Edward George Villiers Stanley, the 17th Earl of Derby was a great supporter of Wellington College both as an OW and as its Vice-President from 1908 to 1941, like his father the 16th Earl before him, who was Chairman of Governors from 1901-07, and the 14th Earl before him who was a founding Governor, and both of whom were also masons.
It is the 17th Earl’s portrait which is connected to the Stanley, one of the houses at Wellington, notwithstanding the fact that the house is actually named after this grandfather, the 14th Earl.
Stanley joined the Grenadier Guards in 1885 after leaving Wellington and served as private secretary to future fellow Lodge member Lord Roberts during the Boer War. He was ADC to the Governor-General of Canada in 1905. Outside his military roles he sat in the House of Commons from 1892 as the member for Westhoughton, and became Secretary of State for War between 1916 and 1918. He became our ambassador in Paris in 1918.
His private and semi-private roles at Wellington were as important. He was known to meet individual boys’ financial needs from his private income. Reflecting his understanding of the public and ever the politician, the boys particularly enjoyed his request for a holiday to celebrate the victory of his horse Sansovino in the Derby, a race named after the 12th Earl.
He was the benefactor of the ‘Derby Field’ at Wellington College, still home to house and school matches today. He acquired what was then a polo field from the proprietor of the Wellington Hotel (a member of Wellesley Lodge well known the Brethren at the time). The 22 acres cost £5,000 (or the equivalent of £150,000 in 2010), which was part funded by £1,000 from Lord Derby and a further interest free £3,500 loan. It was Lodge Founder Dighton Pollock’s posthumous bequest that saw the creation of the eponymous bridge over the railway connecting College to its new playing fields.
Derby Field was not his only scholastic bequest; he also gave 3 acres of land to help build the Bury Grammar Schools (both Boys and Girls Schools) in 1906.
The Earl was initiated into Studholme Lodge No 1591 (Now United Studholme Alliance Lodge No 1591), the lodge to which he introduced Winston Churchill, his fellow Tory ‘Hooligan’, as the grouping of young MPs was known. He was a member of at least six other lodges, and was a founder of both the OW Lodge and its mother lodge, Household Brigade.
On 3 November 1899, when still just Lord Stanley MP, he was installed as Provincial Grand Master of Lancashire (Eastern Division) in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester. Lord Derby presided over the Province for 49 years until 1948, during which time the number of lodges increased from 113 to 303 and the number of members from 4,829 to 19,000. He was made Senior Grand Warden in 1949, and was 2nd Grand Principal of the Royal Arch from 1951 to 1959.