DCEPT History

The Trust Deed

The Trust Deed was made on May 3rd 1951, the original Trustees being Horace Evelyn Sier, George Gregson Parkinson and William Gosselin (later Sir William) Trower. The Trust was made to accord with the will of the Right Honourable Eleanor Countess Peel, who died on November 9th 1949, directing that “the Executors should stand possessed of her residuary estate upon trust to establish a charitable trust to be known as “the Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust”.

Two Families

The background to the Trust arises from the union of two remarkable families. Eleanor (Ella), born in 1871, was the daughter of a James Williamson (later Baron Ashton) of Lancaster, whose father sowed the seeds of establishing a vast family fortune. James Williamson, father of Lord Ashton, was the son of a Keswick (Cumbrian) wool manufacturer. He migrated to Lancaster in 1830 and was apprenticed as a painter and decorator but in a most imaginative way he started to make table beige (American cloth) which he began to export, together with upholstery and wallpaper, from a factory at the head of navigation of the Lune river – Lune Mills (known locally as the “shipyard”). He then digressed by producing a floor covering by painting oil paints on a cork or sack cloth base. This product, known as oilcloth and later as linoleum, became accepted almost universally as a floor covering, becoming a great source of wealth and laid the foundation of the firm of James Williamson and Son. James Williamson became a Freeman of Lancaster in 1837 and gave to the town a magnificent ornamental park, known to this day as Williamson Park.

James Williamson’s son, also James, inherited the business and wealth on his father’s death in 1879. He expanded the firm and became a local dignitary and benefactor. He was a town councillor, a justice of peace, High Sheriff of Lancaster and Liberal Member of Parliament for Lancaster from 1886 to 1895. In 1895 he was created a Peer of the Realm, assuming the name Baron Ashton. His generosity to local institutions was notorious, but the outstanding donations were the building of a magnificent town hall in Dalton Square and providing a bronze statue of Queen Victoria which adorns the centre of the square.

Lord Ashton was married three times, and to commemorate his nuptial happiness he created a monument in the Williamson Park. This fantastic Baroque building (known locally as “the structure”) is a landmark which can be seen from miles around. In his later years he became a virtual recluse, living in a beautiful house, Ryelands, in Skerton. He died, intestate, in 1930. It is estimated that his estate was valued at £9.5 million. He had two daughters by his first marriage – Eleanor who later founded DCEPT, and Maud who died in 1906 at the age of 30.

Eleanor Williamson married the Rt. Hon. William Robert Wellesly Viscount Peel at All Saints Knightsbridge, London in April 1899. Viscount Peel had an illustrious lineage, the first Baronetcy having been bestowed on one Robert Peel in 1800. Many of his descendants were distinguished in the army, the church, the professions and in politics. Perhaps the ancestor of Earl Peel most renowned in history was Sir Robert Peel, a distinguished statesman, M.P. for Oxford and later for Tamworth, who introduced the police force into Ireland (1812-18) and the Police Act in Parliament in 1828. He thus gave rise to the slang expressions “bobbies” and “peelers”.

However, Viscount Peel was a man of great stature. He was a barrister at the Inner Temple, M.P. for Manchester South (1900-1906) and for Taunton (1906-1912), and became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1921. In 1929 he was elevated in the peerage, becoming the first Earl Peel. After such a distinguished career, he died in 1937 at the age of 60. His widow, the Dowager Countess, survived him by 12 years.

The Charitable Trust (DCEPT) not only reflects the wishes of the Dowager but highlights many facets of her wisdom and determination. Apart from certain scheduled charities, emphasis is made to helping medical charities and research, old people, and those “who have fallen on evil days through no fault of their own”. Since inception the charity has made grants to scheduled and other charities of almost £20m.

Travelling Fellowship

To facilitate applications of the Trust to medical research, a subsidiary trust, The Peel Medical Research Trust (PMRT) was established in September 1954, the Trustees being William Gosselin Trower and Dr Thomas Parkinson. This enabled the Trust to devote money to individuals for medical research and to endow a Travelling Fellowship to allow a registered health professional to study abroad for one year and to bring back knowledge,techniques and research methods to this country. Between the formation of the Trust and its winding up grants totalling £2,188,732 were made. Grants to individuals for fellowships are now made by the Charitable Trust. Two annual fellowship may be awarded namely The Peel Travelling Fellowship and The Rothwell Jackson Travelling Fellowship.

Studentship Trust

In June 1964 a further subsidiary trust named The Peel Studentship Trust was established, the first Trustees being John Cuthbert Bevington; Stanley George Sturmey; Thomas Edward Lawrenson; and Robert Scott Parkinson. The Trust was established with the prime objective of the advancement of education at The Lancaster University and grants of over £1m have been awarded since formation. On 19 July 2018 The Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust was inducted into the Chancellor’s College of Benefactors at Lancaster University.

The Trustees

The Trustees have also created two permanent endowment funds namely Eleanor Peel Chair of Geriatrics at St George’s Hospital on 15th April 1975 and The Eleanor Peel Lectureship in Psycho-Geriatrics at The Institute of Psychiatry on 21st February 1984. The awards were for £250,000 and £299,894 respectively.

The current Trustees are Professor Maggie Pearson (Chair), Michael Parkinson, Professor Colin Sibley, David Parkinson and Professor Cheng-Hock Toh CBE.