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Montagu William Lowry Corry, first Baron Rowton (1838-1903)

This article was written by Reginald Lucas and was published in 1912

Montagu Corry, politician and philanthropist, born in London on 8 October 1838, was second son of the four children — two sons and two daughters — of Henry Thomas Lowry Corry, a prominent member of the conservative party, by his wife Lady Harriet Ashley (d. 1868), second daughter of Cropley Ashley Cooper, sixth earl of Shaftesbury.

Educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1861, Corry was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1863 and joined the Oxford circuit. He made some progress in his profession, but his personal charm and social accomplishments rendered him popular in society and social diversions occupied much of his time. He was an occasional contributor to (Sir) Algernon Borthwick's society journal called the ‘Owl,’ and was especially well known in fashionable conservative circles. In 1865, while a guest of the duke of Cleveland at Raby Castle, he met for the first time Disraeli, who was impressed by Corry's ingenuity and resource in saving the fortunes of what threatened to be a dull party. When Disraeli became chancellor of the exchequer in June 1866 Corry wrote reminding the statesman of their meeting, and asking his help to some political post. Disraeli replied by inviting Corry to become his private secretary. He served Disraeli in that capacity until the statesman's death. Disraeli succeeded Lord Derby as prime minister in February 1868.

On his chief's retirement from office in the following December, Corry refused other offers of employment and remained with him without salary. During Disraeli's second administration, from 1874 to 1880, Corry played a prominent part in public life as the inseparable companion of his chief, who became Lord Beaconsfield in 1876. Corry attended him at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, when he acted as secretary of the special embassy and was made on his return C.B. Although other private secretaries of Lord Beaconsfield fully shared his responsibilities, Corry enjoyed a far closer intimacy with the prime minister than they. He sought no political reputation for himself. On his fall from power in 1880 Lord Beaconsfield acknowledged Corry's personal devotion by recommending him for a peerage. On 6 May 1880 he was created Baron Rowton. Corry took his title from Rowton Castle in Shropshire, the property of his aunt, Lady Charlotte Ashley, who had become possessed of it on the death of her husband, Henry Lyster, on 12 December 1863. Lady Charlotte, who was childless, had already designated her nephew her heir. Lord Rowton succeeded to the estate on his aunt's death on 11 December 1889.

Lord Beaconsfield gave a final proof of his confidence in his secretary, who was recalled from a holiday in Algiers to his deathbed in April 1881, by leaving by will to Corry's unfettered discretion the sole responsibility for the use, treatment, and publication of his correspondence and papers. Corry examined the papers, but in private he always deprecated the writing of a life of the statesman. At any rate he felt himself unequal to the task. Although reports to the contrary were occasionally circulated, he made no attempt to grapple with it. After Rowton's death, when his responsibilities passed to Lord Beaconsfield's trustee, Lord Rothschild, the material at Lord Rowton's disposal was placed in the hands of Mr. W. F. Monypenny, and a biography of Lord Beaconsfield was prepared.

Rowton after Lord Beaconsfield's death remained a prominent figure in London society and in conservative political circles, although he held no official position. Queen Victoria, whose acquaintance he made in Lord Beaconsfield's service, long consulted him confidentially on public affairs, and he was her frequent guest.

Rowton, who combinedivacity and exceptional sociability with tact, formed friendships among all classes. A serious philanthropic endeavour occupied much of his attention in his last years. In November 1889 he accepted the invitation of Sir Edward Cecil Guinness, afterwards Lord Iveagh, to become a trustee of the Guinness Trust Fund of £250,000 for the provision of artisans' dwellings, £200,000 to be allotted to London and £50,000 to Dublin. While examining as a Guinness trustee the conditions of life in the poor districts of London, Rowton, impressed by the unhealthy and squalid character of the common lodging-houses, resolved to provide a new form of poor man's hotel, where lodging, catering, and the advantages of a club should be offered at the lowest price. The scheme lay outside the scope of the Guinness Trust, which Rowton actively administered.

After consultation with his cousin, Mr. Cecil Ashley, and Sir Richard Farrant, directors of the Artisans' Dwellings Company, who warned Rowton that the hotel scheme could not prove a safe investment, he himself undertook to devote £30,000 of his own money to the experiment. A site was secured in Bond Street, Vauxhall, and building was begun. Lord Rowton made himself responsible for every detail. The Vauxhall house, accommodating 447 persons, was opened on 31 December 1892, and in the face of many difficulties and discouragements was organised on a satisfactory basis. The success of this first ‘Rowton House’ justified the extension of the enterprise, and in March 1894 a company, Rowton Houses, Limited, was incorporated with a subscribed capital of £75,000, of which £30,000 in shares was allotted to Lord Rowton in return for the money he had advanced. Lord Rowton became chairman, with Sir Richard Farrant, Mr. Cecil Ashley, and Mr. Walter Long, M.P., as directors. The capital was subsequently raised to £450,000.

Rowton Houses were erected in King's Cross (1896), Newington Butts (1897), Hammersmith (1899), Whitechapel (1902), and Arlington Road, Camden Town (1905). The last contained 1087 beds. The total number in the six Rowton Houses exceeded 5000. The catering produced little profit, but the income derived from lodging accommodation provided a dividend. Rowton approached the problem without thought of gain, but the realisation of a profit is a tribute to his sagacity and no disparagement of his benevolent intention. Since his death the company's prosperity has been uninterrupted and Rowton Houses have been imitated in the great towns of Great Britain and in Europe and America.

Rowton was made K.C.V.O. in 1897, and was sworn of the privy council in 1900. He suffered frequent attacks of illness, and died of pneumonia at his residence in Berkeley Square, London, on 9 November 1903. He was buried at Kensal Green. He was unmarried, and the peerage became extinct at his death. He left his property to Lieut.-colonel Noel Corry, grenadier guards, son of his elder brother, Armar Corry, at one time in the foreign office, who died in 1893.

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