ANYONE interested in local and family history will have heard stories of old photographs or documents which have been consigned to a rubbish skip and then retrieved, normally fortuitously. This is a similar story, but involving family heirlooms.

Reader Anthony Jenkinson contacted me recently to ask if I’d be interested in adding two photographs to the SWOP website He also told me that he had a couple of items which might be of interest to me.

Anthony explained that his father Robert had been a self-employed landscape gardener from the early-1970s until he retired in the mid-2010s. He died in June of last year and whilst clearing out the house where he lived, in Adam Close off the Amersham Hill in Wycombe, Anthony had come across two items which seemed familiar. They were a silver propelling pencil and a gold-coloured trophy.

Thinking back Anthony remembered that when visiting the house in Adam Close in the mid-1990s his father had shown him these items, which he explained he had found in a skip whilst working in the garden at a large house in Hedsor. The lady of the house, a Lady Wontner, had just been widowed and was clearing out the house prior to moving out. Anthony’s father had asked Lady Wontner if he could use the skip to dispose of some garden waste. She readily agreed and also said that he was welcomed to rummage around in the skip and remove anything of interest.

Anthony then remembered that for a short period he had once worked for his father, who had taken him to this house in Hedsor and introduced him to an elderly lady whilst they were working in the garden.

The propelling pencil

This was hall-marked silver 1894 and had been manufactured by the reputable silversmiths Samson & Morden. It was inscribed with the name Arthur Wontner. He was an actor, best known for playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective Sherlock Holmes in five films from 1931 to 1937.

Arthur married a fellow actor Rose in 1904 and the couple had two children, a daughter Helen who had been born when they were in Australia in 1906, and a son Hugh born in 1908 when the family were living in London.

At some stage the family moved to live at 234 Windsor Lane in Burnham, where Arthur died in 1960 at the age of 85. His estate at that time was valued at nearly £22,000, today’s equivalent about £500,000.

The gold-coloured trophy

This trophy is in a red presentation box, lined with blue velvet with a tag inscribed “Monnaie de Paris”. This refers to a hotel on the bank of the Seine, where there is a Michelin-starred restaurant described as “the setting is sumptuous – six rooms adorned with contemporary works”. The owner and head chef is Guy Savoy, under whom British chef Gordon Ramsey trained.

The trophy incorporates the inscription “Challenge Culinaire International”. Another inscription has been added “1972, Sir Hugh Wontner”. This refers to the Hugh Wontner, the son of Arthur Wontner. He was a man with strong local connections.

Hugh Wontner


Hugh Wontner

Hugh Wontner


His father Arthur must have had a career path in mind at an early age for his son, sending him to be educated at the prestigious public school Oundle, which is in the village of Oundle in Northamptonshire. This school has been governed by the Worshipful Company of Grocers of the City of London since its foundation by Sir William Laxton in 1556.

After leaving Oundle, Hugh spent a year completing his education in France and then at the age of nineteen he joined the London Chamber of Commerce. He remained with them for six years, working in several secretarial roles, culminating as general secretary of the Hotels and Restaurants Association. In 1933 he left the LCC to become assistant to Sir George Reeves-Smith, who was manager of the Savoy Hotel, and general manager of the other hotels and restaurants in the Savoy group.

In 1938 Hugh was appointed Assistant Managing Director of the Savoy and Berkeley Hotels and shortly before Reeves-Smith died in 1941 he was made Managing Director. In 1948 he was appointed Chairman and he remained associated with the Savoy Group until 1988.

During his career Hugh Wontner received numerous awards. He was appointed as Catering Adviser in the Royal Household and Clerk of the Royal Kitchens; and Lord Mayor of the City London 1973-74. He was knighted in 1972.

Living at Hedsor

Hugh married Catherine Irvine in 1936 and the couple went on to have three children, all of whom were born in London – Arthur in 1936, Julian in 1940, and Jenifer in 1942. In 1946 the family decided to leave London and move to the country. They chose to move to Hedsor, where they bought Hedsor Priory, located high above the Thames valley.

A dwelling on that site dates back at least 850 years, a Tudor manor house burnt down and was replaced by a new one built in 1583, parts of which remain to this day. The Hedsor Priory we know today was built in 1844.

During WW2 the house was lived in by the family and servants of Alfred Piers Fane, who was serving as an officer in the RAF Bomber Command based at Uxbridge. He was a Spitfire pilot attached to No.1 Photo Reconnaissance Unit, attaining the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He was killed in April 1942 in a flying accident whilst flying at low level in bad weather near Duxford in Cambridgeshire when he was returning from a mission in France.

The Wontner family moved into Hedsor Priory in 1946, and Hugh and Catherine were to live there for the rest of their lives. Despite his busy working schedule Hugh found time to participate fully in the local community, being chairman of the Hedsor parish council from 1947 to 1988. This normally met twice each year, with the meetings usually taking place in St Nicholas’s Church.

Hugh died in 1992 and Catherine in 2006, the funeral and burial of both was at St Nicholas, Hedsor.


Anthony Jenkinson would like to return these heirlooms to the Wontner family. The eldest son of Hugh and Catherine, Arthur, died in 2013 whilst living in Brighton. Their other son Julian is an artist and designer living in London.

It is known that Jenifer their daughter has led a very colourful life, which has included a period in the last 20 years or so living in Knotty Green near Beaconsfield.

I can be contacted by email or 01494 755070.