Valerie Lady Smiley née Champion de Crespigny, one of my 5th cousins twice removed, was born on 26 May 1883 in Maldon, Essex. She was the eighth of nine children and youngest of four daughters of Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny the fourth baronet and Georgiana Lady Champion de Crespigny née McKerrell.
At the time of the 1891 census Valerie was recorded as seven years old and living at Champion Lodge in Camberwell, London, with her mother and two brothers. Her father and other siblings were away from home. The household also included four female servants including a parlourmaid, housemaid and cook.
Ten years later, at the 1901 census Valerie was the only member of the family at home at Champion Lodge in Heybridge, Maldon, Essex. The household included one visitor, a professional music singer, and eight servants: a butler, lady’s maid, two housemaids, a kitchenmaid, a cook, and a groom.
In 1903 Valerie married Captain John Smiley. The Chelmsford Chronicle reported on the engagement on 24 July:
ENGAGEMENT OF MISS VALERIE DE CRESPIGNY.
A marriage will shortly take place between Valerie, youngest daughter of Sir Claude and Lady Champion de Crespigny, and Capt. John Smiley (late Carabiniers), eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh H. Smiley, of Gallowhill, Paisley, and Drumalis, Larne. County Antrim.
On 27 November the same newspaper published a report of the wedding:
SMILEY—CHAMPION DE CRESPIGNY. A wedding of great interest to Essex, took place yesterday afternoon at StGeorge's, Hanover-square, when Miss Valerie Champion de Crespigny, youngest daughter of Sir Claude and Lady Champion de Crespigny, of Champion Lodge, Maldon, was married to Captain John Smiley (late Carabiniers), eldest son of Sir Hugh and Lady Smiley, of Gallow-hill, Paisley, and Drumalis, Larne. Miss de Crespigny is pretty and has a very charming manner. Capt. Smiley is one of the officers who went all through the South African campaign. He resigned from the 6th Dragoon Guards only a year ago.
The bride's dress was of white satin covered with old point de Gaze lace, The train was composed of cloth of silver and lace, was borne by two small boys and two girls, viz., Master Claude Lancaster, nephew of the bride, and the Hon. Hercules Robinson, son of Lord and Lady Rosmead, Miss Valencia Lancaster, niece of the bride, and Miss Smiley, sister of the bridegroom. The bride also wore orange blossoms and had in her hair a large diamond shamrock, which, with a pearl necklace and tiara, were the gilts of the bridegroom.
The four bridesmaids were Miss Brouncker, cousin of the bride, Miss Talbot, Miss Crichton, and Miss Ramsay. They wore dresses of eau de Nil voile, worked with green lace, and with long green sashes; green hats with green feathers, and green shamrock brooches set with pearls, the gift of the bridegroom. They carried pink carnation bouquets. Lady Champion de Crespigny, the bride's mother, wore brown poplin trimmed with velvet, with lace bolero, and brown velvet picture hat.
The Church had been beautifully decorated with palms, lilies, and other flowers. The service was fully choral, the hymn “O Father, all creating," being sung at the entrance of the bride, later Psalm lxvii., and finally the hymn “O perfect love."
The clergymen conducting the service were the Rev. H. T. W. Eyre, vicar of Great Totham, and Dr. Robert Port, vicar of Champion Hill, London. The bride was given away by her father, and Mr. P. K. Smiley (21st Lancers), brother of the bridegroom, was best man.
Dr. Port gave a brief address, couched in beautiful terms. There was much truth, he said, in the old proverb that marriages were made in heaven and by heaven. Those were indeed happy homes which welcomed Christ as the corner-stone.
A reception was held at Claridge's Hotel, Brook-street, W., after the ceremony, and there the handsome presents were viewed, numbering over 400.
The bride received a wealth of jewels. Captain Smiley's gifts included a pearl and diamond tiara, an emerald and diamond ring, a diamond and peridot pendant, and some lovely Irish lace. Sir Claude gave his daughter a miniature of an ancestor set in diamonds, and Sir Hugh and Lady Smiley gave some lovely pearls. Other presents were : —Lady Smiley, pearl necklace; Sir Hugh Smiley, brougham and cheque; Miss Eileen Smiley, necklace and pendant of turquoise and diamonds ; Sir Claude de Crespigny, diamond pendant; Lady de Crespigny, inlaid writing table ; Captain de Crespigny, gold bag and gold purse; Norman de Crespigny, silver ringstand ; Vierville de Crespigny, silver napkin rings ; Rupert de Crespigny, silver fitted writing case; Mrs. Robert Boyle, painting ; Mrs. Granville Lancaster, alver tureen ; Captain K. Smiley, gold watch and pearl and diamond pendant ; Mr. H. S. Smiley, silver tureen; Mr. John M. Smiley (Philadelphia), silver tureens ; and other gifts from Col. and Mrs. L. Horace Phillips, Colchester ; Sir Daniel Dixon, Bart., Sir James and Lady Guthrie, Field-Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood, V.C., Capt. and Mrs. Ffinch, Lady Maud Barutt, Professor and Mrs. Dewar, Sir Leslie and Lady Falkiner, Prince and Princess de Cassano, etc. The honeymoon is to be spent in Paris. The bride's going away costume was of dark green cloth, trimmed with velvet, with large hat to match.
The wedding present from Sir Claude de Crespigny of “a miniature of an ancestor set in diamonds” was quite possibly the miniature bequeathed by Mary Feillet née Champion, Valerie’s 5th great aunt, in 1736 to Mary’s nephew Philip Champion de Crespigny (1705 – 1765), Valerie’s 4th great grandfather.
The miniature is apparently no longer in the family. It may have been sold, or perhaps destroyed in one of the two house fires Valerie suffered.
The Smiley family wealth came from cotton and shipping. John’s father, Sir Hugh Smiley, was made a baronet in 1903. He had been prominent in Ulster politics and owned a staunchly Unionist newspaper, the Northern Whig, which was vehemently opposed to Irish Home Rule. Sir Hugh’s wife, Elizabeth Kerr, was a cotton heiress from Paisley in Scotland.
Valerie and John Smiley had four children:
- Hugh Houston 1905–1990
- Patricia Margaret 1907–2000
- John Claude 1910–1995
- David de Crespigny 1916–2009
On the death of his father on 1 March 1909 John Smiley became the second baronet Smiley of Drumalis. Valerie was then known as Lady Smiley.
By April that year, when the census was taken, the Smileys were back in England, at Saxham Hall, Bury St Edmunds. The census lists John, Valerie, their three children aged five, three, and one, with sixteen servants and two visitors to the servants. The servants comprised: housekeeper, two domestic nurses, four housemaids, a kitchenmaid, scullerymaid, a lady’s maid, three footmen, two chauffeur mechanics, and a cook. Saxham Hall had 38 rooms.
On 24 May 1911 Lady Valerie Smiley was presented at Court by the Marchioness of Donegall, widow of the fifth Marquess.
Unlike her sister Crystal Ffinch, Valerie Smiley was frequently pictured in society magazines. In July 1911 Lady Smiley, her husband and two children were pictured at a children’s day at Ranelagh Gardens.
In 1912 Lady Smiley again attended the children’s day at Ranelagh with her children Hugh and Patricia. This time she was accompanied by her niece Valencia Lancaster, daughter of her oldest sister Cicely.
In January 1914 there was a fire at Barton Hall near Bury St Edmunds, which had recently been leased by the Smileys. The report from the Sunday Times of 11 January 1914:
MANSION BURNT. GUESTS FIGHT FLAMES BUT LOSE BELONGINGS. FAMOUS PICTURES SAVED Barton Hall, the Suffolk residence of Sir John Smiley, near Bury St. Edmunds, was almost totally destroyed by fire early yesterday morning. The outbreak was discovered about one o'clock, and upon the alarm being given the gentlemen of the house party which was being entertained there by Sir John and Lady Smiley turned out in their evening clothes and assisted the estate employees and villagers , who had been hastily called , in their efforts to subdue the flames. The fire is believed to have originated in the roof while a dance was in progress. Soon after midnight , when the dancing had just ended , one of the guests, going up to his room, detected the smell of burning. A small room in the roof was broken open and was found to be in flames. The Bury Fire Brigade and police, in response to urgent messages, also quickly arrived upon the spot to render assistance, but unfortunately the water supply was quite inadequate, and but little could be done to prevent the spread of the conflagration, which soon enveloped practically the whole of the building. Efforts were made to save the personal effects of the occupants as well as the valuable paintings and other effects which the building contained. Fortunately, several paintings were saved, but it is stated that one visitor alone has lost jewellery estimated to be worth £2,000. Most of the guests lost everything except the evening dress clothes and jewellery which they were wearing for the dance. A few of them had retired for the night, and had to escape hurriedly in scanty clothing. The guests assembled on the lawn in front of the house and watched the blaze until towards dawn , when they were taken in motor cars to the Angel Hotel at Bury St. Edmunds. The house party included Mrs. Loeffler, Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Hoare, the Hon. Mrs. Robert Boyle , Mr. Christopher Anstey, Mr. Graham, Herr von Schubert, Mr. F. Watt, Mr. Edmund Folgambe, Mrs. von Vrumalius, Mr. B. J. T. Bosanquet and Miss Bosanquet, - Captain Claude Rome and the Hon. Mrs. Rome. Barton Hall is the property of Sir Henry Charles Bunbury, the lord of the manor. It was long the residence of the late Mr. Frank Riley Smith, the well-known Master of the Suffolk Foxhounds, and had only recently been leased by Sir John Smiley. The mansion was built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth and was from time to time much modernised. It possessed no fewer than 365 windows . It included a fine gallery of pictures by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Peter Lely, and many Italian and Dutch masters. Reynolds' famous portrait of Annabella Lady Blake was fortunately saved. Other treasures rescued were Kneller 's portrait of Lord Euston, son of the Duke of Grafton; a Romney of great value ; Reynolds's portrait of Henry Bunbury, the famous caricaturist of the early nineteenth century; and Sir John Smiley's valuable collection of books. These treasures were stored for the time in the garage. The handsome library was built after a design by Sir William Chambers between 1766 and 1770. It contained many volumes of great value. The failure of the water supply appears to have been due to the fact that the pumping apparatus, worked by electricity, was damaged and could not be operated. Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury, celebrated as the winner of the first Derby—run in 1780 — at one time lived at Barton Hall.
At the time of the census held on 24 April 1921, Valerie and her husband and their youngest and oldest sons were living at Oakley Hall in Hampshire. Valerie’s niece Moyra Blanche Boyle, daughter of Cerise, was visiting. There were twelve servants: a house steward, a housekeeper, a cook, a kitchenmaid, a footman, three housemaids, a scullery maid, a male servant, a lady’s maid (French), a sewing maid. Oakley Hall had 47 rooms.
Sir John Smiley died on 13 April 1930. His death was reported in The Times of 14 April 1930:
SIR JOHN SMILEY Major Sir John Smiley died at Bayonne yesterday at the age of 53. Born in October, 1876, the eldest son of Sir Hugh Smiley, the first baronet, Sir John Smiley was educated at Eton and entered the Army with a commission in the 4th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Later he transferred to the 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers) and with them he served in the South African War, holding the Queen's medal with three clasps and the King's with two. In 1914 he rejoined his old regiment and served throughout the War. As a Liberal Unionist he contested West Belfast in 1906 and 1910. He succeeded his father in 1909. Sir John Smiley married in 1903 Valerie, youngest daughter of Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny. She survives him with one daughter and three sons, the eldest of whom, Lieutenant Hugh Houston Smiley, Grenadier Guards, succeeds him.
On 29 September 1939 a Register was compiled of every member of the civilian population. Lady Valerie Smiley was living at The Cottage Smiley, Wentworth, Surrey. Valerie had moved there in 1933 after her son, now Sir Hugh Smiley, took over the family home of Great Oaks. The Wentworth Estate is a private estate of large houses set in woodland, in Runnymede, Surrey, near the town of Virginia Water. It was commenced in the early 1920s. The estate borders Windsor Great Park and is set around the Wentworth Golf Club.
There, in November 1969 Valerie Lady Smiley suffered a second housefire. The Daily Telegraph reported:
Police, firemen and neighbours carried valuable paintings and antique furniture to safety during a fire at the home of Valerie, Lady Smiley, in Meadow Road, Virginia Water, last night. Some paintings were destroyed.
Dame Valerie Smiley died 1 September 1978. Her death notice appeared in The Times of 6 September:
SMILEY.-On 1st September, Dame Valerie Smiley, aged 90, wife of the late Major Sir John Smiley, 2nd Bt., and youngest daughter of Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny, 4th Bt. Cremation private. No letters.
- Index to articles concerning the de Crespigny baronets including her father the 4th baronet and her brothers and sisters: de Crespigny family index 3 – the baronets and their descendants
- S is for St George’s Hanover Square
- The will of Mary Feillet née Champion