Francis Martineau Lupton (1848-1921)
Businessman and Housing Reformer

Francis Martineau LuptonThere are still streets and buildings around Leeds named after the Lupton family, and many reminders of their contribution over the years to the life and improvement of the city: in industry and commerce, in public service, in education, in housing. Francis (Frank) Martineau Lupton made his mark in the transforming work of slum clearance, helping to lift the city out of Victorian darkness and squalor. But alongside his public and professional work, he had to endure, like so many others, the unsparing personal tragedies of the First World War.  

He had a comfortable, favoured childhood: first at Potternewton Hall, a handsome Queen Anne house, long demolished, and then at ‘Beechwood’, an impressive mansion (now offices) set in parkland in Elmete Lane, Roundhay. His father Francis was a partner in the family wool business, while his mother Fanny was active in various social causes, particularly women’s education; her aunt was the writer Harriet Martineau, and this family connection gave Frank his second name. He had three younger brothers, all destined to play a part in the city’s life. After study at Leeds Grammar School, he went on to Trinity College, Cambridge, which had just opened its doors to non-conformists like him.

Frank joined the family business, William Lupton & Sons, at Whitehall Mills, and in his spare time served in the volunteer Leeds Rifles. In 1880, when he was 32, he married Harriet Davis, daughter of the vicar of St John’s Church, Roundhay, near his home. Five children followed, three sons and two daughters, and they moved to a new, handsome house, ‘Rockland’, at the top of St Mary’s Road, Newton Park, Chapeltown, built on part of the Lupton estate. But tragedy struck in 1892 when Harriet, just after the birth of their second daughter, caught influenza and died. Frank never remarried. A fearsome housekeeper looked after the house and his five children until his daughters could take over.

Frank entered local politics and was elected a Councillor and then Alderman. He had a particular interest in the housing and welfare of the poor, and as a follower of the social reformer Octavia Hill believed ardently in the need to improve and regenerate inner city areas of working class housing. For 10 years from 1896 he chaired the Council’s Unhealthy Areas Committee, set up with new powers to tackle the ‘evil legacy’ of the Leeds slums, breeding grounds for disease and death. Its first major scheme was to clear the notorious York Street and Quarry Hill areas, with their crumbling, dank yards. Inspections had to be made, prices agreed, tenants moved out, the rotting buildings demolished, rehousing organised – almost four thousand buildings were cleared. Frank led the action, and promoted other more modest schemes, involving selective demolition to create light, air and open spaces, and the regeneration of existing still usable housing. He opposed the Council’s proposal to build flats (‘tenements’) for rehousing and this disagreement triggered his resignation as chairman, but he continued as a member, and later chaired the Council’s Improvement and Finance committees – a long record of dedicated public service.

In 1914 his daughter Olive married a Leeds solicitor, Richard Middleton – a union which has famously linked the family story to the ancestry of the present Duchess of Cambridge. But this happy event was overshadowed by the outbreak of war.  All three of Frank’s sons went to the Front. One by one they were killed in action: Maurice, his middle son, in the trenches of Lille in 1915; Lionel, his youngest son, at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, having returned to the Front after being wounded;  and Francis, his eldest son, in early 1917, after an agonising wait when he had been declared missing. All three are buried in France.

Frank, a quiet and unassuming man, was said to have borne his losses stoically, but the light had gone out of his life. After the war he let his house ’Rockland’ at a nominal rent for use as a home for the children of soldiers and sailors lost in the war (it is used now as a NHS centre), and moved with his daughter to a smaller house. He died soon after, in 1921, and was buried at St John’s Church, Roundhay – now a sad place, desolate and barricaded. It was said at his funeral that he had ‘brought sunshine to the fetid slums of Leeds’, but his own life lay in shadow.

Eveleigh Bradford
May 2014