Sunday, 31 August 2008

The Final Years

At some time in the mid 1890s, Russell acquired Creag Mhor at Onich, near Fort William, Invernesshire, a substantial country house, on the North side of the entrance to Loch Leven,. This had originally been built in 1890 for the wife of the Episcopalian Bishop of Argyll. Family photographs show Russell, his family and friends relaxing in the grounds. Creag Mhor is a hotel. It was at Onich that he kept his steam yacht "Madge"

JCR seems to have been a pioneer motorist, as two of the family "snap shots" show a large open car, of a make not identified, perilously balanced on planks on the Ballachulish ferry.

Russell's human side is revealed in the family photographs. In one photograph, his wife Eleanor and daughter Margaret, are shown playing with Rolls, a very large mastiff, next to the summer house at Longdene in the 1900s. Another photograph shows a balding Russell with a moustache but no beard, at the breakfast table of Woodlands the house at Merrow, with Toddles the cat draped round one shoulder. But his real companion seems to have been a short legged mongrel terrier Mr Blackie. He features in several photographs, including one with Russell on his steam yacht, with the caption "The dog who owned his master". Mr Blackie also appears in another family picture with JCR at Onich. and a rather grizzled Mr Blackie is shown lying next to Russell, in his bath chair, in 1911, presumably at Longdene.
From 1900 onwards, Russell was winding down and the family photographs show a bearded and rather impressive looking man enjoying the fruits of his prolific life, with family and friends at Onich, where he spent a considerable amount of his time. During this time, Russell suffered a near fatal illness, and in a codicil to his will he made a number of bequests to the nurses who saw him through this traumatic period of his life.

On the 29th August 1912, Russell died of a stroke at Longdene aged 71. He remained Receiver of the NWNGR until a few months before he died. At the time he was chairman of the Barking Gas Company.

The funeral was a rather grand affair, and was fully reported in the Farnham, Haslemere and Hindhead Herald of September 7, 1912. "The funeral party left Haslemere at half past one, a special coach being attached to the ordinary train and the carriage in which the coffin was conveyed was very tastefully draped with purple hangings..."

A perusal of a contemporary Bradshaw, shows that the train was the 1.28 pm from Petersfield, arriving at Guildford at 1.58pm and going forward to Waterloo.

Many family members were present together with friends and representatives of the people Russell had met through his business dealings and socially as well as the indoor and outdoor staff from Longdene. The coffin was carried by "Mr Russell's own men" including the captain and engineer of his yacht. See later post for full report.

James Cholmeley Russell Oban Times
Russell's Obituary from The Oban Times
Russell is buried in the church yard of St. John the Evangelist, Merrow, next to his mother in law, Catherine Elizabeth Broome.

At probate, Russell's estate was valued at £166,000, which in 2004 terms would be worth in excess of £11 million.

Russell's widow Eleanor, continued to live at Longdene until sometime in 1913. She died in 1932 at the Tower House, Bletchingley, Surrey. The house had previously been owned by Hon Henry Allen Rolls, second son of the 1st Lord Llangattock, and elder brother of the Hon. Charles Rolls of Rolls Royce fame. Rolls died on 26 June 1916 at age 44 at Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex. It's interesting to note that Russell's mastiff at Longdene was called Rolls.

The Tower House Bletchingley
Magdi51 (

According to a Welsh Highland Railway Company return of the time, Eleanor held 965 £1 ordinary Welsh Highland shares. These almost certainly arose from the Russell family holdings in the NWNGR and the exchange of shares when the WHR absorbed that company in 1922. The estate at probate was valued at £7,368. In today's money this would be worth some £300,000. It is not all clear what happened to James Chomeley Russell's wealth in the twenty years following his death. His widow seems to have bequeathed most of her estate to her nieces rather than her daughter Margaret.

Russell’s lasting memorial is of course the locomotive that carries his name. Ironically this was not ordered by the NWNGR, but by Gowrie Aitchison of the PB&SSR who followed Russell as Receiver to the NWNGR, and who, incidentally, also had a locomotive, ‘Gowrie’, named after him. By 1906 there was close liaison between the NWNGR with its ageing locomotives, and the PB&SSR, which had no railway, but plenty of trackbed. So in May 1906, ‘Russell’ was delivered from Hunslet's to the NWNGR at Dinas.

I wrote the original article on JCR with the research help of Dewi Thomas in 1996. It was published in the FR Heritage Journal of Winter 1996/97. At the end of 2003, prompted by the researches of Michael Bishop and the late John Keylock, I re-opened my files and through a piece of serendipity finally managed to track down the surviving granddaughter of JCR, Evelyn Pangman, who now lives in Canada. We are indebted to her for the loan of the family photographs of JCR. Thanks must also go to David Allan who has done a magnificent job of copying the late (1926-2016) Evelyn Pangman's photographs including the wonderful hand coloured vignette reproduced on the front page of the last WHRH Journal.

Together with these photographs, Evelyn's family anecdotes, the efforts of Michael Bishop in the National Archives and elsewhere and the encouragement and contributions of John Keylock, we have for the first time a more rounded view of Russell the man and his business dealings. Quite why and how Russell ever became involved with a slightly obscure Welsh railway may never be known, but he was clearly a man of some business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit. His legacy continues nearly 100 years after his death. The story is of course not yet complete and subsequent posts will cover some of the detail of his life.

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