A Peer Stranger Than Fiction

Tom Stonor, 16 April 1940 – 4 January 2023.

18 January 2023

By Chris Dodd

Chris Dodd on Tom Stonor, 7th Baron Camoys, Henley Steward, Museum trustee, Windsor adviser and Barclays banker.

If you were to create Lord Camoys for a saga – let us call it Stonor Revisited – you would reach for Nancy Mitford, E M Forster, Agatha Christie and P G Wodehouse.

Ralph Thomas Campion George Sherman ‘Tom’ Stonor was up to his neck in upper class privilege and eccentricity from the day he was born to Major Sherman Stonor, the 6th Lord Camoys, and Mary Jeanne (née Stourton, whose father rejoiced in the name Marmaduke). He learned early in his life that an ancestor commanded the left flank at Agincourt in 1415. Tom was sent to Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, and he graduated with a third in history. ‘He did jolly reasonably well’, said the Major. 

Tom aged three (second from the left) with his three sisters and his mother pictured in 1943.

During his progression from Eton to Oxford young Tom found that the world was his oyster when he went to Nepal at the behest of the Foreign Office to prepare Prince Birendra for entry to Eton. Birendra remained a close friend after becoming King in 1972, a reign that ended in 2001 when his son Dipendra assassinated him.

Tom Stonor, who has died aged 82, lived a life that incorporated many of the issues to be found in the stories of the novelists mentioned above. He carved a remarkable ascent to the pinnacles of merchant banking; did battle with his father and others in his feuding, Catholic family; was Lord Chamberlain and financial adviser to the House of Windsor; saved his family’s property by selling off some silver; and most importantly of all, was a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta and a Trustee and President of the River & Rowing Museum. 

Tom’s Great Great Grandfather, Thomas Stonor, Third Baron Camoys (1797 – 1881). He chaired the meeting in 1839 at which Henley Regatta was established and he became one of its first Stewards. Picture: Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

His portfolio of activities centred on Stonor Park in the hinterland of Henley, where his neighbours included John Mortimer, the thriller writer; Sir William McAlpine who had a full-size steam train set in his garden; Jeremy Paxman, the university challenger; the Duke and Duchess of Kent and the artists John and Myfanwy Piper. 

Tom Stoner’s pedigree on his father’s side was the Talbot Earls of Shrewsbury, the Nevills of Abergavenny and via an illegitimate line, the De La Pole Dukes of Suffolk. He was also a direct descendant of Robert Peel, the British Prime Minister, and a descendant of the family that founded Brown University in Rhode Island. On his mother’s side, he was descended from Charles II through Charlotte Lee, Countess of Lichfield, and the illegitimate daughter of the monarch.

Stonor Park, near Henley, home to the Stonor Family for 850 years.

The title that Tom inherited in 1976 relates to Saint Edmund Campion, a Catholic martyr in the reign of Elizabeth I. He took refuge in a priest hole at Stonor Park and published his book Decem Rationes (Ten Reasons for Being a Catholic) in 1581 before he was discovered and executed for his faith at Tyburn. He was beatified in 1886 and canonised as a martyr in 1970.

Scanning his pathway through the City reveals why Tom was in demand by institutions seeking investment or financial advice. The list includes National Provincial and Rothschild, Rothschild Intercontinental Bank and Amex Bank. After the ‘Big Bang’ reforms in the City in 1986, he transformed Barclays from a high street to a merchant bank. Barclays Merchant Bank became Barclays de Zoete and then Barclays Capital, of which Tom was the first chief exec. He was also a director of Barclays Bank International and Barclays Bank plc.

Tom Stonor, merchant banker, pictured in 1991. 

Directorships held included Jacksons of Piccadilly, Sotheby’s, Mercantile Credit, National Provident Institution, the Administrative Staff College, 3i Group and Perpetual. He was President of the Mail Users Association, Prime Warden of the Fishmongers’ Company as well as a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta and a Trustee of the River and Rowing Museum. 

Tom’s bruising life among City institutions was noticed at Buckingham Palace and Whitehall, and in 1998 he became Lord Chamberlain. His task was to make the royal household more open and transparent and to continue the reforms started by his predecessor, Lord Airlie. He was, incidentally, the first Roman Catholic to head the Queen’s household since the Reformation. He soon made his presence felt by stepping on the gas in response to twin pressures exerted by Tony Blair’s new Labour government and the media – pressures generated by what was perceived to be the royal family’s inadequate response to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. 

In the House of Lords Tom sat on the select committee on the European Economic Community (forerunner of the European Union) and was a member of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission (now English Heritage) and the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. 

Tom also held office in religious affairs, being a consultor of the extraordinary session of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See from 1991 to 2009, and he was appointed chairman of the Tablet Trust in 2009. 

An open day for an antiques fair at Stonor Park in 2018.

My first contact with Tom was at a Stonor Park open day where he had donned a white coat to supervise car parking. I came to know him in his rowing sphere during regattas or functions at the River & Rowing Museum. He was one of those rare beings with whom rapport was immediately present, even though our time in one another’s company was minimal. You would know at a glance what he thought about a proposal, and take your lead from it. Paul Mainds, the chief exec of the museum from 1999 to 2013, says that President Tom was determinedly much more than a name on the letterhead. ‘He was generous with his time, gave wise counsel and was always willing to deploy his extraordinary range of contacts.’

Given these attributes, it was a wonder that Tom got himself into family fights. He fell out with his mother and did not speak with her faction of the family for several years, even though her dowager’s cottage was merely 600 yards from the main house. He refused to help out when she ran up debts of £100,000, but mother and son were reconciled before she died. 

Tom’s parents pictured at their wedding in 1938. They were an odd pair, particularly if their daughter Julia’s 2006 version on their life together (Sherman’s Wife) is anywhere near accurate. The Spectator magazine titled their 2006 critique of Julia’s book “Rampant fascism near Henley” and their article is online here.

In the 1976 battle to save Stonor, his relationship with his father Sherman was marred by the latter’s drinking, and the 7th Baron Camoys did not get a mention in the will of the 6th Baron Camoys of Stonor Park and Newport, Rhode Island. Tom’s elder sister Julia, a formidable historian and author of books on the misdemeanours of her family, joined the title fray by claiming that Camoys was rightfully hers by barony of writ.

Sherman struggled to pay for the upkeep of the 235-acre estate that was part medieval, part Tudor with eighteenth century modifications. It was said to have been in the possession of the same family for longer than any other house in England. Tom was determined to keep it in that family. 

Sherman’s solution shortly before his death in 1976 was to put the 35-room property on the market for £400,000, declining his son’s offer of £150,000. Feuding resulted in sale of some contents including £12,800 worth of stuffed birds, butterflies and other wonders of natural history. Meanwhile, the house itself did not find a buyer, so the new Baron Camoys bought it from the executors, along with most of the family portraits and a library with an important collection of Catholic books. As a lover of fine art and antiques, Tom enjoyed refurnishing his prize. The house was opened to the public for the first time in 1979. 

Tom’s mother pictured in 1975, just before she and her husband were forced to move from the 35-bedroom Stonor Park to the five-bedroom Dower Cottage in Stonor village (pictured below).

Tom was a rotund chain smoker with a humorous twinkle in his eye. He was also vertically challenged. Seeing himself one day described in print as ‘flinty’, he declared that ‘pudding like’ would be more accurate. His duties at Henley Regatta were none too onerous. Elected to the august oligarchy known as stewards in 1978, he was a judge at the start of the course from 1979 to 1995, billeted with another aligner in their waterside tent furnished with its own bijou cocktail bar. From 1996 to 2013 he was a judge on the finish line. Meanwhile, he also served on the regatta’s investment advisory group. Tom’s ancestors Thomas and Charles Stoner were elected stewards in 1839, the year of the first regatta, and Tom was the eighth member of his family to wear the silver badge. 

Tom’s contribution to the establishment of the River & Rowing Museum (RRM) was priceless. Paul Mainds, just appointed as chief executive in 1999, first met him at a reception for the Museum of the Year award that occurred a few months after the Queen opened the iconic building designed by the architect David, now Sir David, Chipperfield. Tom immediately offered help to build the RRM’s reputation. Until he left in 2013, Paul appreciated that Tom was always available at the house nestling among the gentle Chiltern slopes. One Christmas time, the chapel was made available for a carol service for the RRM’s Henley 100 supporters club. 

Paul says of Tom: ‘The museum ran an extensive programme of special exhibitions, and it was important to engage the right person to speak at an opening. Lord Camoys was the perfect speaker to do the honours for our major John Piper exhibition. He treated us to recollections of his neighbours, the Piper family, as well as insightful reflections on Piper’s art and the artist’s collaborators.

‘Tom also introduced high profile visitors to the museum, among whom was the Crown Prince of Japan (now the Emperor), who broke his journey to Highgrove to call on the Crown Prince of the UK and Commonwealth (now the King).’

Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito is guided around the River and Rowing Museum by the then Chief Executive, Paul Mainds, in 2001. The article writer is second from the right. Picture Courtesy of the RRM.

Paul also recalled that Tom assisted Paul’s daughter when she decided to practise medicine in a remote part of Nepal. He prepared her as he had once prepared Prince Birendra for Eton, producing contacts and inside knowledge of the area.

‘Just before I left the museum it was included in the Times newspaper’s list of one of the best 50 museums in the world,’ Paul says. ‘That was recognition that we all enjoyed, and Tom’s part in it was by no means small. He regularly laid down challenges at meetings of trustees, adopting an authoritative manner tempered by encouragement. These things are the measure of the man!’

We could go on and on with stories and secrets from banking, royal houses, feuding families, priest holes, crews with nerves on the start and crews crossing the finish line, the roots of rowing, the heritage of Henley and tales of the mighty River Thames – as writers such as Wodehouse, Mitford, Christie and Forster did. But it’s time to say ‘RIP’ to Tom Camoys, who lived a life proving that fact is stranger than fiction. Who would have imagined coming across a bride, as Tom did, who bore the maiden name ‘Hyde Parker?’ 

Beth Hyde Parker married Tom in 1966. She is pictured here in 1958 as one of Country Life’s “Girls in Pearls”.

Ralph Thomas Campion George Sherman ‘Tom’ Stonor, 7th Baron Camoys, banker and former Lord Chamberlain, born 16 April, 1940; died 4 January 2023. Survived by his wife Elisabeth (née Hyde Parker) and their daughters Alina, Emily, Sophie, and son Ralph William Robert-Thompson Stoner.

One comment

  1. Wow! One can safely say the guy was posh , rich and useful to know, but, could he pull the skin off a rice pudding?!

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