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It was trombonist Jack Free who first told us about the Marquess of Donegall. Jack wrote: ‘In 1956, we played at a private party for Lord and Lady Donegall, and the guests of honour were the great Louis Armstrong and Mezz Mezzrow ... Lord and Lady Donegall had a club along the Embankment in London, a big house with a great tapestry on the wall – reminded you of the Bayoux Tapestry. It was really a jazz club for debutantes, but all the major visiting musicians played there – they would say “Let’s go down the Lords”, as if it were the cricket ground! Judy Garland, Sophie Tucker, Louis Armstrong, George Lewis – they all played there.’
Jack tells us that the Donegall's club was called Crosby Hall on the corner of Chelsea Embankment and Danvers Street. 'Lord Donegall's first wife ran off to the USA, and eventually married F Scott Fitzgerald,’ Jack recalls. ‘His second wife who we knew as Jean, was a very nice Lady and very interested in Jazz. She came from the Coombe family (as in Watney, Coombe & Reid, the Brewers).’
Of this photograph Jack says: 'This is the band with Lord and Lady Donegall. Lord Donagall is the chap in the white jacket, Lady Donegall is behind him. Harry Walton is behind Lady Donegall on her right shoulder, next to him is drummer Frank Thompson. The chap in glasses is trumpeter Johnny Rowdon. That's me with the trombone and Colin Thompson, a wonderful clarinet player.'
Photograph © Jack Free
‘I remember one night our bass player never turned up, and Harry Walton, the bandleader asked me if I would take Lady Donegall to Mac`s rehearsal rooms in Soho to find someone to deputise. When we got there I dropped her off, as I couldn't find a parking space. I said to her: "You go down and see if you can find a dep and I will keep circling around and pick you up here on the corner." Anyway, after some time I saw her on the corner and picked her up. She had managed to get a bass player, but she said she had been accosted twice while waiting for me. She said: "I don't know whether I should be outraged or flattered." On another occasion, I bought a new trombone and at the end of the evening I found £20 in my case. She had given it to me towards my trombone! Fifty odd years ago that was quite a lot of money.’
‘On another occasion, they sponsored us to go to Zurich, Switzerland to represent Britain at an International Jazz Festival. It was a terrific experience as there were bands there from all over Europe. We did a broadcast with Switzerland's top trumpet player, his name was Hazy Osterwald (I hope I have spelt that right). He was their Kenny Baker. All in all, they were happy days. Unfortunately, I think I am the only one left out of that band’
Harry Walton's band at the Zurich Festival
Photograph © Jack Free
So who was Lord Donegall?
There have, of course, been several Earls of Donegal over the years. There has even been a ship named the Earl of Donegal that sailed from Ireland to Charleston, South Carolina in 1767
The Marquess of Donegall is a title in the Peerage of Ireland held by the head of the Chichester family who originally came from Devon in England. Sir John Chichester was a Member of Parliament and High Sheriff of Devon in 1557. One of his sons, Sir Arthur Chichester, was Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1604 to 1615 and in 1613, he was made an Irish Peer becoming Baron Chichester of Belfast in the County of Antrim. He died childless in 1625 and the barony became extinct, but the Chichester title was revived and his younger brother, Edward, became Baron Chichester, of Belfast in the County of Antrim, and Viscount Chichester, of Carrickfergus in the County of Antrim. Both titles are in the Peerage of Ireland.
The Donegall Coat of Arms
Edward was succeeded by his eldest son, the second Viscount. A distinguished soldier, he was created Earl of Donegall in the Peerage of Ireland in 1647 (one year before he succeeded his father), and the family’s male heirs then inherited the title. The title is now held by the eighth Marquess of Donegal who succeeded in 2007.
The spelling of Donegall varies being shown at times with one or two ‘L’s. The county of Donegal in Ireland is now spelt with one ‘L’. Named after the town of Donegal, it is the largest county in Ulster. The county has a long and complicated but interesting history. Originally known as County Tirconaill (in various spellings), it is best known for being the home of the great Clann Dálaigh, better known in English as the O’Donell Clan based at Donegal castle.
After defeat at the Battle of Kinsale, Lord Tyrconaill’s elder brother and predecessor, had been forced into exile by the English government of Ireland. Although the family retained their lands and titles, it was with diminished extent and authority. The land had been laid bare and famine had come in 1603. It was alleged that Tyrconnaill had been assassinated in Spain in1602, so his brother succeeded him and King James I granted him the title of Earl of Tyrconnell.
Are you keeping up with this?
This is where the Chichester family enters the story. In 1605, Sir Arthur Chichester, the new Lord Deputy of Ireland began to encroach on the former freedoms of the Earls in an attempt to reduce their authority. Fearing arrest, they chose to high tail it to the Continent, where they hoped to recruit an army for the invasion of Ireland with the help of the Spanish. Two Earls set sail from Rathmullan a village on the shore of Lough Swilly in County Donegal together with ninety followers. They finally reached the Continent on the 4th October 1607, landing in France and heading overland to Flanders and then Italy. The plan was that they would return to Ireland and campaign for the recovery of their lands with the support of Spain, but wouldn't you know it, both Earls died in exile. So King James issued a Proclamation in 1607 describing the action of the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell as treasonous, preparing the ground for the eventual forfeiture of their lands and titles.
The ‘Plantation’ (colonisation) of Ulster by wealthy landowners from England and Scotland had started in 1606, and came under the control of King James in 1609. County Donegal was also one of the worst affected parts of Ulster during the Great Famine of the late 1840s in Ireland and many people emigrated from the county to Scotland.
The focus of our interest is Edward Chichester, the sixth Earl of Donegal.
Edward Arthur Donald St George Hamilton Chichester, 6th Marquess of Donegall was born on the 7th October 1903. His other titles included those of Viscount Chichester and Baron of Belfast, Earl of Donegall, Earl of Belfast, and Baron Fisherwick. He was also the Hereditary Lord High Admiral of Lough Neagh. He possibly had to have a large sheet of headed notepaper.
Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford he took up a career in journalism. He wrote a regular column for the Sunday Dispatch, made regular contributions to the Sunday News and Sunday Graphic, and held a staff position on the Daily Sketch. With an interest in aviation, he owned his own aircraft and used it to get to places to cover news stories. He covered the Spanish CivilWar and was a distinguished war correspondent during the Second World War.
In 1949 he became a disc jockey with the BBC and in 1956 started up a Dixieland band and a jazz club in Kensington. He was also the owner of a record company. He told friends and acquaintances not to stand on ceremony but to call him ‘Don’. He died on 24th May 1975. Although he was working on his autobiography at the time, it never reached publication.
‘Call me Don’ resulted in his being called ‘The Don’ by some. Writing in his book A History of Jazz In Britain 1950-1970, Jim Godbolt describes him as ‘ ..a bumbling although rather engaging character … an aristocrat in the Edwardian mould who, in his fashion, had been a lifelong jazz fan, despite the fact that his knowledge was very limited’. Jim claims that the Marquess owned every record by clarinettist Ted Lewis and considered Sid Phillips to be the greatest British clarinettist.
Jim writes that one bandleader described the Marquess as a ‘derelict Irish peer’ but goes on to point out that he ‘… had been instrumental in bringing the Original Dixieland Jazz Band to play before King George V and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace, lending a certain cachet to those young men from New Orleans playing that outlandish music, and he had also helped bring about the appearance of traditional bands before HRH Princess Elizabeth at the Royal Festival Hall in July 1951.’
He has not been a significant figure in the commonly known history of jazz in Britain, but perhaps Edward, Marquess of Donegall, ‘The Lord’, ‘The Earl’, ‘The Don’, should be credited a little more for using his interest, influence and position to bring important jazz musicians to the UK and to ‘spread the word’.
Marcus Thompson writes: 'It was great to find some pictures of my father on your site today. Sadly, my father died in 1985 having suffered from MS for many years. I still have a few records he made in the 1950s, mainly studio demos, but also an album made with Harry Walton called Dreamboat. My mother (still alive and kicking) remembers fondly the club mentioned in the story told by Jack Free on your page.
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