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Henry Huck Gibbs by Christopher Gibbs

From the 'Bridge' monthly parish magazine of Clifton Hampden

This year marks the centenary of Clifton Hampden Village Hall built for the community by Henry Hucks Gibbs, later to be ford Aldenham. To celebrate the occasion the Village Hall Committee is mounting an exhibition of some of the history of Clifton Hampden from 1800 to the present day, with particular emphasis on the life of its remarkable and generous benefactor of whom Christopher Gibbs writes below. 

HENRY HUCKS GIBBS 

Henry Hucks Gibbs, my great grandfather, was an energetic and gifted man who left his mark on the village at Clifton Hampden. Born in 1819, he was the eldest of fourteen children of George Henry Gibbs and his wife Caroline Crawley. His parents were first cousins, the Gibbs, west country merchants and bankers, and the Crawleys, landowners and clerics from Flaxley Abbey in the Forest of Dean. Bankruptcy in 1785 had driven the family to Spain and it was there, and later in South America, that they built up the business which was to prosper hugely when the guano business that revolutionised 19th century agriculture, boomed in Chile and Peru. 


Clifton Hampden was in their thoughts in those years of exile as one of the estates (bought in 1719) of their Hucks cousins, rich brewers of London, members of Parliament for both Wallingford and Abingdon, but living at Aldenham in Hertfordshire. It was promised to George Henry by two maiden sisters, the Misses Noyes, last of the Hucks' and came to him along with their other estates as he lay dying in Venice in 1842. It was to Clifton Hampden that the young heir brought his father's embalmed body., 


His uncle Joseph had been vicar here since 1830 and was living in what we know as the vicarage. George Henry had prospered, and was involved with Brunel and the Great Western Railway and the other Hucks estates in Hertfordshire and Essex had not been expected. Henry and his mother began swiftly to set the place in order. They restored the church, built a new vicarage (now the Manor), rebuilt cottages and with the help of George's brother William, built the school. 


Blue-eyed, dark, and handsome, Henry had been at Rugby under Dr Arnold, and went on to Exeter College and then to Lincoln's Inn. he had been travelling in Italy and Greece for a year when his father died, and on his return he joined the family firm of Anthony Gibbs and Son, bankers in the City of London. Within ten years he was a director of the Bank of England, was Governor between 1875 and 1877 and remained on the Board until 1901. 

On his father's death he sold the estates except those around Clifton Hampden and Aldenham, building up both properties over the years, though he chose to live in London, first in Hampstead in a house with 18 acres, then at St Dunstans in Regents Park, on the present site of the American Embassy. In 1845 he married the sister of his friend George Edward Adams, who is turn married his sister Mary. Both men were scholars with a bent for theology, history and genealogy. Adams, who took his mother's name, Cokayne, was the begetter of that monument of scholarship and wit, The Complete Peerage, later edited by his nephew Vicary Gibbs. It was a happy marriage which produced seven children of whom Vicary and Edith, the only daughter, remained unmarried and looked after their widowed father. 


Frugal and industrious, and successful as a businessman, he would walk to the City from Regents Park visiting the book dealers along the way and always carrying a flask of beef tea, his daily lunch. He was active in conservative politics as Chairman of the City of London Conservative Association, and for a year only, was the City's Member of Parliament, but it was the Church and the burgeoning Tractarian movement above all which moved and inspired him. With his uncle and cousin Martin, he built or restored churches, most notably Keble College Chapel, and, on his own, ours at Clifton Hampden, that at Aldenham, and the Lady Chapel of St Albans Abbey. He built too our bridge, buying the ancient ferry from his old college, baking the bricks on the heath, turning the adaptable Richard Casey, the ferryman, into brickmaker, bricklayer and then tollkeeper. 


He served the Church Union for forty years, the Canterbury Convocation for twenty, and was President of Guys Hospital for sixteen years. He wrote on a variety of subjects with grace and erudition. As philogogist helped edit as well as finance the new English Dictionary, as bibliophile he edited various rare texts from his own library, as banker he wrote on currency questions, and as Spanish scholar on Spanish card games. He illuminated manuscripts on vellum with great skill, and completed with his left hand those he had started before he lost his right hand in a shooting accident in 1864. His library (sold alas in 1936), was celebrated for its quality and as one of the great collections of illuminated manuscripts and English liturgies. He was raised to the Peerage as Lord Aldenham in 1896 and the village hall, whose centenary we are celebrating, was built to mark that event in a place he loved and which has been the home of his son and two grandsons, the second of them my father. He died at Aldenham in 1907 and his memorial here is the tall carved cross with its flight of steps outside the church porch, with its carved injunction to "of your charity pray for the soul of Henry Hucks sometime Lord of this Manor".



DateNov 1996
Linked toHenry Hucks Gibbs, 1st Baron Aldenham

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