The Smith-Dorrien Family
Burials connected with this article
5 burials in Rectory Lane Cemetery are linked with The Smith-Dorrien Family — click on a burial below to find out more about the historical connections:
Places of interest
The following local places of interest are linked to this article:
In the 18th and 19th centuries a number of rich and successful families lived in grand houses that stood in substantial grounds on the outskirts of Berkhamsted. Two family names that resonate across Berkhamsted are the Smiths and the Dorriens. These two banking and military families were inextricably joined by marriage in the early 19th century. Their importance in the town is evident in the numerous monuments in St Peter’s Church commemorating their lives, and several family members are buried here in Rectory Lane Cemetery.
The Smiths had been established as bankers in Nottingham since the mid-17th century. Smith’s Bank (est. c. 1658) is believed to be the first bank to be formed outside London.
In 1801, James Smith (1768-1843) moved to Berkhamsted with his family and acquired Ashlyns Hall. His first wife, Frances, died and he remarried in 1803 to Mary Isabella, the daughter of another noted Berkhamsted family, the Pechells. Mary Isabella died in Paris in 1823.
Of James and Mary Isabella five children, their eldest son Augustus Smith (1804-1872) is perhaps best known. He began a long family connection with the Isles of Scilly when he acquired the lease from the Duchy of Cornwall in 1842, and styled himself “Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly”. His autocratic management and reform of the remote Cornish islands was often unpopular. He is more fondly remembered in Berkhamsted as the heroic leading figure in the “Battle of Berkhamsted Common” of 1866, when he fought for access rights of local people to common land against Lord Brownlow’s plan to fence it off.
Augustus’s younger brother Robert Algernon Smith (1814-1879) was also an important figure in the history of Berkhamsted, serving as a Justice of the Peace (JP), a Lieutenant Colonel in the Herts Militia and as Churchwarden at St Peter’s Church. It was his marriage to Mary Ann Drever in 1845 that established a new name in local history. Mary Anne was a member of the high-standing Dorrien Family, and Robert changed his name to Smith-Dorrien by Royal Licence, assuming the family name of his mother-in-law.
The Dorrien family name looms large in the history of Berkhamsted, and appears on numerous monuments and plaques in St Peter’s Church.
John Dorrien (d. 1784) was the chairman of the East India Company, one of the richest and most influential institutions in Britain at that time. In the late 18th century he purchased Haresfoot, a large house on the northern outskirts of Berkhamsted which was to become the Dorriens’ family home for over a century.
John’s son, George Dorrien, was Governor of the Bank of England 1818–1820. George’s brother, Thomas Dorrien, married Isabella Drake. The Drakes had been Lords of the Manor of Amersham since the early 17th century.
With the joining of the Smith and Dorrien names in the marriage of Robert Algernon and Mary Ann, the Smith-Dorrien dynasty was firmly established; together they had fifteen children, several of whom were prominent figures in Berkhamsted society. Robert was churchwarden St Peter’s Church 1862-1879, and played a key role in the project to restore the church in the 1870s by bringing in renowned architect William Butterfield. Robert’s eldest son, Thomas Algernon Smith-Dorrien, succeeded Augustus Smith as Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly in 1872. He changed his name by Royal Licence to Thomas Algernon Smith-Dorrien-Smith.
Thomas’s brother Horace is of particular note; General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien was a distinguished army general who served in the Second Boer War and World War I, commanding at the Second Battle of Ypres. After the war he served as Governor of Gibraltar 1918-1923. His wife, Olive, was noted for her charitable work, serving as president of The Blue Cross animal welfare charity and setting up Lady Smith-Dorrien’s Hospital Bag Fund in support of wounded soldiers.
Thomas’s other brothers both served in the Royal Navy: Lieut. Commander Henry Theophilus Smith-Dorrien saw service in the 1882 War in Egypt, and Rear Admiral Arthur Hale Smith Dorrien served in Zululand and the Egyptian War.
Upon the death of Thomas Algernon in 1918, his son, Major Arthur Algernon Dorrien-Smith, succeeded him as Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly. He was the last to hold this position, as the lease reverted to the Duchy of Cornwall in 1920. Arthur and his wife Eleanor had seven children. Tragically, they lost three sons in World War II, who are commemorated by a memorial in St Nicholas’s Church, Tresco. Their suriving son, Lt.-Cdr. Thomas Mervyn Dorrien-Smith, married Princess Tamara Imeretinsky of Georgia.
The Smith-Dorriens left Berkhamsted after WWI, and Harefoot was sold and later demolished. The family has retained its base in the Isles of Scilly, and today runs the estate on the Isle of Tresco.
Burials and memorials
Numerous memorials to the Smiths and the Dorriens can be found within St Peter’s Church, evidence of their importance and standing in the parish.
On the wall of the North Transept, an elegant 1803 marble monument commemorates nine of the earlier Dorrien family members. It is the work of sculptor John Bacon the younger.
- Thomas Dorrien died 1 January 1847 in his 93rd year.
- Isabella wife of Tho. Dorrien daughter and co-heir of Tho. Drake D.D. Rector of Amersham died 18 August 1829 aged 72 years.
- Thomas only son of the above died 22 February 1841 in his 61st year.
- Isabella eldest daughter of the above died 18 September 1846 in her 68th year.
- Mary Ann second daughter, wife of Thomas Drever Esq MD died 26 June 1843 in her 51st year.
- Lt.Gen. John Dorrien second son of John and Ann died 14 March 1825 in the 67th year of his age.
- Henrietta Ann his widow born 28 October 1773 died 6 Jan 1816.
- George Dorrien Esq fourth son died 10 Feb 1835 aged 66 years. Governor of Bank of England 1818-1819.
- Grace wife of George Dorrien and daughter of Sir William Ashurst died 29 Nov 1826 aged 53 years.
Underneath the north transept and Lady Chapel area there is a family vault. Several members of the Smith and Dorrien families are buried here. On one of the window sills in the Lady Chapel a small plaque records the permission granted by the Diocese of St Albans for John Dorrien to excavate the burial vault:
“For John Dorrien Esq and his family for ever, exclusive of all other persons. Twelve feet in length, eight feet in breadth and seven feet in depth”
The date on the plaque is 1782, two years before John Dorrien’s death in 1784.
Another large Dorrien monument in the church makes reference to the family vault, although somewhat confusingly this memorial has since been relocated north transept to the other side of the church, and now stands by the choir stalls. This large, white marble memorial is primarily dedicated to Mary Isabella Smith, and has since been inscribed with the names of several of her descendants in the Smith and Smith-Dorrien families. It depicts a kneeling female figure with the text “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit” (from Luke 23:46) and bears the names of a dozen members of the family:
To the memory of
wife of James Smith Esq of Ashlyns Hall.
Died at Paris Feb XIV MDCCCXXIII aged XXXIX.
Other memorials to the Dorriens can be found around the church:
- The large north window (1852) of the north transept commemorates George Dorrien and other family members.
- A stained-glass window in the south aisle by Charles Kempe, depicting the Archangel Michael, is in memory of Robert Algernon Smith-Dorrien-Smith.
- Beneath the Kempe window, a plaque also records that the oak pulpit in the nave was decorated in memory of Robert’s wife Mary Ann by their fourteen children. A small inscription on the inside of the pulpit also records this. The wooden angels around the pulpit were carved by the sculptor Harry Hems.
- Another more prominent memorial to Mary Ann Dorrien can be seen outside in the churchyard: a tall stone cross, erected in 1911.