a short history of the Halliday family

researched by Rhys Davies

Simon Halliday was a scion of the Scottish Halliday family, a line who claimed descent from the last Laird of Corehead and which had held great favour with King James VI. A naval surgeon and banker, Simon amassed a considerable fortune during the Napoleonic Wars. When he died in Scotland in 1829, he left his assets to his oldest surviving son, the Reverend Walter Halliday. As befitted second-sons of wealthy families, Walter had taken holy orders, but due to the 1820 death of his elder brother George had became the family heir, and after inheriting Simon’s fortune he resigned from the Church and began to indulge his romantic passions.

Under the terms of his father’s Will, Walter had to invest a portion of his new fortune into establishing a country estate in the family name. Following his love of poetry and nouveau rich intellectual leanings, his eyes turned to the West Coast of England, a land popularised by such noted writers as Coleridge, Shelley and Wordsworth. Eventually he settled with his wife Anne in the Parish of Countisbury, on the border of Somerset and Devon. Aspiring to the social status that came with being a landowner, while also satisfying the terms of the Will, Walter gradually purchased the entirety of the Parish, some 7000 acres, becoming the local squire. He also built a sizable manor on the coast, dubbed Glenthorne. Constructed of Bath Stone in a romantic and secluded spot, Glenthorne became the nucleus of the new estate.

Glenthorne House

Walter also built himself a fishing lodge at Watersmeet in the East Lyn Valley, and made sure all were aware of his passions by inscribing a quote by Wordsworth over the doorway.

Watersmeet House

Walter settled happily into his new lifestyle, becoming a benevolent tyrant of sorts, collecting rates from his tenants and constructing poor-houses for the impoverished of the area, among other philanthropic ventures. However, after some four decades in this position, Walter passed away childless in 1872, at the worthy age of ninety-four.

Walter’s sister Elizabeth had by this time married Sir William-Richard Cosway of Bilsington in Kent. Like his brother-in-law, Sir Richard was a substantial landowner and doer of good deeds, having established a school in the area for the children of his parish. Tragically, he died after a coaching accident in London in 1834, and a substantial monument in his honour still stands near Bilsington. Unlike Walter however, he left a male heir, William Halliway Cosway, so named as both his parents had correctly expected him to inherit the Glenthorne Estate. As if foreseeing this, in 1830 William had married Maria Farquhar, fourth daughter of a banking family that had previously held a partnership with Simon Halliday. By the time of Walter’s death, William and Maria had also produced a male heir to inherit the estate after them. Having sired four daughters (Ellen, Isabelle, Constance and Lucy), their only son, Benjamin Richard Cosway had been born on March 9th 1868.

However upon Walter’s passing in 1872, a quirk of inheritance law meant that although the Glenthorne Estate was left to William, the substantial family fortune was instead transferred to the coffers of Scotland, leaving William with only what monies remained in his family purse. The Scottish fortune was, however, available to him for 'capital improvements'. Despite this he decided to continue in settling in Glenthorne, and in keeping with the terms of the estate changed his and his family’s surname to Halliday, becoming William H Halliday.

Unable to live as luxuriously as their predecessor, the family nevertheless enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle living off the revenues of the estate, and William himself was appointed High Sheriff of Devon in 1882. Some years later, as a principal landowner and local figure, he became involved in a scheme to promote a railway to the town of Lynton, and ultimately became a director of the newly formed Lynton & Barnstaple Railway in 1895. On the new railway’s board beside him was another notable figure, Sir George Newnes, owner of Strand Magazine, an entity best known for its publication of Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories.

Newnes was a figure of two extremes. He was a Liberal Member of Parliament (serving for ten years as MP for Newmarket and later for Swansea), invested substantial monies in the Lynton and Lynmouth areas, and yet did his best to ensure the region remained a near-exclusive retreat for the wealthier classes. His brainchild the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway reflected this, as while it satisfied those in the town who wished for a railway its narrow-gauge formation, slow trains and inconveniently-sited Lynton terminus effectively strangled easy access to the area. At home, Newnes was a somewhat tragic figure, having never overcome the premature death of his second son, Arthur, who passed away at the age of six having contracted a brain fever. His surviving son, Frank, would live to himself serve as MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire. In 1880, George and his wife Priscilla had also given birth to a daughter, Claire, who in her youth became a campaigner for women’s suffrage, joining Millicent Fawcett’s Suffragists upon their formation in 1897. Considering she was but seventeen at the time, such action demonstrates a character of no small distinction.

Initially, relationships between the two families were of an amicable nature, but all that changed on May 11th 1898. On this day the first train of the new railway arrived in Lynton, and William H Halliday passed away, leaving control of the Estate to his son William Benjamin, who preferred to be known as Ben Halliday.

William Benjamin Halliday

In Ben were all the better characteristics of his ancestors; financial shrewdness, a philanthropic nature, and certain romantic turns of whimsy. All these were catalysed however by a fierce intelligence and a galvanising drive which left him unable to sit back and live off the fat of the land as his father and great-uncle had done. Examining the yearly returns for Glenthorne, Ben divined that the estate would eventually cease to financially support itself if a new source of revenue was not tapped. There was no industry or natural assets to exploit at Glenthorne (despite failed attempts to mine Iron Ore at Watersmeet), so Ben decided to create a new industry.

The family regularly brought coal ashore in small boats on Glenthorne Beach for distribution to their tenants, and he felt this showed potential for development. Although tidal, the waters off Glenthorne were quite deep, and with the correct provision of breakwaters, large ships could safely dock there. Furthermore, Ben decided he could spin further cash out of his scheme and benefit his tenants by building a coal-fired power-station in the region, which would be supplied with best Welsh Steam Coal from his personal harbour.

The subsequent story of the Minehead & Barnstaple Railway and the battles waged between Newnes and Halliday throughout its inception and construction are best told in other histories. On a more personal level, the conflict was worsened by the fact that sometime around 1899 Ben Halliday and Claire Newnes fell in love. Both were somewhat unconventional, intelligent and forthright in their views, and in each other possibly found a kindred spirit. As Claire wrote in her diary, later published as her memoirs;

‘I must admit that Mr. Halliday has quite turned my head upon his recent visits to us here at Hollerday House, though he is a full twelve years my elder. Until of recent I have thought little of him, perceiving him as a person content to bask in the shade of his father’s throne. With his succession to the Lordship of Glenthorne however, and in his recent battles with my father, I have seen in him the most striking of qualities. In his motions, thoughts and actions there is an energy and enthusiasm I find captivating, and his detailed knowledge of the plans prepared by his engineers is so profound as to suggest that he himself orchestrated the grand designs, and that the artisans in his employ are but the executors of his vision.'

Claire rightly perceived that in this romance was the chance of peace between the Newnes and Halliday families, though both she and Ben chose to tread carefully and see where fate took them. Her diaries speak of a whirlwind romance, the two partners doing their best to conceal matters from their relatives. In April 1900 however, at the height of Ben and George’s enmity, rumours began to circulate that Claire was with child, and Ben directly presented himself at George’s Lynton residence, Hollerday House, as the father. The patriarch’s volcanic response to this revelation is the stuff of legend in Lynton to this day, but it seems that regardless of his anger, George could not bring himself to loose his daughter by disowning her, perhaps still feeling the pang of Arthur’s death, and Ben and Claire were duly wed in Lynton that year, with her father’s grudging blessing.

In early 1901, Claire gave birth to twin daughters, Elaine Marie and Vivian Phyllis, followed in 1903 by a son, Simon Arthur. These events mark a distinct softening of George’s attacks against Ben, and although the relationship between the two families was never on the best of terms, occasional social visits were made by each other at Glenthorne and Hollerday House, and both Claire and her husband were present at George’s side as his gradually succumbed to diabetes in 1910.

During the Parliamentary battles that preceded the construction of the M&B, Ben had struck a crucial alliance with George Fownes Luttrell, master of Dunster Castle and owner of large areas of land over which the new railway would have to run. Luttrell was very open to Ben’s ideas, having helped promote the 1874 Minehead Railway, and being in the process of constructing a pier in the town at which passenger steamers might land. In Minehead Luttrell saw a potentially great seaside resort, and Ben’s railway to Lynton, as well as his proposed improvements to local amenities must have seemed most desirous. In return for a rate on all traffic carried by the railway over his land, Luttrell threw his financial and social status to bear in support of Ben, and the two families became the primary shareholders in the new railway and harbour, along with the Glenthorne Electricity and Glenthorne Water companies.

These investments delivered substantial returns to both parties, and in 1909, Ben vested some of this money in a substantial reconstruction of Glenthorne House, adding an additional wing and modifying the building’s frontage. Extensive gardens were cultivated, in which Claire could pursue a love of horticulture, and Ben constructed himself a 3-inch gauge miniature railway on which he operated a scale model of a Baldwin locomotive purchased for the Glenthorne Harbour Railway in 1906. The locomotive in question, #3 (later renumbered #2) was always Ben’s favourite owing to its unique colonial aesthetic, and Claire’s diaries make occasional reference to her husband sneaking in of an evening through the servant’s entrance covered in smuts, having had a go at the regulator.

Ben’s crowning achievement however was in 1910, when with the support of the Luttrells he was elected to the House of Commons as Liberal MP for the historic constituency of Bridgewater, successfully defeating his brother-in-law, Sir Robert Arthur Sanders (who had wed Lucy, Ben’s much-loved elder sister). Ben served for eight years in Parliament, and appears in Hansard Reports as being a vocal supporter of Reform, a participant in David Lloyd-George’s coalition government, and a champion for Women’s Suffrage, culminating in the passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1918, granting the vote to all women above the age of 30, including his wife. The occasion was celebrated with a special train from Minehead to Glenthorne via County Gate for any from the area who wished to participate. Double-headed and comprising of (by some accounts) ten carriages, it was reportedly the largest train ever worked down the fearsomely steep harbour line, and its passengers were treated to banquets and festivities in the grounds of the estate well into the early hours of the morning.

With these accomplishments behind him, Ben chose not to run again for office after 1918, and upon his retirement, he was knighted a baronet by King George V for his numerous public services, becoming Sir William Benjamin Halliday, First Baronet of Glenthorne and Countisbury. Ben died in 1931, having lived just long enough to see his son Simon happily married to Catherine Luttrell, George Luttrell’s granddaughter, and is reported to have died a happy man, survived by his wife and children. Simon saw to it that his father’s name was continued by bestowing it upon Ben’s favourite locomotive, the #2 Baldwin, which to this day carries nameplates dubbing it ‘Ben Halliday’.

As Second Baronet of Glenthorne, Sir Simon Halliday continues to reside in Glenthorne with his mother and family. Simon continues to oversee the management of his family’s many assets, and is chairman of the Glenthorne Harbour Authority and its subsidies companies. His son, Benjamin Alexander Halliday, was born in 1932, and seems set to eventually succeed his father as Third Baronet.

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