4th July 1926

Courts declare widow mentally competent

Fanny Lucy Radmall, born 8 April 1857, was a rebel and a trailblazer. She was married three times including, once, to the ninth Baron Byron, otherwise known as Sir Robert Huston, who was a fabulously wealthy ship builder, politician, and her husband of less than two years. She was widowed when he died in 1926.

The couple lived in Jersey to avoid paying tax on the mainland, and this became an issue following his death. Initially, he had bequeathed his wife ‘just’ £1m, which she had declared to be insufficient. Thus, his entire estate passed to her with his demise on his steam yacht, Liberty. The yacht had originally been owned by newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who had died onboard it in 1911. Its next owner, James Ross, died one year after sailing around the world in her, on a trip that he had hoped would improve his health.

Declared unfit

Now she belonged to Lucy, who had been ill with jaundice at the time of Robert’s passing, and the stress of that death left her, in the opinion of the Jersey Royal Court, unable to manage her own affairs. Responsibility for her, her inheritance and her business, was therefore put in the hands of officials, which must have been a painful development for a woman who had been an active suffragette and would later donate £100,000 – an enormous sum at the time – to fund research that would lead to the development of the Spitfire.

Fortunately, her incapacity was short-lived, and upon the hearing of an appeal the court was told by several doctors from both Jersey and France that she was, less than a month later, fully competent. This presented the court with a problem as, under Jersey law, anyone whose affairs had been put in the hands of the Court could not have them back within one year and one day. The Court impounded the steam yacht Liberty while it considered the matter and compiled a complete inventory of the late Robert Houston’s estate.

Her rights are returned

However, on 4 July the court agreed with the experts it had called that Lady Houston was competent and that all of her rights under the law should be reinstated, even though the period of one year and one day had not expired. She left Jersey later that month, on Liberty, and sailed to Southampton. Upon her arrival she declared she would not be returning to Jersey, and that she had agreed with the Treasury to pay the death duties due.

However, in January 1927, the Western Daily Mail reported that “Lady Houston, widow of Sir Robert Houston, the shipping magnate, who left estate valued at £7m, has revoked her decision to pay the full death duties said to total about £3m, to the British Treasury.”

She died of a heart attack on 29 December 1936, by which time she had not eaten for almost three weeks. The abdication of Edward VIII earlier that month so that he could marry the divorced Wallis Simpson had so distressed her that she had completely lost her appetite. The yacht, Liberty, was sold and scrapped.


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