Lady Lucy Houston DBE (Hardback)
Aviation Champion and Mother of the Spitfire
Considered for Radio Two's Autumn Book Club!
'A marvellous story about a beautiful, brilliant and remarkable woman' - as reviewed by Jilly Cooper
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The life-story of Lady Lucy Houston DBE must surely be one of the most romantic and dramatic epics of the last one hundred and fifty years, yet nowadays she is a woman unknown. She was a renowned beauty with a sharp intelligence, and over the years she would exploit her charismatic charm, first as a teenager to entice a wealthy lover, and subsequently to lead three husbands to the altar.
She was an ardent and productive campaigner for women’s rights, conducting outstanding works of charity during the Great War, such as providing a convalescent home for nurses returning from the front line. In recognition of these endeavours, she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1917. After the death of her third husband, a known misogynist, ‘under mysterious circumstances’, she was temporarily certified mad, but his Will was to make her the richest woman in England.
During the rest of her eventful and eccentric lifetime, she spent her fortune on a vast number of charitable causes, whilst waging a feisty political campaign against weak British politicians of all parties. As a great admirer of how Mussolini had restored Italy’s patriotic self-esteem, she championed men like Winston Churchill as the future saviour of her own beloved country. But her greatest legacy arose from her steadfast support for the Royal Air Force, whose finances were being crippled. She funded the 1931 Schneider Trophy Race as well as the Houston-Mount Everest Expedition of 1933. This funding had a crucial bearing on the development of the Merlin engine and the Spitfire aircraft, essentially kick starting the chain of events that would ultimately end in allied victory during the Battle of Britain. She died before the cataclysmic war that she so accurately predicted however, her death being precipitated by an infatuation with Edward, Prince of Wales.
In spite of her many eccentricities, the enchanting, infuriating, inspiring and endlessly controversial Lucy Houston deserves to be remembered as a very patriotic lady indeed.
The book is suitably illustrated, with all illustrations listed at the beginning of the book. Several Appendices offer background on Houston’s racehorses, the settlement of her estate, dates of British politicians, and a most useful table outlining “The Relative Value of Money.” Chapter Notes, Bibliography and a good Index round out a gem of a book.SpeedReaders
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It’s well written, entertaining and chronicles the life of a woman who was beautiful, fabulously wealthy, hugely eccentric and generous to a fault.ARRSE
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A fascinating account of the life of someone who would have made all the front pages in the tabloids had they been around at the time, and yet, at the present time, she remains largely forgotten. Biography buffs will find this parfticularly interesting.Books Monthly, November 2016– reviewed by Paul Norman
The author has undertaken extensive research on his subject and has produced a well-written and very readable biography of a remarkable woman.NZ Crown Mines
A marvellous story about a beautiful, brilliant and remarkable woman.Jilly Cooper
Most of us have heard the name of Lady Houston, usually mentioned in conjunction with the development of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. But little is known about her, apart from the fact that she donated a large amount of money.Robert Kingsley
"Mother of the Spitfire" is a reference that goes back to the troubled late 1920's. The leading edge aviation technologies of those days were tested during the bi-annual Schneider Cup races of which. Macnair gives a well researched historical summary. After winning the trophy in 1929, the RAF had set up its own "High Speed Flight" that flew racers designed by Vickers - Supermarine's R.J. Mitchell. He describes in fine detail the quandary in which the RAF found itself after the socialist government announced its decision not to fund the British entry into the 1931 (and final) competition. Lady Houston, enraged by what she perceived as political short-sightedness, stepped in and donated 100.000 Pounds.
It is hard to overestimate the decisive influence of her gift on Britain's aviation industry. The Rolls Royce "R" engine that powered the winning Supermarine S6 was developed into the iconic Rolls Royce Merlin. And the availability of this engine allowed the development of the Spitfire and Hurricane, with which the Battle of Britain was fought. It also powered the Lancaster, Mosquito and a host of other great airplanes.
The book gives other examples of Lady Houston's air mindedness. She financed the expedition that made the first flights over Mount Everest and, having experienced Zeppelin air raids during WW1, offered to provide sufficient funds for the formation of fighter squadrons to defend London (only to be rebuffed by the government).
Miles Macnair's book describes her life in excellent detail. Her background, her road to wealth and her unique character traits that not only made her a favourite in society circles but also a confidante of statesmen and politicians. A staunch patriot and a women with an uncanny business instinct. A fine friend but also a passionate foe - as socialist prime-minister Ramsay Macdonald found out.
Lady Lucy Houston died on December 29, 1936 and never saw the result of her donation taking to the skies and defend her beloved London.
I recommend this book to readers of modern history and of course to aviation enthusiasts.
The beautifully researched story of an extraordinary woman. Lady Houston may never have recorded a minor hit pop song and may never have taken her clothes off on television which is surely why she's not a "celebrity" but she lived a life and left a legacy, the likes of which we may never see again. The author has dug deep into a poorly recorded life and has succeeded in comping, along with a wonderful evocation of the age she lived in, a cohesive and compelling biography. There is barely a page from which one does not learn something one did not know but is now pleased that one does. Macnair lets Lucy rise from the ashes like a PhoenixAmazon reviewer
This is an extraordinary story of a great patriot and philanthropist who has, until now, escaped the attention of historians. Her reach and generosity are amazing, although perhaps of the time she lived in and the society in which she grew. An outstanding story of an outstanding woman, Highly Recommended.Firetrench
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