The Baron Aldenham is a title in the peerage of the United Kingdom, created in 1896 and held thereafter by the Gibbs family, who notably made their fortune in the guano trade.
The House of Gibbs, that made their dibs,
by selling the turds of foreign birds
The Gibbs family are believed to have originated in the county of Devon as there was a family of that name established at Darlington in Devon during the reign of Richard II, who are believed to be the ancestors of the Gibbs of Clyst St George in Devon who first appeared during the reign of Henry VIII. During the eighteenth century there was a George Abraham Gibbs who became a surgeon in Exeter, whose son Antony Gibbs (1756-1815) went into business as a wool merchant, before establishing himself in Madrid exporting English cloth to Spain and importing Spanish fruit and wine back to England. Although this business had its ups and down Antony secured his future by marrying Dorothea Barnetta Hucks who became the heiress of the estate of one Robert Hucks, the owner of estates at both Aldenham in Hertfordshire and Clifton Hampden in Oxfordshire.
However it was Antony's sons, George Henry Gibbs (1785-1842) and William Gibbs (1790-1875), who made the real money by obtaining a monopoly over Peruvian guano during the years 1842 to 1861. Aided by the publication of Guano: its Analysis and Effects; illustrated by the Latest Experiments (London, 1843) which promoted its use as an agricultural fertiliser, at the peak of this trade they were shifting over 200,000 tons a year in Britain alone. Although the Peruvian government eventually cancelled the concession, the partnership of Anthony Gibbs and Sons made enough money to establish itself as a merchant bank in the City, and its successor company was still going strong in 1980 when it was swallowed up by the mighty Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC).
With the death of the elder son George, his younger brother William took over as senior partner and invested some of the profits in acquiring and rebuilding Tyntesfield House near Bristol (now owned by the National Trust) and whose grandson George Abraham Gibbs, later became the Baron Wraxall. William himself passed away in 1875 and was succeeded as senior partner in the firm by his nephew Henry Hucks Gibbs, the son of his older brother George.
It was Henry who was largely responsible for moving the family business into banking, a process greatly helped by the fact that he was a Director of the Bank of England between 1853 and 1901 and Governor of the Bank in the years 1875 to 1877. Reputed to be one of the four richest men in the country, and briefly the Member of Parliament for the City of London in 1891–1892, he was created the Baron Aldenham on the 31st January 1896 at the age of seventy-six, deriving his title from his property at Aldenham House in Hertfordshire. By his marriage to Louisa Anne, the third daughter of William Adams and Mary Anne Cokayne, Henry had four sons; Alban, Walter who died in 1858 at the age of eight, Vicary Gibbs who became perhaps better known as one of the editors of The Complete Peerage and died unmarried on the 13th January 1932, and Herbert Cokayne of whom more later.
Naturally with the 1st Baron's death on the 13th September 1907 the title passed to his eldest son Alban, who had earlier been the Member of Parliament for the City of London between 1892 and 1906. The 2nd Baron died on the 9th May 1936 and was succeeded by his only son Gerald Henry, but he died without issue not long afterwards on the 21st March 1939. The title therefore now passed to the heirs of youngest of the 1st Baron's sons, Herbert Cokayne Gibbs, who had himself been created the Baron Hunsdon on the 24th July 1923, being succeeded at his death on the 23rd May 1935, by his eldest son Walter Durant Gibbs. It was therefore this Walter who also now succeeded his cousin as the 4th Baron Aldenham.
The 4th Baron became the chairman of the family firm of Antony Gibbs and Sons, as well as the Westminster Bank and the Australian Pastoral Company. He died on the 30th May 1969, and since his eldest son Vicary Paul had been killed in action at Nijmegen on the 20th Sept 1944, it was the younger son Antony Durant, who succeeded as the 5th Baron, until his own death in 1986. Antony was followed by his eldest son Vicary Tyser Gibbs, who is the present and 6th Baron Aldenham as well as the 4th Baron Hunsdon of Hunsdon and is therefore styled as the Right Honourable The Lord Aldenham and Hunsdon. He has three sons, the eldest of whom Humphrey William Fell, born 31st January 1989, is the heir apparent to the title.
The family seat at Aldenham House near Elstree in Hertfordshire passed into the hands of Vicary Gibbs after the 1st Baron's death, and when Vicary passed away in 1932 the family decided that the property was too expensive to keep going. It was eventually sold to the BBC who used it as an overseas broadcasting station during World War II, before disposing of it to the Haberdashers' Company in 1959. It has since become the site for the Haberdashers' Aske's School for Boys, who remain in occupation to this day.
THE BARONS ALDENHAM
- The entry for ALDENHAM and HUNSDON OF HUNSDON from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 106th Edition
- For Your Delectation
- 1892-97 - Aldenham House, Elstree
- Five centuries of the Gibbs family