Helena Bonham Carter is an award winning actress of film and TV fame who belongs to a prominent British family. The daughter of Raymond Bonham Carter, a Merchant Banker and, in the 1960s, a Bank of England official on the International Monetary Fund, her paternal grandparents were Sir Maurice Bonham Carter, a Liberal MP and Violet, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, who was a life peer in her own right, and the daughter of H.H Asquith the Prime Minister.
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Helena’s mother, Elena (née Propper de Callejón), is a psychotherapist whose parents were the Spanish diplomat Eduardo Propper de Callejón and the painter Baroness Hélène Fould-Springer. But it is her paternal great grandfather, Henry Bonham Carter and a cousin of Florence Nightingale, that we are going to trace in this article first.
Trained as a lawyer, a search of TheGenealogist returns his entry in one of the legal lists that make up a part of the extensive Occupational Records on the site. The book record, Men at the Bar, a Biographical Hand List 1858, that is one of those returned in our search, immediately furnishes us in one shot with so many great details that are essential for a family history. For example we learn from this listing the exact date of Henry Bonham Carter’s birth – it was on the 15th February 1827. We discover that he went to Trinity College Cambridge, which will alert us to then search TheGenealogist’s Education Records to go further in our quest. And we find out that he became the MD of one of the country’s large fire and life assurance companies that may lead us to take a look in the Directors records as well as checking out the Trade, Residential and Telephone books. The listing also usefully gives us two addresses for him that we can follow up on later in our research.
We are able to learn from this book that Henry was the third son of John Bonham Carter, Esq., MP who was late of Petersfield in Hampshire and had himself been a barrister. The difference was, however, that he was a member of the Inner Temple, one of the other Inns of Court to which English and Welsh Barristers belong. Henry Bonham Carter, we read, had become a student of Lincoln’s Inn on 25 June 1846 at the tender age of 19 years old. Other important information that we can glean is the date of his marriage: the 10 June 1862, when he married Sibella Charlotte Norman. She is Helena Bonaham Carter’s great grandmother and was the daughter of George Warde Norman of Bromley Common in Kent.
By the time of the 1861 census, Henry Bonham Carter was a practising Barrister and recorded in his widowed mother’s home in Keston, on the outskirts of London in the Bromley registration district of Kent.
Being a professional advocate, however, wasn’t a lifelong career for him and it was in this same year that he gave up practising as a barrister. His cousin, Florence Nightingale had been developing the idea of trained professional nursing and so Henry’s administrative skills were a boon to her on the establishment of the Nightingale Training School for Hospital Nurses, where he became the Secretary of the institution. Also in that year he took on the role of the Managing Director of the Guardian Fire and Life Assurance Company and remained at the helm until 1902. A search of a number of trade directories finds the same advertisement reproduced in editions from all over the British Isles, including one in the 1910 Dublin Directory. From this advert we see that he remained a director of the company even after relinquishing the Managing Directorship.
By the 1871 census we are able to see that Helena Bonham Carter’s great grandfather is living at 91 Gloucester Terrace in Paddington with his wife and children. His occupation is, in this record, given as a Director of a Public Company, Barrister not practising and Landowner. This census address is the first one that we have already seen at the end of his listing in Men at the Bar, a Biographical Hand List 1858 and so this document confirms that this was his home. With the link from the census transcript to TheGenealogist’s Map Explorer™ we are able to place the house exactly in its neighbourhood. The second address in the Men at the Bar is his office, situated at 9 Lomba Street EC (which appears to be an abbreviation of Lombard Street in London), A glance at the Guardian Assurance Company’s advert, that we found in the directories on TheGenealogist, gives us the organisation’s address as 11 Lombard Street and so confirming his business address as well as that if his home.
The Prime Minister’s daughter and his Private Secretary
The eleventh child born to Henry and Sibella Bonham Carter was named Maurice and he is the grandfather of our famous actor, Helena. Sir Maurice as he became after he was knighted, can be found in some of the records on TheGenealogist including his entry in Education Records where he appears in the Balliol College Registers of Oxford University.
We can discover from this that he also became a Barrister of Lincoln’s Inn and then the Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr Asquith, between 1910 and 1916. As the former PM was raised to the House of Lords as the 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, we can perhaps assume from this and the marriage details to Violet, daughter of the 1st Earl in 1915, that it was while working for her father that Sir Maurice had met his future wife.
After the war Sir Maurice went into business as a partner in Buckmaster & Moore, a firm of stockbrokers, as the entry in the Balliol College Register tells us. Doing further research on TheGenealogist returns an entry in the 1936 Directory of Directors that shows us that he went on to be a Merchant Banker, as well as holding various other directorships.
Helena Bonham Carter’s grandfather died on 7 June 1960, aged 79, and is buried in the churchyard at St Andrew’s Church, Mells in Somerset. One of the graveyards photographed for TheGenealogist’s Headstone collection is St Andrew’s in New Street, Mell and so we are able to find an image of the last resting place for Sir Maurice and his wife Lady Violet.
In another of the cemeteries within the Headstone Collection, this time for St John, Stockton in Wiltshire, we find another Bonham Carter family gravestone, this time dated 2004. It is for Raymond Henry Bonham Carter, Helena’s father and the son of the above couple. Raymond had been a senior bank official holding posts with the Bank of England (1958–1963), the International Monetary Fund (1961–1963), Warburgs (1963–1977), and the Department of Industry (1977–1979). In 1979 he was tragically diagnosed with acoustic neuroma and then suffered complications during an operation to remove the tumour. This led to a stroke, leaving him half-paralysed and using a wheelchair. With her brothers at college, Helena Bonham Carter was left to help her mother cope before beginning her acting career.
And one other lawyer in her family
If we return to look in the records of legal men that we first used to find Helena Bonham Carter’s paternal great grandfather, Henry Bonham Carter, we will also discover the entry for one of her other ancestors. This time it is none other than H. H. Asquith, whose daughter married Henry Bonham Carter’s son. Published the year before Mr Asquith entered Parliament as a Liberal MP, the Men at the Bar, a Biographical Hand List 1858 records his occupation as a lecturer on Common Law and a Barrister of Lincoln’s Inn. From the information that we can read here the entry reveals that he was at Lincoln’s Inn – though it is much later than Henry Bonham Carter’s time as a student from June 1846. Mr Asquith, in contrast, was a student at Lincoln’s Inn in 1872 and he was called to the bar in 1876, some 25 years later than the father of the man his daughter would marry.
When we find an entry in one of these biographical book records they are able to provide us with very useful information that will allow us to check details about ancestor, such as educational establishments they will have attended, their parentage and spouse’s name as well as addresses, all of which can be used to lead us to other records and so enabling us to build a person’s story and their family tree.