A history of the Godman family

The present house was built by Frederick Du Cane Godman in several stages. He built a modest dwelling in 1883 taking care not to disturb the magnificent camellia still thriving between the dining room windows. In 1911 the last of the substantial additions to the house were started when the Drawing Room wing was added.

Frederick Du Cane Godman was a remarkable Victorian imaginative collector, a gentleman explorer, a man of boundless energy and rigorous scholarship. Born in 1834, the third son of Joseph Godman of Park Hatch, Godalming, a partner in Whitbread & Co, Frederick inherited an ample fortune. He was educated at Eton before going to Trinity College, Cambridge. Whilst abroad he visited Constantinople and his elder brother in the Crimea, witnessing the fighting at Sebastopol.

At Cambridge he and his brother Percy were associated with the foundation of the British Ornithologists’ Union and fascinated by all aspects of natural history. He met Osbert Salvin with whom he formed a lifelong scientific partnership. In 1916 he explained the impact of his first expedition to Guatemala, fifty-seven years earlier, to the Zoological Society (Lord Rothschild of Tring was present at the meeting). He stated ‘Salvin and I were immensely struck and delighted with the richness and variety of the forna and flora found in a tropical country, but it was the revolution in thought produced by the publication of the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, the promulgation of the theory of evolution which gave such an intense interest to the subject’. (June 6th 1916 proceedings of the Zoological Society of London). Godman and Salvin studied Darwin’s theory with reference to the zoology of South America, and started to collect the natural flora and fauna with voracious determination.

By 1876 Frederick Du Cane Godman’s collection, by both purchase and incorporation, had assumed comprehensive proportions. He conceived the idea of publishing the ‘Biologia Centrali Americane’: a monumental classification of the natural history of the Sub-Continent which took twenty years to complete. Eminent experts in the various fields were invited to contribute: 50,263 species were described, over 19,000 of them new. The series, 63 quarto volumes with 1,677 plates, 900 in colour, was published privately and entirely funded by Frederick Du Cane Godman. It was this fundamental contribution to zoology that the British Museum recognised when Godman was appointed trustee. Frederick’s first wife, Edith Mary, died in 1875, deeply bereaved he didn’t marry again for sixteen years and it is tempting to explain the amazing activity of these years in this light. Whilst entirely absorbed with the Biologia Centrali Americana he amassed one of the most important collections of Iznik, Hispano-Mauresque and Persian pottery in the world. As a very early collector in this field his opportunities were limitless. His daughter Edith related that he bought his first piece while on his way to the British Museum and had passed the shop many times before deciding to purchase. Gradually his collector’s passion and instinct was aroused and by the 1880s he was buying at an astonishing rate.

In 1882, the year he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, the accessible accounts reveal that he spent £2,226 at a Meyers of 179 New Bond Street, including £735 on a Hispano-Arab plaque upon related publications at Bernard Quaritch. His fame was such that dealers worldwide approached him first in this field. The collection of over six hundred pieces of both artistically and historically outstanding pieces was an almost complete record of the development and character of Iznick pottery from it’s beginnings c1500 through its glories to its decline 150 years later. Frederick Du Cane Godman’s lustre painted Ghispano-Moresque wares and armorial dishes are unrivalled. The late medieval Kashan tiles and 17th century pottery, much of it acquired in the 1880’s from Monsieur Richard, a fashionable doctor of the Persian court, forms the third part of the magnificent acquisitions by his connoisseur.
It was the express wish of the late Miss Edith Godman, OBE, that the collection of pottery should pass intact to the British Museum. The complicated negotiations were undertaken and completed by Christie’s in conjunction with the executors and a substantial credit for Capital Transfer Tax reflected the value of the gift.


Remarkable though it seems Frederick Du Cane Godman still found time for many of the traditional pastimes of the Victorian gentry. In his younger days he was a fine sportsman and, like Leander, swam the Hellespont. He was an exceptional shot as is recorded in Dame Alice’s gamebook: in 1906 at Inchory 2899 grouse and 85 stags were shot, in 1907 the same number of stags and 2905 grouse. Aged 70, he shot 8 stags at Glenavon with 8 shots! Frederick was an excellent host, extremely modest and shy about his indubitable talents, and embarrassed by the honours these earned him.

Dame Alice, his second wife, an explorer and keen shot, is worthy of note in her own right. She shared enthusiasm for gardening and helped gather a superlative collection of rare orchids, alpine plants and magnolias. South Lodge competed with Sir Edmund Loder at Leonardslee in the planting of Rhododendron hybrids. A lady of great drive, Alice received her D.B.E for her contribution to the British Red Cross during World War 1 and became deputy president of the Society. From 1920 – 1945 she was Girl Guide commissioner in Sussex, succeeding Olave Lady Baden – Powell and played a major role in the Movement’s Early days. Eva and Edith Godman were born in 1895 and 1896 and growing up in such a brilliant household acquired a wide range of interests. Eva was joint author of a volume on the birds of Somaliland, no doubt a book which would have delighted Frederick Du Cane Godman. The inseparable sisters became joint – commissioners of the Girl Guides, succeeding their mother, from 1945 – 1960. Later Edith became National vice-president of the Association. Both travelled widely, took a lively practical interest in the running of an estate, in the countryside and generously contributed to many Sussex charities.

During the sister’s long and devoted guardianship of their father’s estate they preserved South Lodge as it had been in its day and maintained the gardens as best they could in the harsher economic climate after World War II. They were happy to entertain scholars and interested visitors from all over the world, loyal to his memory.

In 1961 Miss Eva and Miss Edith became lairds when they bought the 100,000 acre Benmore section of the Balnagowan Estate, Ross and Cromarty. When the sisters bought the estate it made the news as one of the largest sales in Scotland this century and made them two of the top ten lairds. The estate included 3 licensed hotels, 53 miles of salmon river, several grouse moors and a deer forest. The last member of the Godman family, Miss Edith Godman, died aged 85, whilst waiting for a taxi to take her to the Chelsea Flower Show.

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