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

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
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. The 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 was one of the largest employers in Dublin and the Guinness family had a tradition of noblesse oblige and philanthropy. They liked to look after their workers, who by 1900 were around 5,000. For instance, they were one of the first companies in Ireland to provide pensions, not just for their staff but also for their widows too. They also provided sick pay, and families received preferences when job vacancies came up and they were offered free dinners for their children once a week to encourage them to attend school. [5]

As part of this care for their workers, in 1870 Guinness opened a medical dispensary to provide free doctor's consultations and medicines for the sick. This wasn't just for the workers, but for their families too.

In 1894, at the age of twenty-five, Dr John Lumsden was appointed assistant medical office at the Guinness brewery in Dublin. Within five years he was made Chief medical officer and went about transforming and expanding the medical department.

When he was appointed, Lumsden was provided with an assistant physician. Lumsden then told the brewery that he needed a second apothecary and an attendant in the women's waiting room. As there were no female employees at Guinness at this time, this was solely for the families of the workers. He also asked for a fulltime porter for the men and a boy messenger. He stated that all of these roles were absolutely necessary.[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

As part of his focus on the well-being of the employees, Lumsden was a great believer in preventative medicine. He also knew that many of the health problems of the workers stemmed from their living conditions, many of whom lived in appalling conditions in the slums and tenements of inner city Dublin.[7] These conditions had declined over the previous hundred years due to two major factors; the Acts of Union and the Great Famine.

The Acts of Union

In Ireland in 1798, there was a major rebellion against British rule in Ireland. The rebellion was suppressed with much bloodshed by government militia and yeomanry forces, reinforced by units of the British Army.

In part, as a response to the rebellion, the Acts of Union were passed in August 1800 which took away the parliament from Ireland and moved all government activities to London.

After previously enjoying a period of prosperity in Dublin, the well-paid aristocracy and MPs now abandoned their large and expensive Georgian Houses in Dublin and returned back to Britain or to their country estates in Ireland.

Once they left, few Irish locals could afford to buy these large elegant houses. Instead many of them would become tenements, housing multiple poor families and turning Dublin into a city with an infant mortality rate higher than Calcutta at the time!

As an example, in 1900, one such house, 5 South Earl Street, housed eleven families with a total of fifty-one people. They all shared a single toilet and one water tap in the back yard. [8]

The Great Famine

After the Great Irish Famine, many people, looking for food and work, migrated from impoverished rural areas of Ireland into cities, especially to Dublin . It is reckoned that in Dublin at the end of the 19th century, at least 40 per cent of the population were living around or below the poverty line. [7]

Combined with the effects of the fallout from the Acts of Union, these migrants ended up living in the tenements resulting in overcrowding with 33.9 per cent of all families in Dublin living in single rooms.[9]

Poverty and these cramped and insanitary conditions led to huge problems of disease and by 1881 Dublin had the highest death rate in Europe. [10]

Lumsden's survey of housing

At the end of the 19th century, Dr Lumsden saw a high rate of tuberculosis amongst Guinness employees and knew that overcrowding was probably a major factor.

In 1900 he got the approval of the Guinness board to spend two months inspecting the homes of each Guinness employee in order to ensure that they lived in proper housing and to look for ways to prevent or treat the disease.

Starting on the 17th November 1900, Lumsden visited 1,752 homes and saw the conditions first-hand. He then classified the dwellings according to their levels of sanitation (Adequate, Fair or Defective) and their appearance (Satisfactory, Overcrowding 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 commented on the fact that, although they were living in overcrowded conditions, Irish local traditions were making things worse.

For instance, when someone died from whatever cause, including tuberculosis, the family would hold a wake with the body in the family room for three or four days. The family had to bear the costs of the wake, including food, beer, and tobacco. This wake would further spread any disease to other visiting families. Because of overcrowding, after the body was removed for the funeral, someone would then be sleeping in the same unmade bed that very night.

For the funeral itself, the family, no matter how poor they were, had to have a four-horse hearse as a sign to the community that they were respectable, despite the fact that they had to borrow heavily from moneylenders to pay for it all.

Lumsden wasn't just negative about the situation and conditions, though. He also heaped praise on those dwellings and families that were in good condition, giving certificates of merit to the best.

Lumsden's action plan

Lumsden's inspections generally had a positive effect on the workers who saw that this was another sign that the company cared for them. After the inspections, many of them tried to help themselves by either moving to better dwellings, or at least trying to improve the ones they had with better hygiene standards and sanitary habits.

To improve matters in the future, Lumsden made six suggestions to the board of directors at Guinness. He suggested that:

  1. An inspector of dwellings be appointed
  2. Allowances such as sick pay should be withheld from any employee that continue to live in dwellings condemned by the company
  3. A register of suitable lodgings should be kept
  4. Efforts be made to discourage or dissuade employees from taking rooms in old tenement houses
  5. Cooking classes should be established for the wives and women of Guinness employees
  6. A process of giving out annual certificates of merit should be established for houses that were kept in an exemplary manner [7]

The result was that a number of positive initiatives were put in place. For instance, he issued leaflets to nursing mothers explaining to them the importance proper nourishment of babies and children. Also, as part of his preventative medicine approach, he encouraged healthy out of doors sports and exercise which resulted in the setting up of the first Guinness sports club.[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 earned the respect of all sides of the community during the Easter Rising of 1916 as they treated casualties on both sides and fed and cared for evacuees. During the fighting in the streets of Dublin Dr Lumsden became a familiar figure as he dashed out carrying a white flag and his medical kit to tend to the wounded on both sides.[12] [3]

On the Wednesday of that week around the City of Dublin Hospital, Baggot Street, bitter fighting broke out between British and Republican troops. The situation was so bad that ambulance men were told not to go into the area. However, Dr Lumsden could not let the wounded be left unattended. Instead he went into the danger zone alone and spent several hours tending to their injuries. [3]

Working with Dr Lumsden during the Easter Rising was Dr Ella Webb who had become a member of the St. John Ambulance Brigade of Ireland in 1914. She helped to set up an emergency hospital at the Brigade’s headquarters at 14 Merrion Square during the Rising and “cycled daily through the firing line to visit the hospital” [13] (See also Dr Ella Webbs's 1916 diary).

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 • 

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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 - David & Muriel Robinson & Foley family 

Disclaimer. Parts of the data found in these history pages has been 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

This page was last updated on 14-Nov-2021 .