Family History

Family History

Back in the 1870's John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales had painted a picture of Greenstead Green as village of importance with its 'national school and servants’ training institution' but did you know the area also has strong connections to one of the most important textile families in the country as well as connections to Whitehall and the Government?

The Butler Family

Greenstead Farm is owned and run by Chris and Tania Butler but the family connections with the area run back hundreds of years.

After education at Eton and Cambridge, followed by National Service as a second lieutenant in the Royal Horse Guards, Chris’s father, Sir Richard Butler started farming the family estate near Halstead in the early 1950s.

He joined the NFU during the 1960s and having been deputy to Lord Plumb since 1970, Sir Richard took over the presidency of the NFU in 1979 at a time when income for farmers was on the decline following Britain’s early years of membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) and there was mounting anger from the public over growing food mountains as a result of the open price guarantees that existed.

Sir Richard found himself somewhat between a rock and a hard place, defending both the farmers themselves and the principles of the EEC to the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher who had expressed her view that farmers were ‘pampered and over protected’.

Although often criticised throughout his presidency, Sir Richard worked tirelessly through an extraordinarily turbulent time for farmers to improve relations with the government and Whitehall.

However, this is not the only connection the family has to the Government.

Sir Richard himself was the son of Richard Austin Butler (known more affectionately as RAB Butler), a British Conservative politician who held the posts of Education Minister (1941-45) during which time he was responsible for shaking up the education system with the Education Act 1944, Chancellor of the Exchequer (1951-55), Home Secretary (1957-62), Deputy Prime Minister (1962-63) and Foreign Secretary (1963-64).

His record in office was only second to Sir Winston Churchill’s but despite his considerable cabinet experience, RAB was not chosen as Prime Minister, losing out instead to Macmillan initially and later Douglas-Home.

After his retirement from Parliament, RAB accepted a life peerage and became known as Baron Butler of Saffron Walden.

After a period of working on and running farms both here and abroad, Chris came home in 1982 and with his father busy in the National Farmers' Union, he quickly took on running the whole farm.

So how are the Butler family connected to one of the most influential textile families in the region?

RAB’s first wife was Sydney Courtauld, daughter of world renowned art collector Samuel Courtauld the great nephew of textile magnate [also] Samuel Courtauld. Following Sydney’s death in 1954, he married Mollie Courtauld, the widow of Sydney’s cousin.

The Courtauld Family

The Courtauld textile business was founded in 1794 in Pebmarsh in Essex, Samuel’s father George, together with his cousin Peter Taylor developed the business over the next 20 years. George handed over the reins to Samuel upon his retirement and the company underwent a significant programme of expansion with two further mills at Halstead and Bocking, and innovation - notably into the production of the artificial fibre rayon, which saw the Courtauld textile business adapt to changing tastes and conventions to become one of the leading textile companies in the world.

In 1854 Samuel bought nearby Gosfield Hall and devoted a significant amount of time and money to restore the building and its grounds to a standard suitable for a gentleman of his means. As well as enabling to own this important Grade 1 listed building, Samuel’s success in the textiles industry also paved the way for later family members such as great nephew Samuel to pursue interests in the arts, commerce and philanthropy.

Alongside his role as Chairman of the textile business, RABs father-in-law is best remembered for his passion for art and founded the Courtauld Institute of Art in 1932 to which he bequeathed a large part of his collection upon his death in 1947. The Institute, now a self-governing college of the University of London, is located within Somerset House in the Strand, London.