Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lt Robert Campion Blencowe, Royal Defence Corps

Robert Campion Blencowe was born at Hurstpierpoint, Sussex in 1858.  He appears on the 1861 census as the eldest son of John George Blencowe and Frances Campion Blencowe.  At the time the census was taken, Robert Campion was two years old and his younger brother, John Ingham Blencowe, was four months old.  The family lived at Bineham Mansion in Chailey.

John George Blencowe was the only son of Robert Willis Blencowe and had inherited a considerable sum of money plus the combined estates of The Hooke and Bineham.  When he married Frances Campion, an heiress in her own right, he received an additional marriage settlement of nine thousand pounds.  As well as being a significant landowner (the 1861 census notes that he owns 220 acres and is the employer of eleven men and two boys), John George Blencowe was also a Member of Parliament (1859-1865) and, like his father before him, a magistrate at Lewes, serving there from 1842 until 1897; the longest serving magistrate except for the Duke of Richmond.

Robert Campion Blencowe appears on the 1871 census as a 12 year old scholar staying at 40 Upper Brunswick Place, Hove, Brighton.

I have been unable to locate Robert Blencowe on the 1881 census return.  His parents, John George Blencowe and Frances Blencowe appear on the 1881 census still living at Bineham but by this time, their three sons (William Poole Blencowe was the third son, born in 1869) had obviously left the family mansion.  In 1881, the census recorded John George Blencowe, (aged 64), Frances Blencowe (51) and their five daughters: Florence C[harlotte] Blencowe (aged 21), Harriet Blencowe (aged 18), Frances I[sabel] Blencowe (aged 16), Mary Blencowe (aged 15) and Penelope E Blencowe (aged 13).

It is possible that by the time the 1881 census was taken, Robert was in India.  A copy of Dress Regulations for Officers of the 1st Battalion (XX) Lancashire Fusiliers, offered for sale by Maggs Brothers military booksellers in August 2006, notes Robert Campion Blencowe as the book’s owner.  The Maggs Brothers website notes that Robert made full lieutenant in January 1880 and that the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers embarked for Bombay the following year.

On the 1891 census, John George and his wife are still at Bineham with their daughters although by now, Florence C Blencowe had married and become Florence C Drummond. Her son, Frederick John Drummond (whose birth was registered in the September quarter of 1891) would later be killed in action in the First World War. 

Robert Campion Blencowe (aged 32) appears on the 1891 census living at The Grove, Basingstoke, Hampshire with his 36 year old wife Augusta Blencowe (nee Dickenson) and three servants.  The couple had married in 1886 and Robert Campion is noted on the census as “living on own means”.

On the 1901 census, Robert Campion Blencowe’s name appears under the ecclesiastical parish of St Michael and All Angels in Basingstoke.  He and Augusta were now living at Skippetts House with three servants.  Robert Campion is still noted as “living on own means”.  Augusta died in 1905 and Robert re-married Jessie Wright, a woman who was, according to Rob Tillard, “a formidable lady who seemed forbidding to small boys.

Robert Blencowe’s service record could not be found at the National Archives but it is possible to piece together a sketch history based on information contained in Chailey Parish Magazine and The London Gazette.

Supplement to The London Gazette, Page 8013, of the issue dated 7th October 1914 notes that Robert Campion Blencowe, late Lieutenant of The Lancashire Fusiliers, is to be a lieutenant with the Territorial Force Reserve.

Chailey Parish Magazine first mentions him in March 1915, noting that he is serving his King & Country and then adding in October that year that he is a lieutenant with the Norfolk Regiment.  On 28th June 1916, the Supplement to The London Gazette notes that Lieutenant Robert Campion Blencowe is promoted to Captain.

At some point thereafter, it would appear that Robert Blencowe transferred from the Norfolk Regiment to the Royal Defence Corps.  On 7th November 1917, on page 13176 of the Supplement to The London Gazette, it was noted that Lt R C Blencowe of the RDC would retain his seniority.  Just over a month later, on 17th December, he resigned his commission on account of ill health, and was granted the honorary rank of lieutenant.  His name appears for the final time in Chailey Parish Magazine’s roll of serving men in January 1918 where it is {incorrectly) noted that he is still serving with the Norfolk Regiment.

The Blencowe family was one of the most influential families in Chailey and the family name crops up time and time again in contemporary newspaper cuttings.  John Ingham Blencowe and Frances Isabel Blencowe in particular, also played significant roles in the village during the war years but Robert appears to have been the most influential member of the Bineham family.  The term, “pillar of the community” appears apt in his case and as well as involving himself in local affairs he also supported a number of worthy causes.  The Women at Work Collection held at The Imperial War Museum in London notes that he was a member of the RSPCA in 1914, contributed a £50 donation to the Soldiers’ Clubs Association in 1915 and 1916 and, also in 1916, donated £20 to Queen Alexandra’s Field Force Fund.

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