Sir Robert Peel, Fifth Baronet
April 7th,1899 - April 6th,1934

It was in May 1919 when the fifth Sir Robert came to 20 years of age, he was guest of honour at a party held for him by the employees of the family estate at Drayton. His mother was absent in Switzerland, his father absent in London. But the good looking young man held an especially warm place in the hearts of the locals as “our Bobby”. He had absconded from Harrow school during the Great War, gave a false age and joined the army. He desperately wanted to serve his country. He was hauled back in disgrace to continue his studies, and went on to Christ’s College, Cambridge, and from there he enrolled in the Coldstream Guards. Unfortunately for Bobby, he was invalided out with suspected tuberculosis and went to Australia to recuperate.

When he eventually returned to England, he tried to make a living selling used cars, ignoring pleas from his father, who had recently become bankrupt for the sixth time, to marry a wealthy woman to recoup the family fortune. Sir Robert found himself being invited to fashionable parties in London’s West End theatre world, regularly socialising with Ivor Novello, Noel Coward, George Robey, Gladys Cooper, Gertrude Lawrence and a charming young man, always incognito, known as David  – of course this was the Prince of Wales who later became Kind Edward VIII and who later abdicated to marry the love of his life, Wallis Simpson.

London was an exciting place with new jazz music and smart reviews, which had replaced the old style music halls. Already a firm favourite with London audiences was the tiny Canadian actress/comedienne Beatrice Lillie, who had risen to stardom in such shows as Andre Charlot’s Bran Pie, Tabs and Oh Boy. Bobby Peel fell madly in love with her and soon the gossip columns were full of their romance. They were married on the 5th January 1920 at St. Paul’s Church in Fazeley. The locals had never seen anything quite like it. Reporters from national glossy magazines and a galaxy of stars from the London stage arrived at Drayton Manor for the wedding.  Bobby’s father stormed off to London in a fit of temper because his son was not to marry an heiress.

The bride wore white brocaded satin with silver tissue, a coronet wreath of orange blossom and a full court train helped by Anthony Pellissier, who was Fay Compton’s son. The wedding was watched by cheering villagers who ran alongside the bridal car as it drove to the manor.  In the evening there was a huge fireworks display in the grounds of Drayton Manor. The following day Bobby and Beatrice departed to spend their honeymoon in Monte Carlo. It was not really the best of destinations as Bobby had inherited a love of gambling from his father. During the first night of the honeymoon, instead of retiring with his new bride to the marital bed, Robert spent the whole night at the gambling tables. At first his luck was in, but like many unfortunates before him, he did not know when to stop. He lost all of his winnings, plus a great deal more and had to borrow money from Beatrice to settle his hotel bill.

When the couple arrived back in England they went to live in a small house in St. John’s Wood and it was there that their son, another Robert was born the following December. On returning to Drayton Manor to show their new son to the old baronet, Beatrice engaged a local girl, Jessie Mountfort, daughter of the family at Home Farm, who was trained as a nurse and nurse-maid to Master Bobby Peel.  They took Jessie back to London with them so Beatrice could resume her career. Sir Robert didn’t have a career, but he did try his hand at everything. He managed the Little Theatre in London for a while and then the Palace Dance Hall in Erdington. He formed his own jazz dance band and Beatrice and her performing friends would help him obtain bookings by occasionally appearing with him. Bobby Peel and his band would often play at the Fazeley Victory Club and other local dances, meanwhile Beatrice Lillie went from success to success when Charlot took his reviews to New York. She joined the company, leaving Jessie in charge of little Bobby. Her wonderful humour made her a star on Broadway, but in February 1925 she received a cable to say that the old baronet had died and she was now Lady Peel. She would inherit the title but very little else. Beatrice quite rightly had to look to provide for her family and she resumed her career and gradually she and Bobby Peel drifted apart.

Sir Robert's Memorial - inside Drayton Bassett Church

Master Bobby grew up and went to Harrow School. Occasionally he would visit the theatre in his holidays to see one of his mother’s shows. But on the 6th April 1934 he received a telegram; his father had died suddenly of peritonitis at a Tunbridge Wells Nursing Home, one day before his 35th birthday. Young Bobby Peel was now Sir Robert Peel. His father was buried in Drayton Bassett Churchyard and had total probate effects of £7012.

<< Sir Robert Peel, Fifth Baronet was not buried within the family Crypt inside the Church, but outside in the grave of his 3*Great Uncle, Edmund Peel, who was born in 1791 and died 1st November 1850.