Man who brought Einstein and carnivals to Cromer area
PUBLISHED: 19:00 31 December 2010
The colourful life of a dashing man who sheltered Albert Einstein from the Nazis on a north Norfolk heath, ran his own armoured car squadron and rubbed shoulders with the celebrities of his day is outlined in a booklet released by Cromer Museum.
But Oliver Locker-Lampson was also the man who instigated the town’s now-famous carnival in the 1920s, and hosted famous guests including Winston Churchill and a young Prince Phillip at his Norfolk seaside home.
The wartime exploits of the Royal Navy commander have been charted in the past, but a booklet by the town’s museum summarising his past also takes a look at the other aspects of his dramatic life.
He is best-known for providing shelter on Roughton Heath for Jewish genius Einstein when he was seeking sanctuary from anti-Semitic onslaught of Adolf Hitler.
Locker-Lampson, who was a fluent German speaker, is thought to have met the Nobel Prize winner at a lecture in Oxford and began exchanging letters and political views. The scientist accepted his offer of hospitality in Norfolk, where he was given shelter in three thatched wooden holiday retreat huts.
He was guarded by Locker-Lampson and two girl secretaries, all armed with rifles in case the Germans came looking for the refugee.
It was not too hard to find him however, because a local EDP reporter of the time - September 1933 - got a tip off and managed to track the professor down for an interview in which he said he was staying for a month before heading to America, where he made his home.
Locker-Lampson was also well-known for having his own armoured car division in the Royal Navy during the first world war which saw service in Russia. It was financed by the commander and some of his wealthy contacts, including the family motor company of Duff Morgan and Vermont in Norwich. He co-founded it in 1909 providing the “Vermont” element through his American mother’s birthplace.
A year later his interest in politics saw him became Unionist MP for North Huntingdon. He later represented Handsworth in Birmingham from 1922-45.
The family had homes in Knightsbridge and Cromer, then a fashionable resort for the well-heeled. The Newhaven Court seaside retreat. which Oliver inherited in 1915 - and which burned down in the 1960s - hosted politicians such as Churchill and explorer Ernest Shackleton. It had a ballroom and a fully-lit covered tennis court which hosted competitions and drew some of the country’s top players.
Locker-Lampson was an outspoken opponent of the Nazi persecution of Jews and a leading member of a Blue Shirts anti-communist league, for whom he wrote a marching song.
His life in Cromer between 1909 and 1936 was rather more genteel. He helped to raise funds for an X-ray unit at Cromer Hospital, and opened a gymkhana raising funds for lifeboat families who had lost crewmen at sea.
In August 1925 the commander, supported by some of his celebrity guests, organised a fete on the pier, with stalls, bunting, 500 lights and fancy dress - the forerunner of today’s carnival.
Locker-Lampson’s marriage to Californian Bianca Paget in 1923 saw the couple dragged through the streets in a car by members of his armoured car squadron - only for her to die on Christmas day seven years later. He remarried in 1935 - wedding Barbara Goodall, one of the secretaries who guarded Einstein, and severed his Cromer connections a year later. He died aged 74 in 1954 wracked with gout and depression in his later life.
Cromer museum volunteer Glenys Hichings, a retired anaesthetist, who researched the book on Locker-Lampson, said she had learned a lot about him.
“He was an intriguing man, but I am not sure he would have been a very nice man if I had met him,” she explained.
“He used to collect people for his celebrity culture. But he just missed the boat of being famous himself, and probably did not get the recognition he deserved.”
●Locker-Lampson, Einstein’s Protector costing £2.50 (£3 by mail order) is available from Cromer Museum, Call 01263 513543 for more information.