, the connection is three generations earlier.

Given the number of records kept in the UK pertaining to births, deaths and familial connections from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, and their ready accessibility, it is not usually difficult to establish whether or not two individuals are closely related. In Blofeld’s case, it is easy to find his entry in the national register of births, and from that, his parents’ marriage.

His father — who, incidentally, was a schoolmate of Ian Fleming, and is believed to have been the inspiration for the name of the Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld — was Thomas Robert Calthorpe Blofeld; his use of Calthorpe as a forename suggests that the connection between the two families lies further back in time. Blofeld’s mother was Grizel Blanche Turner — no connection to the Calthorpe family there.

This already casts doubt on the possibility that Blofeld might be Calthorpe’s nephew, but the hypothesis can be demolished even more quickly by working in the opposite direction. A person’s nephew is the son of that person’s brother or sister, so in order to have a nephew it is necessary first to have a brother or sister.

As a member of a noble family, Freddie Calthorpe’s lineage is more thoroughly documented than most: he was the son of Somerset Frederick Gough-Calthorpe, the eighth Baron Calthorpe, and Mary Burrows — and what is more, he was their only child (Calthorpe himself never succeeded to the baronetcy as he died before his father — so the title passed to his elder son Ronald as the ninth Baron, and became extinct in 1997 when both he and Freddie’s younger son Peter, the tenth Baron, died childless). He had no brothers or sisters, and hence no nephews or nieces — at least not by blood. His wife, Dorothy Vernon-Harcourt, had one brother, William; through him, Calthorpe had one nephew and one niece by marriage. His only nephew is Anthony Vernon-Harcourt — not Henry Blofeld.

If Blofeld is not Calthorpe’s nephew, the question remains: how are they related, if at all? Blofeld’s middle name suggests that he is descended from someone with the surname Calthorpe — not necessarily that he is related to anyone with that surname.

To assess the likelihood that they are part of the same family, some knowledge of the various different origins of British surnames is helpful. Some were originally patronymics — that is, they were derived from the name of the person’s father; examples of these are those ending with the suffix -son (although there are also other names whose origin as a patronymic is less obvious). Two people with the surname Johnson, for instance, were probably so called because one of their ancestors had a father named John; it is very unlikely that the fathers were the same John, and thus unlikely that the two are related.

Other surnames originate from geographical features: two people with the surname Hill probably received that name because one of their ancestors lived on a hill. It is similarly unlikely that it was the same hill, and thus again unlikely that the two are related.

A third group of surnames are toponyms: they took their name from the town where they lived. This is the category which includes Calthorpe — the name of a small village in Norfolk (incidentally, it also includes Blofeld and its variant spelling Blofield — a village near Norwich, around twenty miles from Calthorpe).

Two people with the surname Calthorpe probably both had ancestors who lived in that village — in which case it’s likely that they are related. If Henry Blofeld is related to someone with the surname Calthorpe, he is probably related to anyone with that surname; however, it’s possible that the connection may be several centuries earlier. Since, as a rule of thumb, the number of records available for researching British genealogy decreases the further back in time one progresses, even if Blofeld and Calthorpe are related, it may not be possible to prove it.

Tracing the Blofeld line further back, the 1911 England census shows Thomas Robert Calthorpe Blofeld, aged seven, living with his parents John Calthorpe Blofeld and Isabel Clare (nee Burroughs). Henry Blofeld’s grandparents were married in 1902 — the same year Victor Trumper scored a century before lunch in a Test, Fred Tate dropped one, and Gilbert Jessop’s whirlwind fourth innings century won one — and in the church of St Marylebone, a stone’s throw away from Lord’s.

John appears on earlier censuses with his parents Thomas Calthorpe Blofeld and Fanny Elizabeth (nee Partridge); Thomas was a local magistrate, a profession which was to reappear in the family three generations later: Blowers’s brother is Sir John Blofeld, a former High Court judge whose career included overturning on appeal the convictions of three men who had already served a decade in jail for murder. John Calthorpe Blofeld was born in 1875, when WG Grace was at the height of his powers and the first Test had yet to be played. The use of Calthorpe as a middle name in four consecutive generations suggests that the connection to that family was a strong one, whose memory the Blofelds wished to preserve — but also that the connection may be even further back in time.

Freddie Calthorpe’s lineage over the same period is as ermine-ridden as they come: barons married daughters of dukes or army officers, to avoid any commoners tarnishing the noble bloodline. Although he used Calthorpe as his surname for cricketing purposes — possibly to show some mercy to scorers — the family name was officially Gough-Calthorpe, created when Sir Henry Gough married Barbara Calthorpe in 1741.

Barbara’s two brothers both died childless, so the Calthorpe estates passed to her son, who became Sir Henry Gough-Calthorpe and in 1796 was given the title of “Baron Calthorpe of Calthorpe in the County of Norfolk”. The father and son Sir Henrys, and a third generation in Frederick Gough-Calthorpe (the fourth Baron, who inherited the title after his two elder brothers died childless), all served as Members of Parliament — in an age when doing so relied on owning land in the relevant borough, rather than any tiresome business of having to canvass votes.

The family made significant contribution to cricket: before being raised to the higher title, the younger Sir Henry had been the second Baronet of Edgbaston in the County of Warwick (his father was the first); after inheriting the Calthorpe estate, the family retained that at Edgbaston, and over the following century they developed the area into one of the more prosperous suburbs of Birmingham.

In the 1880s, Freddie’s grandfather Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe held the baronetcy when the newly formed Warwickshire club (still some years away from attaining First-Class status) was seeking to build a permanent ground. Locations in Rugby and Leamington Spa had been considered, but the club secretary William Ansell felt that Birmingham, as the major population centre of the county, would be preferable (without his intervention, the county’s T20 team could have ended up being called Leamington Lions or Rugby Rhinos instead).

The Calthorpes decided that a cricket ground would add to the attraction of the area, and offered the club 12 acres of land next to the river Rea on a lease of £60 per year. The ground was completed in 1885, and hosted its first Test less than twenty years later; William Ansell’s role in its founding was later commemorated with the naming of a stand after him (although this has since been demolished). The Calthorpe family’s connection with the area lives on in the name of Calthorpe Park, a short walk from the ground.

In 1841, Grace was not yet born and the idea of a County Championship was still decades away, but there were First-Class matches played between the few existing county sides (Sussex, Kent and Nottinghamshire), as well as the MCC, Cambridge University and the annual Gentlemen vs Players match. Other matches involved many of the same players, but with the teams divided along different lines for a little variety: that year there were two matches between the Fast Bowlers and Slow Bowlers (ending in one win apiece).

It was also the year of the first census in England to record names: previous ones had merely counted the number of people in each town. Those recorded included three generations of Henry Blofeld’s ancestors, all with the same first name: his great-grandfather Thomas Calthorpe Blofeld was four years old at the time of the census, living at Hoveton, Norfolk, with his father Thomas John Blofeld — the vicar of the village — and his grandfather, also named Thomas Calthorpe Blofeld, who prior to his retirement had been the previous vicar.

The elder man to carry the middle name of Calthorpe (Henry Blofeld’s three times great-grandfather) was born in 1778 — when the Hambledon club was at its peak — implying that the connection is even earlier than that.

When trying to trace a person’s ancestors in England, it is often around the late eighteenth century that the trail dries up, since this is the point at which the two most comprehensive sets of records — the national registers of births, marriages and deaths, and the census returns — cease to be of any use. Earlier records are incomplete, and it is largely a matter of luck whether the documents recording that person’s family still exist (or even if they were recorded at all).

In the case of Henry Blofeld, fortune smiles on the researcher, in the form of a visitation. In its genealogical context, this was the practice, dating to the sixteenth century, of one of the king’s (or queen’s) officials visiting a county to record information about the most prominent families living there; its main purpose was to check that people were who they claimed to be — catching anyone who happened to be using a title or coat of arms which had not been officially granted to them. Each family was required to submit information regarding its lineage, which was documented in the official record of the visitation. The first visitation of Norfolk was undertaken by William Harvey, an official of Queen Elizabeth I; the information he collected was updated in further visitations in 1589 and 1613.

In the 1860s George Henry Dashwood, a Norfolk historian, undertook to publish a new edition of the visitation, with as many of the pedigrees as possible updated to his own day. Dashwood died with only the first volume of the work complete, but Edward Bulwer-Lytton completed and published the second volume. It is Dashwood and Bulwer-Lytton’s The Visitation of Norfolk in the year 1563, taken by William Harvey, Clarenceux King of Arms — and the helping hand given by Google Books in uploading a copy of it for the benefit of researchers in the twenty-first century — which finally proves the family connection between Freddie Calthorpe and Henry Blofeld: only a relatively small number of families in each county were recorded, but the Calthorpes’ status among the largest landowners in Norfolk ensured that they merited William Harvey’s attention.

A significant caveat here is that the compilers of the visitations had no way of checking the lineages presented to them, but had to rely on the honesty of the families submitting them. Bulwer-Lytton notes, in the section of his updated Visitation covering the Calthorpe family, that there had been some confusion concerning the early part of that family’s lineage which had baffled noted genealogists at the time the Visitation was first compiled, but that “the late Rev. James Lee Warner, in his interesting and valuable account of this family, published in Vol. IX of Norfolk Archaeology, has cleared away many of these difficulties”, and that he was indebted to the present representative of the family, Thomas Calthorpe Blofeld (Henry Blofeld’s great-grandfather), “for much information”. Whether the Rev. Warner had indeed “cleared away” the difficulties, or merely glossed over them in order to come up with a result which made some sort of sense, is anyone’s guess; however, at this distance in time from the events recorded in the Visitation, it is likely that for many, no other records still exist which could verify them, so in order to establish the exact connection between the two families we must rely on his honesty, and on that of Thomas Calthorpe Blofeld.

The information submitted to the compilers of the Visitation leads further back through the generations, and extends the Blofeld family’s association with the legal profession: Rev Thomas Calthorpe Blofeld’s father was Thomas Blofeld, a barrister in the Inner Temple, and his own father John Blofeld — seven generations removed from Henry — served in a similar capacity, save for a break during the Seven Years’ War when he was appointed a captain in the Norfolk Militia, preparing to defend the county against the French invasion which seemed imminent (but never actually happened).

John Blofeld married his first cousin, Sarah Blofeld; their respective fathers, John and Thomas, were brothers. One generation further back, and the link between the two surnames is at last established: the parents of John and Thomas were Thomas Blofeld and Catherine Calthorpe.

As a former Mayor of Norwich and subsequently Member of Parliament (MP) for the same city, Thomas Blofeld was evidently considered to be of a suitable status to marry into one of the most prominent families in the county, thus uniting the names of Calthorpe and Blofeld — at around the time the earliest known newspaper reports of cricket were starting to appear, which revealed matches being played between village teams, with enormous sums of money at stake.

We are still far from the end of the story, though, since Freddie Calthorpe is not a direct descendant of Catherine, or even closely related to her. Instead, on an entirely different branch of the family tree, the Visitation records the marriage of Sir Henry Calthorpe, the Queen’s Solicitor-General in the 1630s, to Dorothy Humphrey, along with a note that from them “descends the present noble representative of the family”.

Presumably Bulwer-Lytton, when preparing his updated edition of the Visitation, thought that the exact details of the descent would be so well known that he needn’t bother stating them. The 21st century researcher, to whom the connection might not be quite so obvious, must pick up the thread from Barbara Calthorpe, wife of Sir Henry Gough. She was the third child and only daughter of Reynolds Calthorpe, by his second wife Barbara Yelverton. Her half-brother, Reynolds Calthorpe the Younger, died in 1714, at the age of only 25; her brother, Sir Henry Calthorpe, lived to 71 (despite having been declared a lunatic several decades earlier, after being seen walking down Pall Mall with a ribbon in his hair, explaining that he was off to see the king), but never married, leaving Barbara, as the last surviving child, to inherit the estate.

Reynolds Calthorpe was yet another of the family to enter Parliament by virtue of holding land — in his case the manor of Hindon, which he rented from the Bishop of Winchester, enabled him to sit as MP for that borough. Taking up his seat in the closing years of the 17th century, he initially held it in parliaments of England, then after the Act of Union, in those of Great Britain — at the same time as Thomas Blofeld, who had married a distant relative of his, was representing Norwich; Parliamentary records of the time show that he voted against the government on almost every debate.

As the son of Dorothy Reynolds, he was also another example of the practice of giving a mother’s maiden name as a forename. His second wife Barbara Yelverton was a descendant of Anne of York, the eldest sister of Richard III; through her, Freddie Calthorpe is also distantly related to the current royal family.

Reynolds’s father was Sir James Calthorpe, who fought on the Parliamentarian side in the English Civil War, and was rewarded for his loyalty by Oliver Cromwell with a knighthood. Sir James’s cricketing descendants may have looked askance on his support of Cromwell, a notoriously joyless man who, during his tenure as Lord Protector, attempted to clamp down on sports, drinking, gambling, music, theatre and any other activity from which his subjects might conceivably have derived entertainment.

In 1654, shortly after Cromwell took office, three men in Eltham, Kent, were fined two shillings each for playing cricket on a Sunday. Their crime (officially) was breaking the Sabbath, rather than the sport in itself, but since labourers were unlikely to have any free time during the rest of the week, a ban on playing cricket on Sunday was effectively a ban on playing it at all. Sir James was the son of Sir Henry Calthorpe and Dorothy Humphrey — establishing the link between the Calthorpe barons and the family line recorded in the Visitation.

Both branches of the Calthorpe family stretch back through further generations, with the connection between them not yet in sight; various lords, lawyers and public officials are found on both sides. Sir Henry Calthorpe earned himself an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography; in contrast to his son’s republican leanings, he rose through the ranks of the legal profession to become Solicitor-General to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, after whom he named one of his daughters.

In 1627 Sir Henry defended five gentlemen who had been imprisoned for refusing to grant a loan, and it was recorded that he “pleaded at Westminster with wonderful applause, even of shouting and clapping of hands, which is unusual in that place”. He was later made Recorder of London (the most senior judge in the city), then an attorney of the Court of Wards and Liveries (responsible for collecting taxes), although he served only briefly before dying in office.

Sir Henry’s father, another Sir James Calthorpe, served as High Sheriff of Norfolk in 1613, and his grandfather Christopher Calthorpe was another lawyer during the reigns of Mary I and Elizabeth I. During the same period, Henry Blofeld’s ancestors in the Calthorpe line held the manor at Hickling in Norfolk. Catherine Calthorpe’s grandfather John died when her father — also John — was only six years old, compelling him to hold his first court at the manor under the guidance of his mother Katherine.

John senior’s father Martin Calthorpe became a barrister at Grey’s Inn shortly after the accession of James I, and his grandfather, Sir Martin Calthorpe, was appointed Lord Mayor of London in 1588, and died during his term of office. References to cricket in the era are few and far between: a poem of 1533 by John Skelton describes Flemish immigrants in southern England playing ‘creckettes’, and in an account of court proceedings in Guildford in 1598, the then 59 year old coroner John Derrick testified that he and his fellow pupils had played ‘creckette’ on a parcel of land in the town during their schooldays half a century earlier.

Further back still — before the earliest known definitive reference to cricket — and the connection between the two lines of Calthorpes is finally reached: Christopher Calthorpe’s grandfather, also named Christopher, and Sir Martin Calthorpe’s father Richard, were brothers. A full five centuries separate “Blowers” from John Calthorpe (1431-1503) and Alice Astley (1440-1475), the most recent ancestors which he shares with the man commonly claimed to be his “uncle”. Freddie Calthorpe numbers among the thirteenth generation of their descendants and Henry Blofeld the sixteenth, meaning that — provided we can trust the word of Rev. James Lee Warner and Thomas Calthorpe Blofeld on the matter — the England captain and the commentator, far from being uncle and nephew, are in fact twelfth cousins three times removed.

 

John Calthorpe

Alice Astley

1431-1503

1440-1475

Christopher Calthorpe

Eleanor Bernard

Richard Calthorpe

Anne Hastings

1462-1548

1484-?

1468-1554

1487-1562

James Calthorpe

Elizabeth Garneys

Sir Martin Calthorpe

Joan Heath

1506-1559

1508-1566

1520-1589

1524-1592

Sheriff and Lord Mayor of London

Christopher Calthorpe

Jane Rokewood

Martin Calthorpe

Elizabeth Smith

1532-1562

1536-1608

1554-1615

c1555-?

Barrister

Sir James Calthorpe

Barbara Bacon

Martin Calthorpe

Elizabeth Riches

1558-1615

1560-1639

1582-1657

1589-1657

High Sheriff of Norfolk

Barrister

Sir Henry Calthorpe

Dorothy Humphrey

John Calthorpe

Katherine Pell

1586-1637

1598-?

1611-1658

1618-1682

Queen’s Solicitor General

Sir James Calthorpe

Dorothy Reynolds

John Calthorpe

Elizabeth Cuddon

1626-1658

1629-1685

1652-1688

1643-1701

Sheriff of Suffolk

Reynolds Calthorpe

Barbara Yelverton

Thomas Blofeld

Catherine Calthorpe

1655-1719

1692-1724

1670-1708

1673-1711

MP for Hindon

Descended from sister of Richard III

Mayor of and MP for Norwich

Sir Henry Gough

Barbara Calthorpe

John Blofeld

Mary Munnings

1709-1774

1716-1782

1700-1748

1696-1750

MP for Totnes

Sir Henry Gough-Calthorpe

Frances Carpenter

John Blofeld

Sarah Blofeld

1749-1798

1761-1827

1726-1805

1734-1819

MP for Bramber

Barrister and Norfolk Militia

Frederick Gough-Calthorpe

Lady Charlotte Sophia Somerset

Thomas Blofeld

Mary Spencer

1790-1868

1795-1865

1753-1817

1755-1824

MP for Hindon

Barrister

Somerset John Gough-Calthorpe

Eliza Maria Chamier

Thomas CalthorpeBlofeld

Mary Caroline Grose

1831-1912

1833-1919

1778-1855

1771-1852

Officer in the Crimean War

Vicar of Bishops Norton and Hoveton

Somerset Frederick Gough-Calthorpe

Mary Burrows

Thomas John Blofeld

Catherine Charlotte Collett

1862-1940

1866-1940

1807-1881

1805-1872

Vicar of Sodbury and Hoveton

Frederick Somerset Gough Calthorpe

Thomas CalthorpeBlofeld

Fanny Elizabeth Partridge

1892-1935

1836-1908

1839-1910

Warwickshire and England captain

Magistrate

John CalthorpeBlofeld

Isabel Clare Burroughs

1875-1920

1872-1968

Thomas Robert CalthorpeBlofeld

Grizel Blanche Turner

1903-1986

1903-1992

Inspiration for Bond villain

Sir John CalthorpeBlofeld

Henry CalthorpeBlofeld

1936-

1939-

High Court judge

FC player, commentator and writer

 

Far less well-known, although genealogically a much closer relationship, is Calthorpe’s connection to another England player, with whom he had a considerable amount in common: both had a lengthy career at First-Class level, but played only a single Test series; both were made captain, in an era when appointments to that position (for tours to countries other than Australia) were made on the grounds of social status more than cricketing ability; and both had Wilfred Rhodes in their team, although their tenures as captain were separated by two decades.

Freddie Calthorpe’s great-grandmother Lady Charlotte Sophia Somerset was the daughter of Henry Somerset, the sixth Duke of Beaufort, and Lady Charlotte Sophia Leveson-Gower. Through her, Calthorpe is related to HDG “Shrimp” Leveson Gower (although HDG himself was listed on scorecards as having a two word surname with no hyphen, his ancestors did use one).

Their most recent common ancestor was John Leveson-Gower (1694-1754), the first Earl Gower; he was the four times great-grandfather of Freddie Calthorpe and the three times great-grandfather of “Shrimp”, making them half fourth cousins once removed. The “half” indicates that at the closest generation, they had only one ancestor in common -Calthorpe was descended from the Earl via his first wife, Lady Evelyn Pierpoint; “Shrimp” via his third, Lady Mary Tufton.

There is one further notable cricketing connection in the family: as well as being an ancestor of Calthorpe and HDG, John Leveson-Gower was the grandfather of John Frederick Sackville, the third Duke of Dorset — both a keen player and the leading patron of cricket in the late eighteenth century (he was also the British ambassador to France and used his influence to promote the game there, once playing a match on the Champs-Elysees; however, his attempt at organising what would have been the first international cricket tour had to be aborted due to the outbreak of the French Revolution). Freddie Calthorpe was the Duke’s first cousin four times removed, while HDG Leveson Gower was his half first cousin three times removed.

(Michael Jones’ writing focuses on cricket history and statistics, with occasional forays into the contemporary game)