THE TIDY FAMILY 

Harman Tidy was a solicitor and quiet family man who became innocently involved in the scandal surrounding the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) when he was assaulted by one of the 'Marlborough House set'.

 

Harman Edgar Tidy was born in 1829 to Thomas and Elizabeth Tidy, at St Pancras in London. Thomas Tidy was a tailor, originally from Tortington in Sussex. Harman had five brothers and all six boys made the law their profession, Harman himself studied at Clifford’s Inn. He married Selina McLean in Marylebone in June 1853, she was 19, he was 24 and they went on to have eight children. They had a penchant for grand houses. Before they moved to Bell House they lived in equal splendour in Chester Terrace, a grand neo-classical crescent in Regent’s Park designed by John Nash with Decimus Burton. Harman also had a house called in Bengeo, Hertfordshire and later a house in North Stoke, Oxfordshire.

Selina died in 1875 and two years later Harman married again, to Emma Sarah Robson, nee Dove. Sarah had been married to Christopher Robson (who died in 1867), a barrister at Clifford’s Inn and they had lived in Regent’s Park and at Little Stoke in Oxfordshire so it seems likely that both couples had known each other. Emma was 49 when they married and Harman 48 and they did not have children though Harman ‘acted as stepfather’ to the children from Emma’s first marriage. 

Harman Tidy and his brother Thomas were in business together at 27 Sackville Street, Piccadilly and on 23 February 1877 at 6pm Harman was at his desk when Lord Marcus Talbot de la Poer Beresford, calling himself Mr Long, came into reception asking to see Mr Tidy. Beresford, the son of the Marquess of Waterford, ran the stables of the Prince of Wales. Vanity Fair magazine described him as ‘a good-looking man who can make himself very agreeable. He has a merry eye’.  Beresford was a member of the ‘Marlborough House Set’, the racy group who surrounded the Prince of Wale; his brother Charles’s affair with the Prince of Wales’s mistress Daisy Brooke led to Charles arguing with the heir to the throne and manhandling him, a gross breach of etiquette.

Once admitted to Harman’s chambers Beresford declared his real name and said Tidy had accused him of being ‘a deliberate liar’. He demanded an apology otherwise Harman ‘would not leave the room alive’. Beresford knocked Harman to the floor and started kicking him whereupon Thomas Tidy and a clerk burst in. Lord Beresford assaulted them too. Beresford was arrested and in court was questioned about his debts which had led to him losing possession of his house but curiously the magistrate disallowed this line of questioning. Beresford’s solicitor repeatedly tried to ask his own client questions but the magistrate repeatedly intervened to stop him. At this point the solicitor said he had no choice but to offer no defence. The magistrate then sent the case to the Old Bailey to be heard by the Solicitor-general.

Before the trial had even started ‘the place was thronged with noblemen and gentlemen’ and Beresford’s defence said that he should not have to stand in the prisoner’s dock. More mdetails of the case emerged. Having gained entry to Harman’s office, Beresford slipped the bolt on the door and said ‘Now you [expletive deleted], you don’t leave this room alive’. When Harman denied calling Beresford a liar and turned to get some papers to prove his case, Beresford said ‘Oh you [expletive deleted], you persist in calling me a liar do you?’ whereupon he seized Harman ‘by the loins’, threw him against an iron box stand and began kicking him. Harman exclaimed ‘Oh you beastly coward. Let a fellow get up and have a chance with you’. He struggled to his feet but Beresford ‘thrust him into a chair and shouted ‘I’ll break every [expletive deleted] bone in your body unless you write me an apology’. Harman replied ‘You’ve the wrong man…if you think I’m going to write an apology before I know I’m in the wrong’. Thomas Tidy and a clerk ‘burst in’ and the police were called. Somebody recognised Beresford and said ‘Why it’s Lord Marcus Beresford’ to which Beresford replied ‘Yes you [expletive deleted], it is’ and ‘hit him a violent blow in the eye’. The policeman then arrested whose response was ‘Oh give me in charge if you like. I’ve a man outside who’ll go bail and it will only be a [expletive deleted] fiver in the morning’.

Under cross-examination Harman explained that he had access to the funds of various gentleman which he then loaned out and in this way he had loaned Beresford £1,000 which had not been repaid. Harman agreed that he had used the terms ‘gross and deliberate falsehood’. Harman testified that he felt acute pain after the assault and still did, though the doctor who had attended after the altercation was then called and said while Harman ‘shrank when touched’ he could find no trace of injury. Summing up, the Solicitor-general said there could be no doubt Harman had been assaulted by Beresford but that the jury might take the view ‘this was a case in which a person who was a mere moneylender had accused a gentleman of honour and position of having told a falsehood and that the gentleman had gone there for the simple purpose of extorting an apology’. The summing up then went on for two hours after which one of the jurors intervened saying ‘they did not want to hear any more about it as they had no desire to be there all night’. The jury retired to consider its verdict and after ten minutes came back: guilty of common assault. Beresford was fined £100, all costs and a £500 bail to keep the peace for one year and to be imprisoned until these were paid. At this point a Colonel Stanley who was in the public gallery immediately offered bail so Beresford was freed.  Some of the magistrates remonstrated at the proviso that Beresford should be imprisoned until he could pay but the intervention of Col Stanley rendered this objection moot. In reporting the case the Spectator pointed out that if Beresford had been an ordinary labourer he would have gone straight to prison for such an assault charge and recommended that the magistrates be replaced by ‘a legally educated tribunal’.

Harman drove a hard bargain with the Dulwich Estate when he was negotiating his move to Bell House in 1895. The Estate’s first offer was a rent of £200 pa which was refused by Harman who persuaded the Estate Governors to let him pay £100 pa for seven years. He also reversed, to his benefit, a stipulation they had made about interest payments and succeeded in getting the Estate to pay him 2.5% pa on quarterly payments.

When Harman Tidy rented Bell House it included ‘conservatory, stables, coach house, green houses and outbuildings. The perimeter of the property was described rather idiosyncratically as having a frontage of 226ft 10in, depth N/NW 353ft 8in abutting Bell Cottages, further N depth 171ft 11in abutting Mr Douglas (i.e. Stella House, the first house after the park gates), S/SE depth 154ft 6in, further S depth 507ft 2in, rear depth 402ft 6in abutting Dulwich Park. 

Tidy asked for improvements to be made to the house or failing that for a lower rent so that he could do the improvements himself. He wanted to: enlarge the dining room by adding an oriel window, enlarge and refit the stabling, improve the drainage (every time someone moves into Bell House they have to do this), make a bathroom, install a new kitchen range, add a hot and cold water supply and repair the conservatory and the greenhouses. The cost was estimated at £450 but such is the way of these things it finally cost £800. A further £100 had to be spent on the drains and Harman’s solicitor advised the Governors that they should bear this outlay lest Mr Tidy refuse to take the tenancy or sues them. The Governors agreed.

In 1896 Harman Tidy said there was not enough room for his servants and put up two four-roomed bungalow cottages in the garden, one for his gardener and one for his coachman. These are not Pickwick Cottage, Bell Cottage or the Lodge but another structure altogether: ‘of timber, covered externally with patent wire wove material lined inside with match-boarding, on the cart road at the lower end of the grounds at a cost of about £200’.  There is probably no surviving evidence of these cottages as they are presumably under Frank Dixon Close.

Although we have no census data for the period the Tidys lived at Bell House we can assume that Harman gathered his extended family around him as he did wherever he lived. When he lived in Chester Terrace his mother and sister lived there too and the house in Bengeo was the home of many Tidys and Robsons. On the 1891 census Harman and Emma had Emma’s daughter, also called Emma, living with them together with her son. The Tidys did not describe any relative as ‘step’ on the census but only as son, daughter etc, a modern way of looking at their ‘blended’ family. Of the older family members, who knew each other but had not grown up together, a Robson son married a Tidy daughter and a Robson daughter married a Tidy son. 

The Tidys were a family that produced sons. Harman was one of six sons, he himself had four sons but he then had the grief of burying two of them. Edwin was a solicitor and died aged 32 and Sidney was a farmer and died aged 27, both were unmarried. Frank became a stockbroker and married Emma’s daughter Mary, Edgar married Rose May Berridge, fought in the Boer War and then became a solicitor; he died in 1923. Of Harman’s daughters, Ada Louise married Emma’s son, Christopher Robson while Lucie Maud married Sydney Worssell Harrington, the son of a corn merchant who lived near the Tidy’s country house in Hertforshire. While Tidys and Robsons intermarrying might seem odd to our eyes we should remember that they were not blood-related and the matches would have been considered excellent by Victorian standards: the families knew each other and lived near each other both in London and in the country, and they were in the same line of business.

Harman’s son Frank also had five sons, having married Mary Robson in August 1884, less than two months before their first child was born. They all lived at Bell House and went to Dulwich College. Frank Edgar died age 17; Christopher emigrated to New Zealand and became a farmer and auctioneer, joining the ANZACs in WW1; Warwick Edward was an importer of resin and turpentine, he won a Military Cross in WW1; Sydney Ernest also fought in WW1 and was wounded twice; after the war he went into in the insurance business and travelled the world, living in Calcutta and Canada; finally, Lionel Bertie was a clerk at the Admiralty Registry, which heard maritime cases at theRoyal Courts of Justice.

Harman died on 2 February 1898 at Bell House. His executors were his son Edgar and his brother and lifelong business partner Thomas. He left £21,000. His son Frank died a year after his father, leaving his own young sons aged between six and fifteen. Harman’s wife Emma died in 1917, living long enough to see Harman’s grandson, Warwick Tidy, win his MC. Warwick himself was badly injured in the war and died in a nursing home in 1923.

Lord Marcus Beresford, who assaulted Harman TIdy. Vanity Fair

Lord Marcus Beresford, who assaulted Harman TIdy. Vanity Fair