July 20, 2020|

Arthur Hamilton Lee, 1st Viscount Lee of Fareham

Arthur Hamilton Lee, who was elevated to the peerage in 1918, was the tenant of Rookesbury Park from about 1900 to 1912.  A soldier, politician, diplomat, patron of the arts and philanthropist, Arthur Lee served as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, and First Lord of the Admiralty following the Great War.  He donated his country house, Chequers, to the nation as a retreat for the Prime Minister from 1921 onwards, and co-founded the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Born in 1868 at the Rectory, Bridport, Dorset, Arthur Hamilton Lee was a grandson of Sir John Theophilus Lee, who served as a midshipman at the Battle of the Nile. Arthur Lee was commissioned into the Royal Artillery as a second lieutenant in early 1888. At the age of 24, he became a Professor of Strategy and Tactics at the Royal Military College of Canada. In 1898, he became the British military attaché with the United States Army in Cuba during the Spanish–American War. The following year he was appointed military attaché at the British Embassy in Washington, where he struck up an enduring friendship with President Theodore Roosevelt, who later wrote to Arthur Lee and his wife (see below) sympathising with the stress and strain of the Great War.

In 1899, Arthur Lee married Ruth Moore, the heiress of New York banker John Godfrey Moore. In 1900, the Lees returned to England, and Arthur Lee embarked on a political career. He was elected as a Conservative MP for Fareham constituency and represented Fareham for the next 18 years until his elevation to the peerage. He held several important government posts during and after the Great War, and was awarded numerous honours. As Chairman of the Executive Committee for Agriculture in Buckinghamshire, he obtained the first caterpillar tractor from Russia for use in the county.

Arthur Lee died at Old Quarries, Gloucestershire, in 1947. He had no children and his title became extinct upon his death. In his will, he paid a moving tribute to his wife, Ruth Moore Lee, who died in 1966.

Life at Rookesbury

The Lees took up residence at Rookesbury in October 1902. As the local MP for Fareham, Arthur Lee made the most of Rookesbury Park to boost his local profile, for example hosting the Fareham and Hampshire Farmers Club Horse Show for several years. The Hampshire Chronicle claimed it was “in the front rank of Horse Shows in the South of England”, and four special trains were laid on from Fareham to Wickham on the “newly opened Meon Valley Railway” for the 1904 show.


Local cricket games were also played in Rookesbury Park. With a view to encouraging rifle shooting in the area, a silver cup was offered by Arthur Lee to all affiliated clubs in his constituency. The Arthur Lee cup is still contested by the Portsmouth and District Smallbore Rifle & Pistol Association today.



Cricket at Rookesbury – Arthur Lee wearing Boater

All was not sweetness and light, however, and in 1906 Arthur Lee had to refute “malicious slanders” through an open letter to the Hampshire Advertiser denying that he had pulled down labourers’ cottages in Rookesbury Park to build a rabbit warren and (even worse) that he didn’t do his shopping in Wickham!

Many notable people were entertained at Rookesbury, including Colonel the Honourable Sir Henry George Louis Crichton, a great friend of Lord Baden Powell, and the Secretary for War, Mr Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster.


For Christmas 1904, the Lees sent their friends a card with holly-wreathed medallion portraits of the couple, with a coloured background of the Union Flag and the Stars and Stripes, showing their transatlantic nationalities.

In addition to the seasonal greeting, the card bore the words Christmas knows no Politics.



Government appointments
In addition to being the local MP, Arthur Lee served as Civil Lord of the Admiralty from 1903 to 1905. In the Great War, he was Lord Kitchener’s personal commissioner reporting on the Army Medical Services in France, and later served David Lloyd George at the Ministry of Munitions. From 1917 to 1918, he was Director-General of the Food Production Department of the Board of Agriculture. Post-war, Arthur, now Lord, Lee joined the Cabinet and the Privy Council when he was appointed Minister of Agriculture in August 1919. He became First Lord of the Admiralty in February 1921 and chaired several Royal Commissions. Resigning from Lloyd George’s government in 1922, he was elevated to Viscount Lee of Fareham that same year.

Arthur and Ruth Lee took a long lease on Chequers, a country estate in Buckinghamshire, in 1909, extensively restoring the Tudor house, and later buying it. In 1917, they presented Chequers, together with a maintenance endowment, to serve from 1 January 1921 as a country residence for the Prime Minister of the day. In 1921, the Chequers estate of about 1500 acres (600 ha) was added to the gift by Lord Lee.

With the backing of Samuel Courtauld and Joseph Duveen, Arthur Lee established the Courtauld Institute of Art with the University of London, which was the first institute in Britain to offer degrees in the history of art. In the 1920s, he was a trustee of the Wallace Collection and of the National Gallery, and President of Cheltenham College, which he had attended as a boy.

Numerous honours were conferred on Arthur Lee:

  • Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, July 1916
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire<, 1918
  • elevation to the peerage as Baron Lee of Fareham, of Chequers in the County of Buckinghamshire, July 1918
  • elevation to Viscount Lee of Fareham, December 1922
  • Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India, January 1925
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, 1929
  • Knight of Grace in the Venerable Order of Saint John, June 1930.

Jane Painter & Georgina Hutber


Featured image:

Arthur Hamilton Lee, 1st Viscount Lee of Fareham
by George Charles Beresford
© National Portrait Gallery, London

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