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George Pitt-Rivers: Controversial Dorset Landowner


George Pitt-Rivers was a major Dorset landowner and at one time was one of the richest men in England. Yet he was a controversial character and despite being related to Winston Churchill’s family was interned during the Second World War because of his Nazi sympathies.

He was born in London in 1890 and during the First World War served as a Captain in the British Army. Pitt-Rivers was wounded in the First Battle of Ypres and had to return to Britain for surgery. After the war, he travelled to the South Pacific and he wrote about the clash of cultures he witnessed there.

It was during the 1930s that he became increasingly involved in politics and attracted to the ideas of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. In 1935, he stood as a candidate for the North Dorset parliamentary seat but finished second last and lost his deposit. He met Hitler in 1937 and attended the Nuremberg Rally at the invitation of the Nazi Government. One of his guests to Dorset in the 1930s was an enigmatic Irishman, William Joyce. In August 1939, Joyce left for Germany and began broadcasting Nazi propaganda to Britain with the call sign ‘Germany Calling’. This gained him the nickname ‘Lord Haw-Haw’.

George Pitt-Rivers married twice and his second wife, Rosalind Henley was a biochemist. He gave her as a wedding present a laboratory fully fitted out for research. After the war he became the partner of the colourful Stella Lonsdale. During World War II, the Germans suspected she was a British spy while the British believed she was spying for the Germans. Her first husband claimed to be a Russian nobleman while her second was both a jewel thief and army deserter. Her third husband was a Frenchman who committed suicide.

George Pitt-Rivers died in 1966. In his estate, he insisted that properties should be sold separately to ensure that the existing tenants were best placed to purchase them. Had he not become so embroiled in right wing politics George Pitt-Rivers would probably now be much better remembered as a distinguished scientist.

(Illustration: Dorset Landowner, George Pitt-Rivers)



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