From Herts to Canada: The story of Baron Lytton of Knebworth

The museum at Lytton in British Columbia 

The museum at Lytton in British Columbia - Credit: Mike Clarke

Mike Clarke of Hitchin Historical Society tells the story of Knebworth's Baron Lytton, and the surprising connection between a historic Herts home and a Canadian province.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Edward Bulwer-Lytton - Credit: Courtesy of Henry Lytton-Cobbold

The small town of Lytton in British Columbia, the recent victim of the ‘heat dome’ and then the devastating fires, was named after Edward Bulwer-Lytton, once owner of Knebworth House.

In 1858, then Lord Lytton, he was appointed as Secretary of State for the Colonies by the prime minister, Lord Derby.

When appointed as a minister he had to seek re-election as an MP, which gave his wife the opportunity to shame him at the hustings.

The main street in Lytton, British Columbia

The main street in Lytton, British Columbia - Credit: Mike Clarke

That was part of a long campaign that she pursued following their separation in 1936, and included addressing him as 'Sir Liar Coward Bulwer Lytton'. At that time he began investigating whether she could be detained under the lunacy laws.

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Meanwhile he had a few achievements as the Secretary of State. What became British Columbia in Canada had been a land inhabited by native Canadians and fur trappers, but became more attractive when gold was discovered there in 1858. Its status had been uncertain, with the United States wanting to procure it.

As the British minister responsible for such things, Bulwer-Lytton had it established as a British colony. In honour of his work one settlement, which had been founded by the gold miners, was named Lytton by Sir James Douglas, the first governor of the province.

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Edward did not last long as Secretary for the Colonies. He did eventually arrange for his wife, Rosina, to be assessed under the lunacy laws in June 1858 and she was detained for a period of three weeks. That did not work out well for him. There was a well publicised outcry and she was released from confinement.

His reputation was damaged, as was his health and he resigned from the government the following year. He remained an MP until 1866 before accepting a peerage and being then titled Baron Lytton of Knebworth.


Lifelines 9: Bulwer Lytton by Sibylla Jane Flower (1973)

Cold Baths Don't Work by Mike Clarke (2011) Chapter 6 - A Victorian Tale: The Lyttons and Lunacy Laws

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