Longdene House at Haslemere has a close connection with the re-opened Welsh Highland Railway in North Wales. A locomotive from the railway, ‘Russell’ is named after James Cholmeley Russell, who lived at Longdene and he was closely involved with the precursor of the Welsh Highland, the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways Company (NWNGR).
The eldest son of James Russell QC (1790 – 1861) and Maria, the daughter of the Reverend Robert Cholmeley, Russell was born in Bloomsbury in 1841 and had two brothers and five sisters. Russell senior had a large chancery and bankruptcy practice.
Russell went to Harrow School, going up to Magdalene College, Oxford, in 1859 and graduating in 1864. Called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1867 he practiced at the Chancery Bar. With one of his brothers, he co-edited a classic of family law “The Rights and Liabilities of Husband and Wife“.
Russell had three elements to his career, law, property development and railways, law being the corner stone.
By 1876, Russell was hiring locomotives, coaches and wagons to the NWNGR and through a deft piece of financial and legal sleight of hand was appointed Receiver of the company in 1878. He was chairman from 1879 until his death in 1912.
Russell, by the 1880s was a man of some substance and had control of two railways that would eventually form the Welsh Highland Railway, the NWNGR and the Croesor and Portmadoc Railway. Through his network of influential contacts, Russell was also appointed manager and later receiver of the Manchester and Milford Railway, an ambitious but unsuccessful proposal to connect the North West of England with the docks at Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire. By 1892, he was involved in an ultimately unsuccessful project for a railway between Royal Exchange and Waterloo. Russell’s other activities included property development in Aldershot and the chairmanship of the Barking Gas Company.
In 1893, Russell married Eleanor the daughter of the Rev and Mrs Frederick Broome. She had been a teacher in South Africa and met Russell on the ship back to England. Their only child, Margaret, was born in 1894. She married Sydney Saunders and had two daughters, Elizabeth, born in 1922, who died a spinster at Oxted in 1998 and Evelyn, born in 1926, who married Lieutenant Commander Pangman of the Royal Canadian Navy. She now lives in Canada.
Russell lived in London for most of his life. However by 1901 he had moved to The Woodlands at Merrow, and then in 1906, Russell bought Longdene House and Sturt Farm. During the last decade of his life, Russell spent several months of the year in Scotland having acquired Creag Mhor at Onich near Fort William and cruised from here in his steam yacht “Madge”. From 1900, Russell was winding down but suffered from increasing ill health and in 1912, he died of a stroke, aged 71.
The funeral was a grand affair, fully reported in the Farnham, Haslemere and Hindhead Herald. “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…”
Russell is buried at St. John the Evangelist, Merrow. At probate, Russell’s estate was valued at £166,000, which in 2014 terms would be worth in excess of £15 million, using the retail price index or £54 million using average earnings.
His widow Eleanor, continued to live at Longdene and the house was finally sold in 1920. She died in 1932 at the Tower House, Bletchingley, Surrey
Text by Nick Booker