Titan of the Thames

by Sandy Nairne and Peter Williams


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    Non Fiction



    Published by Unbound

    Published February 2024

    The Life of Lord Desborough

    William Grenfell, Lord Desborough, was, for many, the epitome of the perfect English gentleman: an exceptional sportsman, a dedicated public servant and a devoted husband and father. Grenfell’s astounding sporting achievements, from climbing mountains to swimming the basin of the Niagara Falls twice, from rowing the English Channel and winning the Amateur Punting Championship for three years consecutively, to representing Great Britain in fencing, produced his deep-rooted belief in the importance of sport. It wasn’t surprising therefore that he became the driving force behind the 1908 London Olympic Games, an enormous success despite being staged with only two years’ notice.

    A surprisingly modern public figure, Grenfell was elected as an MP before going on to hold a prodigious array of local, national and international roles: mayor of Maidenhead, leading the London Chamber of Commerce, promoting aviation, establishing modern policing, and serving as chairman of the Thames Conservancy. Although Grenfell’s public life was successful, his family was struck by tragedy, aged six he lost his father and he and his wife Ettie suffered the loss of two sons in the First World War and their third in a motor accident. Despite this, their home, Taplow Court, was a place for entertaining and had been a focal point for the Souls, including notable politicians such as A.J. Balfour and the young Winston Churchill, as well as writers like H. G. Wells and Henry James.

    In Titan of the Thames, Nairne and Williams disentangle the myths surrounding this fascinating man who spans the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and have pieced together a compelling biography of a figure whose story should have been told many years ago.

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