History of the House / 1930 to 1945 - Sir John Lumsden

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See also: The Lumsden years | Wedding of daughter Margery 1933 | Grand-daughter Margery Stratton - 1935-6 | Articles in books

Earlscliffe Residents 1930 to 1945

After Dr Ella Webb moved out, the next person into Earlscliffe was Ella's colleague in the St. John Ambulance Brigade, Dr John Lumsden.

Sir John Lumsden

Family History

Lumsden Family Tree
Lumsden family tree

Sir John Lumsden. Picture courtesy of Michael Radcliffe, 3rd son of Margery Radcliffe née Lumsden. [Colourised using palette.fm]

John Lumsden was born in Drogheda on 14th Nov 1869.

His father was John Alexander Lumsden, a bank manager who had come to Ireland from Scotland via India to work in a bank in Armagh. His father later moved down to Dublin in 1867 to work for the Provincial Banks [1] and married Florence Isabella Gordon McKean on the 7th Jan 1869 in Kilkenny.

John's father was a keen golfer and John worked with his father and his brother, Hubert, in setting up a rough and ready golf course in 1885 west of the Phoenix Cricket Club. This became Ireland's second oldest golf club, the Dublin Golf Club, which later became the Royal Dublin Golf Club in 1891. [2]

Education and marriage

John Lumsden was educated in Dublin and Taunton. He received his M.B. in 1894 qualifying him as a medical doctor. and his M.D. degree in 1895.

On the 17th March 1896 he married Caroline Frances Kingscote, a daughter of Major Fitzhardinge Kingscote, of Galway. [3] [4]

Medical Officer at Guinness

The Guinness brewery stood as a prominent employer in Dublin, boasting a workforce of approximately 5,000 by 1900. Beyond their brewing legacy, the Guinness family upheld a cherished tradition of noblesse oblige and philanthropy. This tradition extended wholeheartedly to the well-being of their workers.

Remarkably progressive for their time, the Guinness family pioneered several employee benefits that set a compassionate standard. Among their pioneering practices was the provision of pensions, not only for their dedicated staff but also for the widows left behind. Such foresight in caring for their employees' future needs was ahead of its time and marked the Guinness brewery as a paragon of employee care.

Moreover, the family ensured that their workers received support during illness through a well-structured sick pay program. Additionally, in a commendable display of consideration for their employees' families, the Guinness brewery prioritised relatives when filling job vacancies, promoting a sense of stability and continuity within their workforce.

Education held a special place in their hearts, as the Guinness family recognised the importance of nurturing young minds. To encourage attendance and foster a brighter future, they generously offered free dinners for their workers' children once a week. This thoughtful gesture not only alleviated the financial burden on families but also emphasised the significance of education within the community.[5]

As part of their sincere concern for the welfare of their workers, Guinness took a significant step in 1870 by establishing a medical dispensary. This facility was dedicated to providing complimentary doctor's consultations and medicines to both employees and their families, underscoring their commitment to the broader well-being of their workforce.

In 1894, Dr. John Lumsden, a young and talented physician, assumed the position of assistant medical officer at the Guinness brewery in Dublin when he was just twenty-five years old. Within a remarkably short span of five years, he ascended to the esteemed position of Chief Medical Officer and, in doing so, initiated a transformative phase of expansion and enhancement for the medical department.

Upon his appointment, Lumsden recognized the necessity of augmenting the medical staff to cater to the growing needs of the workers and their families. He eloquently conveyed to the brewery authorities the requirement for an additional assistant physician and advocated for the appointment of a second apothecary, particularly essential for ensuring comprehensive care. Demonstrating his foresight and compassion, Lumsden insisted on an attendant specifically for the women's waiting room, considering the well-being of the workers' families even though there were no female employees at Guinness at that time.

Lumsden further emphasized the importance of providing efficient and timely services by requesting the allocation of a full-time porter for the men's section and a boy messenger. His reasoning was grounded in the belief that these roles were absolutely necessary to ensure swift and effective healthcare delivery.[6]

All of the roles were approved and Lumsden went on to further extend the functions of the department by getting a new dispensary in 1907, a dental department in 1915 and a physiotherapy clinic in 1917. [6]

Living conditions in Dublin in 1900

In his unwavering dedication to the employees' well-being, Lumsden staunchly advocated for preventative medicine, firmly believing in its effectiveness. Recognizing the pressing health challenges faced by the workers, he astutely identified that many of these issues stemmed from their living conditions. Indeed, a significant number of the workforce resided in deplorable slums and overcrowded tenements in the heart of Dublin's inner city.[7]

Over the course of the previous century, these living conditions had steadily deteriorated due to two major contributing factors: the Acts of Union and the Great Famine, both which left a profound impact on the living standards of the working population, exacerbating their health struggles.

The Acts of Union

In 1798, Ireland witnessed a significant rebellion against British rule, which resulted in a brutal suppression by government militia, yeomanry forces, and units of the British Army. The repercussions of this rebellion were far-reaching, leading to the enactment of the Acts of Union in August 1800. These acts effectively stripped Ireland of its parliament and centralised all governmental activities in London.

The consequences of this political shift were particularly devastating for Dublin, which had previously enjoyed a period of prosperity. The departure of the well-paid aristocracy and Members of Parliament from their grand Georgian Houses in Dublin left behind a vacant real estate market that was unaffordable to the few Irish locals that had any money. As a result, many of these once-elegant houses were transformed into overcrowded tenements, accommodating multiple impoverished families. This unfortunate transformation of Dublin into a city plagued by housing shortages and dire living conditions had severe consequences, including an alarmingly high infant mortality rate, surpassing even that of Calcutta at the time.

For instance, a specific house, 5 South Earl Street, serves as a poignant example of this plight. By the year 1900, this single residence had been subdivided to house eleven families, totalling fifty-one individuals. The inhabitants were forced to share a single toilet and a solitary water tap located in the back yard, highlighting the stark realities of their living conditions.

The Great Famine

After the devastating Great Irish Famine, a significant number of individuals sought sustenance and employment by migrating from impoverished rural regions of Ireland to urban areas, particularly Dublin. The consequences of this migration, coupled with the repercussions of the Acts of Union, resulted in a challenging living situation for many migrants, who found themselves residing in overcrowded and unsanitary tenements. In fact, it is estimated that around the close of the 19th century, at least 40 percent of Dublin's population lived either at or below the poverty line in single rooms. [7] [9]

The dire circumstances of poverty and the cramped, unsanitary living conditions gave rise to widespread health issues. Astonishingly, by 1881, Dublin had earned the unfortunate distinction of having the highest death rate in all of Europe. The combination of poverty, overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions created an environment rife with disease, posing immense challenges for the residents of Dublin during that time. [10]

Lumsden's survey of housing

During the late 19th century, Dr. Lumsden recognised a distressing prevalence of tuberculosis among employees of Guinness, attributing the issue to overcrowded living conditions. Realising the urgency of the situation, he approached the Guinness board in 1900 and successfully gained approval to dedicate two months inspecting the residences of each Guinness employee. His aim was twofold: to ensure that they resided in suitable housing and to identify potential measures for preventing and treating the disease.

Commencing on November 17, 1900, Dr. Lumsden embarked on a comprehensive mission, personally visiting a remarkable total of 1,752 homes. These visits allowed him to directly observe and assess the living conditions. Subsequently, he systematically categorised the dwellings based on two primary criteria: the level of sanitation (categorised as Adequate, Fair, or Defective) and the overall appearance (classified as Satisfactory, Overcrowded, and/or Very Dirty).  

Overall, he condemned 35.5% of all dwellings as unfit for human habitation and said that the factors that contributed to these squalid, miserable and unhealthy homes were:

Dirty personal habits, bad management, alcoholism, the existence of a great number of old tenement houses in the neighbourhood of the brewery, occupied by employees.

-Dr John Lumsden, 1900 [7]

He then went on to explain his view on the reason for these factors, especially the alcoholism, for which he stated:

For my part, I have always sympathised with the working man in his social surroundings; he has few opportunities of relaxation or enjoyment outside of the club or public house.

-Dr John Lumsden, 1900 [7]

He observed that the local Irish traditions were exacerbating the already overcrowded living conditions. A notable example was the practice of holding wakes in the family room for several days when someone passed away, even if the cause of death was tuberculosis or any other infectious illness. During these wakes, the family had to bear the expenses of providing food, beer, and tobacco to the visiting guests, which inadvertently increased the risk of spreading diseases among different families. Furthermore, due to the lack of space, it was common for someone to sleep in the same unmade bed where the deceased had lain, immediately after the body was removed for the funeral.

In addition to these challenges, there was a societal expectation for the family to showcase their respectability during the funeral, regardless of their financial hardship. This meant that even the poorest families had to acquire a four-horse hearse, often relying heavily on borrowed money from moneylenders to afford the expenses. This display was intended to signal their respectable standing within the community.

Despite his critical observations, Lumsden's assessment was not entirely negative. He also commended and recognised the dwellings and families that maintained good conditions. In fact, he went as far as presenting certificates of merit to the best examples of such households, acknowledging their efforts and achievements.  

Lumsden's action plan

Lumsden's inspections had a consistently positive impact on the workers, serving as a clear demonstration of the company's genuine concern for their well-being. As a result, many employees were motivated to take action to improve their living conditions. Some relocated to better dwellings, while others made efforts to enhance hygiene standards and adopt healthier sanitary habits.

To ensure continuous improvement in the future, Lumsden presented six valuable suggestions to the Guinness board of directors. These recommendations aimed to address various aspects related to employee well-being and housing conditions. They were as follows:

  1. Appointment of a dedicated dwelling inspector: Lumsden proposed the establishment of a position responsible for inspecting and monitoring the condition of employee residences. This would help identify areas for improvement and ensure ongoing oversight.
  2. Withholding allowances for employees in condemned dwellings: To incentivise employees to maintain suitable living conditions, Lumsden suggested that sick pay or other allowances should be withheld from those who continued to reside in dwellings deemed unfit by the company. This approach aimed to encourage employees to prioritise their living conditions.
  3. Creation of a register of suitable lodgings: Lumsden recommended the maintenance of a register containing information about appropriate and well-maintained lodgings available to Guinness employees. This register would assist workers in finding suitable housing options.
  4. Discouraging employees from residing in old tenement houses: Recognising the potential health and safety risks associated with old tenement houses, Lumsden proposed efforts to dissuade employees from choosing such accommodations. By raising awareness about the potential hazards and offering alternative options, the company could help employees make more informed choices.
  5. Establishing cooking classes for Guinness employees' wives and women: Lumsden recognized the importance of proper nutrition for families and suggested the establishment of cooking classes specifically tailored to the needs of the wives and women associated with Guinness employees. This initiative aimed to enhance their culinary skills and promote healthier meal preparation.
  6. Introduction of annual certificates of merit for exemplary houses: To encourage employees to maintain high standards of housekeeping, Lumsden proposed the implementation of a system where annual certificates of merit would be awarded to houses that demonstrated exemplary cleanliness and upkeep. This recognition would foster a sense of pride and motivate employees to maintain their homes in a commendable manner.

As a result of Lumsden's recommendations, several positive initiatives were implemented. For example, he distributed informative leaflets to nursing mothers, emphasizing the significance of proper nourishment for babies and children. Additionally, Lumsden advocated for preventive medicine by encouraging outdoor sports and exercise, leading to the establishment of the first Guinness sports club. These initiatives contributed to the overall well-being and health of the workforce. [7]  

St. John Ambulance Brigade

Dr Lumsden had a number of additional roles in his early years, such as senior visiting physician on the staff of Mercer's Hospital in Dublin and in 1902 was the Principal Medical Officer to the Commissioners of Irish Lights. [3] [11]

However, one additional change he made in his work as Chief Medical Officer at the Guinness Brewery proved a turning point for Dr Lumsden, for Guinness, and for helping and saving many lives in the future.

In his post as Medical Officer, Dr Lumsden was asked to provide first-aid classes for employees at the Guinness Brewery at St. James's Gate. The classes became so popular that they later became the first registered division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade of Ireland, which Dr Lumsden founded in 1903 and became the first Commissioner. He remained Commissioner until his death.[10]

The Brigade was involved with many major events in Irish history, including treating casualties from the clashes during the General Strike of 1913 (sometimes referred to as the Dublin Lockout). However, the Brigade became prominent in Dublin during the Easter Rising of 1916. [12] [3]

Easter Rising

Dr John Lumsden in hs St. John Ambulance uniform
Dr John Lumsden in his St. John Ambulance uniform

The Brigade's remarkable actions during the Easter Rising of 1916 earned them the utmost respect from all segments of the community. Notably, they demonstrated unparalleled compassion and commitment by providing aid to casualties on both sides of the conflict while simultaneously caring for evacuees and offering them sustenance. Amidst the intense street battles in Dublin, Dr. Lumsden emerged as a familiar and heroic figure. Fearlessly, he would rush out into the midst of danger, carrying a white flag and his medical kit, attending to the wounded on both sides, irrespective of allegiance. 12] [3]

A particularly significant incident occurred on Wednesday of that fateful week, near the City of Dublin Hospital on Baggot Street, where a fierce confrontation unfolded between British and Republican troops. The situation had deteriorated to such an extent that ambulance personnel were explicitly instructed to avoid the area. However, Dr. Lumsden's unwavering dedication and concern for the injured compelled him to act. Disregarding the grave risks, he ventured into the danger zone alone, dedicating several hours to tending to the wounded, alleviating their suffering, and providing them with essential medical attention.  [3]

Another exceptional individual who played an instrumental role during the Easter Rising was Dr. Ella Webb, a member of the St. John Ambulance Brigade of Ireland since 1914. Dr. Webb actively collaborated with Dr. Lumsden during this tumultuous period. She played a pivotal role in establishing an emergency hospital at the Brigade's headquarters located at 14 Merrion Square. Despite the perilous conditions, she displayed unwavering dedication, cycling daily through the firing line to visit the hospital, ensuring the wounded received the necessary care and support.  [13] (See also Dr Ella Webbs's 1916 diary).

Together, Dr. Lumsden and Dr. Webb exemplified the epitome of selflessness and bravery in the face of adversity. Their tireless efforts to provide medical assistance to all, regardless of their affiliation, helped alleviate the suffering and fostered a sense of unity during a time of intense conflict. Their unwavering commitment to their duty and compassion for their fellow human beings left an indelible mark on the community and serves as a testament to the extraordinary heroism displayed during the Easter Rising of 1916.  

First World War

During the first world war, hundreds of wounded were shipped over to Ireland. Within two days of the outbreak of hostilities, Dr Lumsden had 70 of the men who had trained in the St. John Ambulance brigade reporting to the Royal Naval Sick Berth at Chatham. Three months into the war, he also got the brigade to set up three auxiliary hospitals (at Temple Hill Blackrock, Monkstown and Mountjoy Square) to cope with the wounded that came in on hospital ships at Dun Laoghaire and Cork. [3]

In 1917 and 1918 Dr Lumsden was a Major in the Royal Army Medical Corps.[3]

For these acts and his formation of the St. John Ambulance Brigade of Ireland Dr John Lumsden was knighted for each by King George V and became Sir John Lumsden KBE. [7] At the same time Dr Ella Webb was awarded an MBE. [14]

Blood donors

Sir John Lumsden also encouraged Brigade members to be blood donors and advertised in the Irish national papers [15] for people to register in order to set up an 'on call' blood donor panel to serve hospitals in the Dublin area. The Dublin Blood Transfusion Service later became the National Blood Transfusion Association in 1948 but owes its origin to the Brigade and more especially to Sir John Lumsden.[16] [17]

In 1923, after the establishment of the Irish Free State, Sir John along with Dr Ella Webb wrote to the President of the Council of the Irish Free State to start the process of breaking away from the control of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of the St John of Jerusalem. [18] This led to the Brigade becoming an Associated Body and completely independent from the English based St. John Ambulance [19] and further led to the formation of the Irish Red Cross Society in 1939. [20] Sir John was one of the first members of the Irish Red Cross Society.

Move to Earlscliffe

Earlscliffe House around 1930, surrounded by fields
Earlscliffe House around 1930, surrounded by fields

In 1930, at the age of 61, Sir John bought Earlscliffe from the sister of his good friend and colleague Dr Ella Webb. At that period, the house was mostly surrounded by fields. See "Earlscliffe in the time of Sir John Lumsden" for further information about life at Earlscliffe in the 1930s, with some great early photographs of the garden and some wonderful living memories from one of Sir John Lumsden's grand daughters, Margery Stratton.

The Lumsden's had five daughters and a son.

In 1933, his daughter, Margery was married in Howth and had her reception at Earlscliffe. See the wedding photos here.

The picture of Sir John Lumsden above is courtesy of Michael Radcliffe, 3rd son of Margery née Lumsden, whose wedding photos are linked above. In the photograph Sir John is wearing a rose bud in his lapel. Michael informed us that Sir John adored roses and never went to work in the morning without first walking around the Earlscliffe garden to select a rose bud to put in his lapel. Michael also recalled that David Robinson explained to him some years ago that roses were the first plants that David took out when he moved into Earlscliffe in 1969 as, according to David, they were too prone to disease and required too much maintenance!

However, the current owners can confirm that this was only partially true. David Robinson was looking to focus on growing tender plants at Earlscliffe, and to manage the garden in "his spare time". Therefore, managing roses would have required too much of his precious time. Also, despite the impression that he must have given, David did leave many roses in the garden. In fact, there are some that grow against the sea facing side of Earlscliffe that the current owners reckon were possibly around from Sir John's time!

Sir John lived for many years at Earlscliffe, refusing to retire and still commuting into Dublin to work. He and Lady Lumsden would often jin with other houses in the area and open the Earlscliffe gardens to the public to raise money for charity. For instance, Earlscliffe gardens were opened on July 25th 1936 for the Jubilee Nurses' Pension Fund. The notice stated:

Jubilee Nurses' Pension Fund. To-day (Saturday)-Dublin (2 to 6 p.m.)...Lady Lumsden, Earlscliffe, Baily (entrance to Garden 1s., which includes Tea.)

-Irish Times, 25th July 1936 [21]

John was an avid collector of budgerigars and had an aviary outside Earlscliffe. He won many competitions with his collection.

Although in his sixties when he moved to Earlscliffe, Sir John never really retired. According to the book "Guinness 1886-1939. From Incorporation to the Second World War", he did not officially retire until 1944. [23]

Sadly, on the 3rd September 1944 Sir John passed away. His funeral was attended by over a thousand people. [24]

His wife, Lady Caroline Frances Lumsden, eventually moved to a house near Sutton Train Station, selling Earlscliffe to William Martin Murphy and his wife Norah on the 25th September 1945. [4]

Lady Caroline died five years later in 1950 [25]

Further information

• The Lumsden years •
• Wedding of daughter Margery 1933 •
• Grand-daughter Margery Stratton - 1935-6 •
• Articles in books • 

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List of Earlscliffe Residents

1844 to 1864 - Cornelius Egan
1864 to 1878 - Bunbury McClintock
1878 to 1896 - The Knox family
1896 to 1901 - John Randal Plunkett
1901 to 1922 - John Pentland Mahaffy
1922 to 1924 - CT Ovenden
1924 to 1927 - Robert Rooney
1927 to 1930 - Dr Ella Webb
1930 to 1945 - Sir John Lumsden
1945 to 1949 - William Martin Murphy
1949 to 1950 - Lily Margaret Graham Gough
1950 to 1952 - Stanley-Clarke
1952 to 1961 - Woods
1961 to 1969 - Knowles
1969 to today - Robinson & Foley family 

Disclaimer. Parts of the data found in these history pages are derived from sources currently available on the internet. In researching the previous owners of Earlscliffe, certain assumptions have been made as to the validity and accuracy of this internet data. If you believe that some of this data is inaccurate or should not be published on this website, please contact .


  • [1] Sport supplement; Golfing Log By Dermot Gilleece, the Irish Times, 7 December 1996
  • [2] "The Royal Dublin Golf Club website". See also http://www.theroyaldublingolfclub.com/history-and-tradition/timeline seen 2nd Oct 2021.
  • [3] Irish Times obituary, September 4, 1944
  • [4] Title deeds and other legal documents that are currently in the possession of Karen Foley
  • [5] Taken from Guinness® History of Philanthropy | Guinness® seen 2nd Oct 2021
  • [6] From "Guinness 1886-1939: From Incorporation to the Second World War" by S. R. Dennison and Oliver MacDonagh ISBN:  1859181759
  • [7] As discussed in "The Goodness Of Guinness" by Tony Corcoran, published in 2005 by Liberties Press ISBN 0-9545335. See The Goodness of Guinness and also see 'Knighthood for Dr John Lumsden', Weekly Irish Times, 8th June 1918, page 2.
  • [8] From the national Archives: Household Schedule of Returns, South Earl Street, 1901, as discussed in in "The Goodness Of Guinness" by Tony Corcoran, published in 2005 by Liberties Press ISBN 0-9545335. See The Goodness of Guinness
  • [9] Sir Charles Cameron, Chief Medical Officer of Dublin Corporation, "Reminiscences of Sir Charles Cameron, CB", Hodges & Figgis, 1913. See https://www.irishfamilyhistorycentre.com/store/358
  • [10] See also St John Ambulance Ireland
  • [11] As mentioned in “Lumsden, Sir John", by Cathy Hayes, Dictionary of Irish Biography,  https://www.dib.ie/biography/lumsden-sir-john-a4917
  • [12] Margery L. Stratton "Remembrances of a young American Girl", a document sent by Margery to David Foley and partly reproduced on this website
  • [13] Irish Times report, described in the book “A ‘Peculiar’ Place: The Adelaide Hospital, Dublin 1839-1989”, David Mitchell, 1990, Blackwater Press, ISBN 0 905471 16 4
  • [14] See the entry in http://www.thepeerage.com/p19226.htm#i192260
  • [15] In an article in the Irish Independent, July 13, 1939, page 7 "Call for more transfusion", Sir John Lumsden talked about the importance of being a blood donor at an annual ceremony for the Dublin Blood Transfusion Service where he gave out badges to donors. It was interesting that in an article the previous year (Irish Independent, August 26, 1938 page 10), it was stated that many of the donors came from the unemployed "and the vast majority from working people". The president of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (R.C.S.I), William Doolin, thought that this was unfair as these people had "burdens enough on their shoulders as it was". He was seeking more donors from the "more leisured and well-to-do classes".
  • [16] As discussed in St John Ambulance Ireland
  • [17] The links to the St. John Ambulance Brigade in Ireland can be found in the web pages of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service here: History of Blood Transfusion
  • [18] The National Archives of Ireland
  • [19] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._John_Ambulance_Brigade_of_Ireland 
  • [20] Irish Statute Book, No. 206/1939, Irish Red Cross Society Order, 1939, see http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1939/en/si/0206.html
  • [21] 'Court and Personal', Irish Times, 25th July 1936, page 8
  • [22] An article in the Irish Independent, November 16, 1939, page 7, describes the annual show of the Yorkshire Canary and Cage-bird Society of Ireland which was held in the Gregg Hall, Dawson Street, Dublin and was opened by Sir John, who was the president of the society. He also won three prizes for his blue, cobalt and white budgerigars.
  • [23] "Guinness 1886-1939. From Incorporation to the Second World War", S.R. Dennison and Oliver MacDonagh, Cork University Press, ISBN-10: 1859181759, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Guinness-1886-1939-Incorporation-Second-history/dp/1859181759 
  • [24] Irish Times, September 6, 1944, page 3
  • [25] See http://www.thepeerage.com/p19226.htm#i192259
  • [26] Colour images colourised with palette.fm

This page was last updated on 28-Jul-2023 .