One would normally expect the home of Sir Algar Howard to be Thornbury Castle in Thornbury, South Gloucestershire. However there was a period when Sir Algar and his wife lived at nearby Thornbury House in Castle Street.
The Western Daily Press of November 19th 1937 shows an advertisement placed by the Hon. Mrs Howard for a housemaid. This is significant because the advertisement gives the lady’s address as “Thornbury House”. It seems that that Algar Howard and his wife lived in Thornbury House for a period after 1935 when the house was put up for sale by the Gillett family.
During World War II Algar Howard of Thornbury Castle and his family continued to lived in Thornbury House while their other residence Thornbury Castle, was used by the Ministry of Defence.
On the left is a photograph of Algar Howard at his family home, Thornbury Castle.
Sir Algar Howard was born on 7th August 1880. He was the eldest son but second child of Edward Stafford Howard and Lady Rachel Anne Georgina Campbell. He belonged to a younger branch of the Norfolk family to which two ancient properties had descended both of which had come to the Howards by marriage – Thornbury Castle and Greystoke Castle in Cumberland.
Henry Howard, Algar’s grandfather, restored Thornbury Castle after it was left in ruins for so many years. We understand that Sir Algar was born there.
The 1881 census shows that at that time Edward and Rachel Stafford Howard were at Hampton Lodge in Seale in Surrey. They were there with their children, Ruth aged three and Algar aged seven months and Charlotte Howard, Edward’s widowed mother.
Algar was born into a very privileged life and his father appears to have been very active in politics. In 1885 Algar’s father Sir Edward Stafford Howard was elected MP to the Thornbury Division of Gloucester and the following year he was appointed Under Secretary of State for India.
As was typical of that social class and the time Algar left home very early to go to boarding school. In the census of 1891 aged 10 Algar was at boarding school in Great Haseley in Oxfordshire. He was later educated at Harrow School and King’s College London.
In 1906 Algar Howard’s mother and Sir Edward’s first wife Lady Rachel Stafford Howard died.
The 1911 census shows that the family lived at Thornbury Castle. Edward Stafford Howard was widowed. Algar then aged 30 was a barrister at that time. also living in the household was Algar’s sister Alianore Rachel Howard and amongst other relations, Algar’s cousin Bernard Howard.
Lady Catharine became Sir Edward Stafford Howard’s second wife and Algar’s stepmother when they married at Llanelli Parish Church on 21st September 1911. Catharine Meriel Cowell Stepney was the only daughter of the late Sir Emile and Lady Margaret Cowell Stepney. She had inherited her father’s estate when he died in America in 1909 after many years of separation from his family.
Algar Howard began his heraldic career on 23 May 1911 with an appointment as Fitzalan Pursuivant of Arms Extraordinary and he attended the investiture of the future Edward VIII as Prince of Wales at Carnarvon. This was followed later that year with an appointment in October to the office of Rouge Dragon Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary.
Although the phone books show Algar’s address in London at the College of Arms Queen Victoria St in Holborn, he maintained his contact with Thornbury and he appeared in the trade directories of Thornbury for that period in connection with Boy Scouts Movement.
We are grateful to Meg Wise of Thornbury Museum for the following comments on Algar’s war time career.
“Howard had a distinguished career in the army during the First World War serving with the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Yeomanry. In April 1918 Captain Howard was awarded the Military Cross for exemplary gallantry during active service. In 1919 he took part, on horseback, as part of the escort for the King’s Proclamation on the definitive Treaty of Peace with the German Government.”
In 1919, he was promoted to the office of Windsor Herald of Arms in Ordinary. Algar was also appointed Registrar of the College of Arms in 1928.
Algar Howard married Violet Ethel Meysey-Thompson, the daughter of Sir Henry Meysey Meysey-Thompson, first and last Baron Knaresborough, on 11th October 1921. She was the widow of Captain Alexander Moore Vandeleur, 2nd Life Guards, who was killed in action at Zandvoorde during the First Battle of Ypres on 30 October, 1914. She had two small children, a son and daughter by her previous marriage. The couple later had two daughters; Anne born in 1923 and Elizabeth in 1924. Both births were registered in Thornbury.
Meg Wise tells us that Sir Algar Howard made Thornbury his home from 1936 and that he took an active interest in the estate and its farms and was a keen supporter of the Berkeley Hunt.
Algar Howard was created Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in 1935 and Companion of the Bath (CB) in 1937. He was made Norroy King of Arms in 1931 and in this capacity he proclaimed the accession of Edward VIII in 1936.
In 1943, the office of Ulster King of Arms was merged with that of Norroy and Howard became the first Norroy and Ulster King of Arms. He remained in this office until 1944, when he was promoted to Garter Principal King of Arms.
During World War II Algar Howard of Thornbury Castle and his family lived in Thornbury House while their home, Thornbury Castle was used by the Ministry of Defence from 1939 to 1945. At Algar’s invitation the library of the Royal College of Arms was evacuated to Thornbury Castle. It was also rumoured that the Crown Jewels were hidden here during the War but this rumour seems to be unfounded and other places in the UK claim the same honour. During the war Sir Algar was A.R.P. Sub-controller for Thornbury and was chairman of the Thornbury and District National Savings Committee.
Thornbury Castle did have other uses during the War. It housed soldiers returning from Dunkirk. It was the also the first Head Quarters of the Local Defence Volunteers (Home Guard). Pat Sainsbury’s account of her war time experiences (see the BBC’s website “The People’s War”) says that the Bedford Regiment were the first soldiers to arrive in Thornbury and that they used the Castle to store weapons. It was also the Officer’s mess for 6th Maritime Regiment. The Castle and its grounds hosted events for wartime fundraising. In the grounds of the Castle near the Pithay there was a training battery for the Maritime Regiment who lived in Nissen huts amongst the trees, one of these was later used as a Scout Hall. The Maritime Regiment served on convoys to Russia and many of them came back to Thornbury to convalesce. In the area of the Pithay there was also a dome trainer used to train soldiers in anti-aircraft gunnery techniques, a gun park and a gunnery building. The covered tennis court at the Castle also played its part and was used for aircraft recognition films and medicals. Read more about Thornbury at War
In 1947 the Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad arrived in England for the final House of Commons reading of the Indian Independence Bill and for a private audience with King George VI. Whilst in London the India Office arranged for the then Garter King of Arms Sir Algar Howard to take His Highness on a tour of the College of Arms. Sadly when asked to produce the collection of records relating to the Princes of India the college was unable to show the Maharaja anything more impressive than a small exercise book.
On the 10th of July 1948 The Gazette advertised the sale of Thornbury House with its pleasure grounds walled in kitchen garden, paddocks and field of arable land, a garage and other outbuildings all then occupied by Sir Algar Howard.
Sir Algar retired from office, and from the College of Arms, in 1950.
In 1952 Sir Algar was made an Extra Gentleman Usher to the Queen.
We have seen an account that suggests that Sir Algar returned to live in Thornbury Castle around 1953. In the 1950s Thornbury House was bought by The Sheiling School. Sir Algar Howard put Thornbury Castle up for sale in March 1959 and it was sold to the Clifford family in 1960. Algar’s wife, The Hon. Lady Howard died in April 1960.
Sir Algar Stafford Henry Howard K.C.B. K.C.V.O. M.C. J.P. D.L. died 14th February 1970 aged 89. At his memorial service at the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy the Queen was represented by Lieutenant- Colonel Eric Penn (Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office).