The Crabbet Lawsuit (part I)

221b Baker Street: The Crabbet Lawsuit

As reported in The London Times

ANNOTATED BY R.J.CADRANELL

Copyright 1991 by R.J.CADRANELL

from Arabian Visions June 1991

Used by permission of RJCadranell

 

Most books and articles about the Crabbet Stud mention the famous lawsuit fought over the horses after Lady Anne Blunt died. Her husband and daughter each had claims to the horses. The material written in recent decades has the benefit of hindsight in assessing the situation.

The London Times covered the Crabbet lawsuit as events were taking place. Although newspapers are rarely the best source of information about long ago happenings, and although one suspects the paper of choosing for publication the most sensational aspects of the case, the account has an immediacy lacking in more staid historical works.

The first article appeared in the issue of February 11, 1920, on page 4:

The Ownership of Arab Horses

The case in which Lady Wentworth and the Public Trustee are claiming horses of the Crabbet Arab Stud from Mr. Wilfred [sic] Scawen Blunt, the breeder of Arab horses, came before Mr. Pollock, the Official Referee, in the High Court yesterday.

The stud was started many years ago as the outcome of the travels in Egypt[1] of Mr. Blunt and his wife. In 1906, by a deed of partition between Lady Anne Blunt and her husband, each took a half share in the stud, and this arrangement was continued down to 1916, when the Public Trustee, who represents beneficiaries[2] under Lady Anne Blunt’s will, alleged that Mr. Blunt transferred his half to his wife.

Mr. Storry Deans said that Mr. Blunt wrote to his wife in September, 1915, “I have no wish other than to make over to you the whole of the ownership and management of the stud, retiring altogether from it.” In 1916 Lady Anne Blunt appeared likely to be leaving Crabbet Park.[3] and he (counsel) suggested that if all that Lady Anne Blunt took over in 1915 was the management of the defendant’s half of the stud, it was incredible that Lady Anne Blunt should write to Mr. Blunt proposing to rent stabling from him in which to keep horses which she was only managing for him. After she had gone to Egypt she wrote to Holman, the stud groom, proposing to get rid of a considerable number not only of her own horses, but of those which Mr. Blunt now said belonged to him. Lady Wentworth’s case did not depend upon that of the Public Trustee at all, and assuming that the deed of partition between Mr. Blunt and Lady Anne Blunt in 1906 were held to be still in existence at the time of Lady Anne Blunt’s death, Lady Wentworth’s case rested upon the three heads of purchase, exchange, and gift.

Lady Wentworth, in the witness-box, said that she succeeded to the title[4] on the death of her mother, Lady Anne Blunt. Her mother used to find the money for the stud, and when her father paid anything he got it back again from her mother.

Lady Wentworth said: –Since this case has begun I have received an anonymous letter saying that if I mentioned a certain name some very startling revelations would come out. I want to say they can come out with their startling revelations. The person who wrote that anonymous letter can come on. I don’t mind.

Mr. Hughes, K.C. (for Mr. Blunt). –As far as I can see the letter has about as much to do with the case as the binomial theorem.

The hearing was adjourned.

 

The next installment appeared on February 12:

The Ownership of Arab Horses.

Lady Wentworth’s Claim

The hearing was continued before Mr. Pollock, the Official Referee, yesterday of the claims by Lady Wentworth and by the Public Trustee to Arab horses which were bred by Mr. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt at the Crabbet Park Stud.

Lady Wentworth was again in the witness-box. She produced a diary kept by her, and read the following extract from an entry which was made after a visit to her father in December, 1915:–“The mares are looking rather wretched now. H.F. (her father)[5] told me he had resigned the stud to M. (Lady Anne Blunt) and that the silly partition is finally scrapped. R.I.P. Good riddance of bad rubbish.”

Mr. Hughes, K.C. (for the defendant).–I don’t know whether the lady means that as a reference to Mr. Blunt, or whether it is merely a general comment.

Mr. Storry Deans (for Lady Wentworth). –We will take it as a general comment.

Counsel mentioned a letter written to Mr. Blunt by Lady Wentworth on April 28, 1916, and said that owing to the nature of its contents he proposed to hand it in without reading it aloud.

Lady Wentworth. –I have no objection if you want to read it.

Mr. Houghes. –What this lady wrote to her father, offensive as it was, does not seem to have any importance in the case. It is a very offensive letter for a lady to write to her father.

Mr. Deans.–I think that it has some bearing on the case. There is an expression which I propose to read. What she said was never contradicted.

Mr. Grant, K.C. (for the Public Trustee). –This is an unfortunate family quarrel and the less said about it the better.

Mr. Hughes formally objected to the reading of the letter, and the Official Referee upheld the objection.

Lady Wentworth then said that her father had declared that the quarrel between Lady Anne Blunt and himself was entirely about the estate, whereas the letter would show that that was not the case. In 1916 [?] she heard a rumor that her father intended to [original damaged] the horses, and she therefore instructed Holman, the stud groom, not to let them go. Holman replied that he daren’t disobey “the Squire.” She found afterwards that all the horses had been removed from her stables. Some were taken at night, and they were always removed when she was not on the spot. First of all they were shifted about, and when she asked where a particular horse was she was told that it was in another box. Holman explained that it was “the Squire’s orders.” When she found where the horses had been sent, she went with her son, Anthony, to get them back. The groom seized her by the neck to prevent her, and her son “went for” the groom. She did not think that the groom was much the worse, and she regarded it as merely a “comic encounter.” Her father had sold some of the stud horses at absurdly low prices. He told her that he would rather shoot them than let her have them.

A number of letters written by Lady Wentworth about the stud were read by Mr. Deans. In February, 1914, Lady Wentworth was in a liner approaching New York, and she wrote that she had been too wretched on board to talk about stud affairs. In another letter there was a passage about Philadelphia, which, in the present state of public feeling, he (counsel) would forbear to read.

Mr. Deans said the horses comprising the stud were catalogued, and against some of the names there appeared an asterisk, and at the bottom the words in Lady Anne Blunt’s handwriting, “To go to Judith (Lady Wentworth) at my death.”

One of the catalogues was handed to the witness, who identified the writing as her mother’s.

The witness said that among the greys which she was claiming was one of five which Mr. Blunt, in 1913, threatened to shoot if her mother did not take them. She explained that the partition deed provided that an animal before being destroyed by either of the parties should be offered to the other.

In reply to Mr. Grant, K.C., Lady Wentworth denied the suggestion which counsel said Mr. Blunt had made that she and her mother had been given of conspiracy in withholding information on stud matters from him.

The hearing was adjourned.

 

The next installment appeared on February 13:

The Sale of Arab horses.

Mr. Pollack, Official Referee, resumed yesterday the hearing of the actions by Lady Wentworth and the Public Trustee.

Lady Wentworth and the Public Trustee, the latter representing beneficiaries under the will of Lady Anne Blunt, are claiming from Mr. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt a number of horses from the Crabbet Park Arab Stud.

Lady Wentworth was cross-examined by Mr. Hughes, K.C.

Learned counsel asked her what her attitude had been towards Mr. Caffin, who held a responsible position at the stud, and she denied that she had tried to get her mother to discharge him.

A letter written to Mr. Caffin by Lady Anne Blunt, in May, 1917, ran:–

“Don’t let yourself be interviewed or accosted as it were by accident which I am inclined to think might be attempted with the intention of drawing you to reply so that what you say might be twisted as something supposed to be an insult to those by whom eight pages of invective have been sent.”

Mr. Hughes.–Were those eight pages of invective a letter of yours?–Certainly not.

Perhaps you quarrel with the word invective. Did you write a long letter to your mother about Mr. Caffin?–If it was invective I should think that it was from him.

Mr. Hughes read a further letter written by Lady Anne Blunt to Mr. Caffin November, 1915. She referred to an agreement which she promised to read “with the greatest care and in quieter surroundings than I did the old agreement, which, I suppose, holds meanwhile.”

Mr. Hughes. — That is the old partition agreement?–I suppose so.

Mr. Hughes.– Were there differences of opinion between yourself and Lady Anne Blunt over the stud at one time? You treated it rather as a hobby, and she regarded it as a national duty?

Lady Wentworth agreed that that was her mother’s view of the stud, at any rate.

Counsel read the following letter by Mr. Blunt to his wife in Egypt shortly before her death–

“Now that there seems so little chance of the war being over this year and of your being able to return to England, I feel something ought to be done about the future of the stud. Though yours is probably the better life than mine, in spite of my advantage of two years, it might be that I should have to take over the stud as your survivor, and as things are I should be very much at a loss how to find a suitable way of continuing it.”

The letter, Counsel added, mentioned the necessity that something should be done then instead of the stud’s being left “for heirs to quarrel about.”

Lady Wentworth. — Rather prophetic, wasn’t it? It shows how he was trying to prevent her from leaving the stud to me.

Counsel.–I should not be surprised if he was.

Mr. Hughes then asked whether Lady Wentworth really adhered to her statement that her father removed the horses by night.

Lady Wentworth.–I said some of them. I am not in the habit of telling lies.

Counsel read a letter written by Mr. Blunt’s solicitors complaining of an alleged assault by Lady Wentworth and her party on Holman, the stud groom, when Lady Wentworth removed some of the animals from his custody.

Lady Wentworth.–I did not assault Holman. He assaulted me.

The hearing was again adjourned.

To be Continued in July…

Series NavigationThe Crabbet Lawsuit (part II)
  1. [1]James H. Skene, H.B.M. Consul in Aleppo, was responsible for giving the Blunts the idea for the Crabbet Stud, and the first horses acquired were either bought through Skene or were the outcome of the Blunts’ travels in the desert regions near Aleppo. More than a decade after the arrival at Crabbet of the initial stock, the Blunts began to import horses representing the breeding program of Ali Pasha Sherif of Egypt. This perhaps accounts for the newspaper writer’s confusion.
  2. [2]2. The beneficiaries mentioned were Lady Anne Blunt’s granddaughters, Anne and Winifrid Lytton, ages 18 and 15. Lady Anne Blunt’s will had left most of her estate, including her Arabian horses, in trust for her granddaughters. Lady Wentworth, daughter of the Blunts and the mother of Anne and Winifrid, claimed for herself about fifteen horses. Some she said were gifts from her mother. Others she claimed to have purchased from her. The Trustees recognized Lady Wentworth’s claim, but claimed all the rest of the horses for the beneficiaries. Mr. Blunt maintained that he had never transferred his horses, known as “the Newbuildings Half” of the stud, to his wife. Blunt claimed not only the Newbuildings half but also Lady Anne’s “Crabbet Half” since he alleged the 1906 partition agreement was still in effect. This agreement had stated that on the death of one of the Blunts, the deceased party’s horses were to become the property of the survivor.
  3. [3]Lady Anne Blunt habitually spent her winters in Egypt, at her property near Cairo known as Sheykh Obeyd Garden. She left England for the last time in October of 1915, not 1916. Unable to return due to wartime activity, she spent the rest of her life in Egypt and died December 15, 1917.
  4. [4]Six months before she died, Lady Anne Blunt had inherited the title of Baroness Wentworth, becoming the 15th holder since the barony was granted in 1529. At her death the title passed to her daughter, Judith. Blunt commented that this would make Judith “more arrogant than ever.”
  5. [5]Wilfrid Blunt was known as H.F., “Head of the Family”.