Monday, April 22, 2024

Ecstasy and Babycham

A marine residence with a history tied to the Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy, the Special Operations Executive and Babycham


The House on the Shore on Thorns Beach at Beaulieu in Hampshire is a home that wouldn’t look out of place in the Hamptons or Rhode Island. Dramatically situated next to the Solent waters to the north of the Isle of Wight, this suitably named building wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1980s BBC series Howards’ Way. It could. Indeed, have been an ideal home for Gerald and Polly Urquhart.


The cast of the 1980s BBC rival to “Dynasty” and “Dallas” filmed “Howards’ Way” in the waters of the Solent
An aerial shot of The House on the Shore, Thorns Beach, Thorns Lane, Beaulieu, Hampshire, SO42 7XN
The House on the Shore from the water
The landside elevation of the property is clad in Beaulieu brick, tiles and oak

The unlisted 9,848 square foot Arts & Crafts property comes complete with 355 metres of beach frontage, a concrete slipway and 10.64 acres of foreshore. It was built in 1914 and also adjoins the 2,000 acre Sowley and 7,000 acre Beaulieu estates.


What made The House on the Shore worth sharing with readers of The Steeple Times is its history. Constructed for John Douglas-Scott-Montagu, the 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (1866 – 1929), as a summer residence, the property was amongst the first in the UK to have an integral garage.


Montagu’s story is little known but in 2013 this looks set to change as a film about his love life by Lord Attenborough and Martin Scorsese will be released. After Eton and Oxford, this aristocrat traveled the world with his cousin Lord Ancram and friend Lord Ennismore and then entered the House of Commons in 1895. Upon his father’s death in 1905, he was elevated to the peerage but his two true passions were motoring and his mistress.


Montagu founded and edited The Car Illustrated magazine and was a member of the Road Board but it is for his part in the creation of what would ultimately become Rolls-Royce’s mascot that that he ought to be known. A friend of both Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, when Montagu decided he needed a mascot for a new car, he commissioned an artist named Charles Sykes to sculpt the curvaceous figure of his secretary and mistress, Eleanor Velasco Thornton, in 1911. It was officially named “The Whisper” but to those in the know it was simply: “Miss Thornton in her nightie.” From that day forth, the vast majority of Rolls-Royce cars have featured Thornton as the winged “Spirit of Ecstasy” and undoubtedly she and Montagu’s Rolls-Royce graced the garage of The House on the Shore on numerous occasions.


John Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (1866 – 1929)
Eleanor Velasco Thornton (1880 – 1915): “The Spirit of Ecstasy”

Montagu and Thornton’s love story was sadly destined to doom. First, she had a child by him in 1903 and had to give it up for adoption in order to remain in his employment and then, with the permission of Lady Cecil, Montagu’s wife, the pair set sail for India in 1915 on the SS Persia. The peer was destined to be the adviser on Mechanical Services to the Indian government but sailing through the Mediterranean, the ship was torpedoed without warning by the German U-boat U-38. As the pair made for the decks, Montagu lost Thornton and whilst she was swept to her death, he was lucky to be rescued 32 hours later by the steamship Ningchow.


Montagu returned home to find Lord Northcliffe had prematurely written his obituary for The Times and though heartbroken, he sought out his illegitimate child, by then adopted and living in Devon. He occasionally took her for oysters at the Ritz and his son, the present Lord Montagu, continued this trend. Lady Cecil died in 1919 and then after remarrying in 1920, the 2nd Baron died in 1929.


The House on the Shore was requisitioned by Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War and became one of their appropriately nicknamed: “Stately ‘Omes of England.” Here, in utmost secrecy, around 3,000 agents and operatives of “The Baker Street Irregulars” received training in security and “tradecraft” before they set out to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe.


Babycham creator and philanthropist Francis Showering CBE (1915 – 1995)

After the war, the Montagu family sold The House on the Shore and for the last 60 years it has been owned by an equally intriguing family, the Showerings. Francis Showering CBE (1915 – 1995) purchased the house in the 1950s and is said: “One of his great pleasures was entertaining at his house on the Beaulieu River, and aboard his motor cruiser Silver Cavalier.”


Showering no doubt relished the tranquility and privacy of life next to Thorns Beach as an escape from his busy corporate existence. The son of an innkeeper from Shepton Mallet in Somerset rose to become one of Britain’s most successful businessmen in the 1950s and caused a revolution in the drinks industry by creating the first cult drink for women: Babycham.


Realising that ladies did not want to be seen in pubs and bars downing beer and cider, he created a mix of pears and champagne and boldly put it in baby bottles. As drinks historian Philip Norman recounts, his strategy paid off:


“Babycham brought an early splash of feminism into the male-dominated pubs of post-war Britain… It was the first drink a woman could order without feeling like a tart or a crone.”


Four billion bottles were consumed over the next 30 years and “I’d love a Babycham” and the brand’s Bambi mascot became a staple of every bar and supermarket shelf. Showering successfully floated the company in 1959 and expanded buying amongst others Britvic fruit juices and Harvey’s of Bristol. In 1968, he sold the company at an astonishing price of £108 million to Allied Breweries and though Babycham faded into obscurity in the 1980s, it was relaunched in 1996 along with “Babycham Babe” beauty contests and a range of authorized clothing and apparel.


Twice married, Francis Showering launched a comeback in 1993 with an 8% ABV full-strength perry named Straight 8. Marketed as: “Innocent until proven guilty,” it didn’t quite make the same mark as Babycham but showed the tenacity and enthusiasm of this legend. Showering died in 1995 and in the time since, The House on the Shore has been occupied by his descendants.


The 1950s swimming pool added by Francis Showering at The House on the Shore is a testimony to his occupancy
Whilst the character of the building can be seen in the staircase hall
A bright reception room is illustrative of the quality of the accommodation
Whilst a bedroom enjoys vast ceiling heights and stunning sea views

In the last two years the property has been completely overhauled. Whilst a 1950s kitchen that Mr Showering no doubt experimented in his quest for the perfect drink remains, the house is otherwise ideally decorated for any affluent member of the yachting set. As well as having been re-plumbed and rewired, a vast 38ft by 18ft conservatory has been added and there is even, the agent is keen to point out, “internet access in all the rooms.”


The House on the Shore has been shored up for the future by the Showerings but whoever buys it will have to have pockets as deep as the Solent’s waters. The guide price is £10,000,000.


For more details on The House on the Shore, Thorns Beach, Thorns Lane, Beaulieu, Hampshire, SO42 7XN, contact James Crawford of Knight Frank on +44 (0) 20 7861 1065 or go to:

The Steeple Times
The Steeple Times
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