Philip Sassoon

The Right Honourable
Sir Philip Sassoon, 3rd Bt

Sir Philip Sassoon as a staff officer during World War I
First Commissioner of Works
In office
27 May 1937  7 June 1939
Preceded by The Earl Stanhope
Succeeded by Herwald Ramsbotham
Personal details
Born Philip Albert Gustave David Sassoon
4 December 1888
Died 3 June 1939 (Aged 50)
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford

Sir Philip Albert Gustave David Sassoon, 3rd Baronet GBE CMG PC (4 December 1888 3 June 1939) was a British politician, art collector and social host, entertaining many celebrity guests at his homes, Port Lympne Mansion, Kent, and Trent Park, Hertfordshire, England.


Sassoon was a member of the prominent Jewish Sassoon family and Rothschild family. He was born in his mother's mansion on Avenue de Marigny, Paris. His father was Sir Edward Albert Sassoon, 2nd Baronet, MP, son of Albert Abdullah David Sassoon; his mother was Aline Caroline, daughter of Gustave Samuel de Rothschild. His sister was Sybil Sassoon, who married the Marquess of Cholmondeley. He was a cousin of the war poet Siegfried Sassoon. He was descended from the banking family of Frankfurt. When aged only nineteen years old his great-grandfather, James Rothschild was sent to Paris to set up the family business in France. James was so wealthy when he died in 1868 that he was buried among kings in Père Lachaise Cemetery. However the Sassoon-Rothschild kept the Jewish faith, donated to Jewish charities and founded synagogues. The Sassoon family had suffered persecution in the Paris ghetto during the royalist period. His great-grandfather David Sassoon had been imprisoned in Baghdad in 1828, and in 1832 he established his business David Sassoon & Co. at Bombay. He took advantage of British rule to return to Baghdad to trade. The family eventually established a Head Office at Leadenhall Street, London and another in Manchester. The Sassoons became assimilated Jews, dressing, acting and thinking like Englishmen. The Sassoon Brothers, David and Albert were friends of the Prince of Wales, built the 'Black Horse' brand. The business came with a baronetcy of Kensington Gore. His father bought Shorncliffe Lodge, where his cousin Mayer Rothschild was the MP. His father was not a successful backbencher, but the political influences had a profound effect on young Philip. He was educated at Farnborough Prep school, Eton before going up to Oxford. Old Etonian Arthur Balfour recommended the Debating Society to him. His father was also friendly with Frances Horner, wife of Sir John Horner, a longtime friend of Gladstone who lived at Mells Manor in Somerset. His house master was a member of the secret society of liberals, the Young Apostles. Also a near contemporary was Osbert Sitwell, the Yorkshireman and author. A French scholar, he learned the language doing classes at Windsor Castle. Sassoon was taught aesthetics by Henry Luxmoore giving an insight into philosophy and social realism. However he chose to read Modern History at Christ Church, Oxford. He was one of only 25 Jewish undergraduates, but was invited to join the Bullingdon Club. He joined the East Kent Yeomanry while still at Oxford and commissioned a second lieutenant.

Philip Sassoon entered Parliament in 1912.[1]

First World War

Sassoon served as private secretary to Field Marshal Haig during the First World War from 1915-1918.[1] Sassoon was present at the meeting on the First of December 1914 at the Chateau Demont at Merville in France, when King George V and Edward Prince of Wales met with Poincare, President of France, and the Generals Joffre, Foch and Rawlinson. The allies showed their determination to fight Germany and the Central Powers. Because of his "numerous social and political connections" Sassoon, at that time a Second Lieutenant in the Royal East Kent Yeomanry, was in attendance. A square bronze plaque commemorating the occasion was auctioned in 2012.

Political career

He was Member of Parliament (MP) for Hythe from 1912, succeeding his father, initially as the "Baby of the House". He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to David Lloyd George in 1920. Between 1924 and 1929 and again from 1931 until 1937 he served as Under-Secretary of State for Air, and gained much prominence in political circles. He was appointed a Privy Councillor in the 1929 Dissolution Honours. In 1937 he became First Commissioner of Works, a post which he held until his death, aged fifty, two years later.

Trent Park

He had a reputation for being one of the greatest hosts in Britain. Herbert Baker designed one house for him in 1912, Port Lympne, later the Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, in Kent, and Philip Tilden largely re-built another at Trent Park, Cockfosters, from 1923. Stylistic differences between the two houses illustrate changes in taste among members of British high society of the period. Trent Park possessed a landscape designed by Humphrey Repton but the existing house was Victorian and undistinguished. Sassoon and his designers turned it into one of the houses of the age, "a dream of another world - the white-coated footmen serving endless courses of rich but delicious food, the Duke of York coming in from golf... Winston Churchill arguing over the teacups with George Bernard Shaw, Lord Balfour dozing in an armchair, Rex Whistler absorbed in his painting... while Philip himself flitted from group to group, an alert, watchful, influential but unobtrusive stage director - all set against a background of mingled luxury, simplicity and informality, brilliantly contrived..."[2] This atmosphere, as Clive Aslet has suggested, represented a complete about-face from Sassoon's earlier extravagance at Port Lympne to what Aslet called "an appreciation of English reserve."[3] In the words of Christopher Hussey, at Trent Sassoon caught "that indefinable and elusive quality, the spirit of a country house... an essence of cool, flowery, chintzy, elegant, unobtrusive rooms that rises in the mind when we are thinking of country houses."[4]

Port Lympne Mansion

Neither the eye-popping interiors nor the extravagant gardens at Port Lympne Mansion could be described as in any way "reserved", or even "English". Mark Girouard has written of the "quiet good taste expected of a country gentleman"[5] against which Philip may have chafed in his younger years, apparently torn between the standards of Country Life and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His Ballets Russes-inspired dining room at Port Lympne with its lapis walls, opalescent ceiling, gilt-winged chairs with jade-green cushions, all surmounted by a frieze of scantily-clad Africans, suggests the outsider confidence of a Rothschild and of an openly gay man.[3] Philip Tilden added a bachelor's wing with Moorish courtyard, which Lady Honor Channon, (wife of Chips), unkindly likened to a Spanish brothel,[3] to accommodate young airmen from nearby Romney Marsh flying field - among his other enthusiasms, Sir Philip was himself an aviator - and Tilden's twin swimming pools and monumentally classical garden staircase were in much the same theatrical spirit.

One frequent guest was Lawrence of Arabia.


As Secretary of State for Air, Sassoon was Honorary C.O. of No. 601 (County of London) Squadron. The Squadron was nicknamed ‘The Millionaires’ Squadron' because it was reported to have six millionaire members. In 1932 he was enthusiastic about the new Percival Gull monoplane and ordered his own model powered by a Napier Javelin 111 six cylinder engine, with the interior finished in red leather. In this luxurious Gull G-ACGR he competed in the King’s Cup and the Folkestone Aero Trophy Race. As Under-secretary of State for Air, Sassoon carried out the first general inspection of British overseas air stations, flying the Blackburn Iris. Afterwards he wrote The Third Route, published by Heinemann in 1929, recounting the story of the development of the air route from England to India.

Honours and decorations

He was appointed a Companion of St Michael and St George (C.M.G.) in 1917.[1] On 7 October 1919, it was announced that Sassoon had been awarded the French Croix de Guerre "for distinguished services rendered during the course of the campaign.[6] In 1923 he was made Knight of the Grand Cross Order of the British Empire (G.B.E.).[7]

In 2012 a set of his decorations was sold at auction.[8] The decorations were a set of the Order of The British Empire, Grand Cross (G.B.E.) made by the court-jeweller Garrard, the Order of St Michael and St George, Companion’s (C.M.G.) neck Badge, also by Garrard, 1914-15 Star (engraved Lieut. Sir P.A.D.G.Sassoon. R.E.Kent Yeo.); British War and Victory Medals ( engraved Major Sir P.A.D.G.Sassoon. R.E.Kent Yeo.); 1935 Jubilee Medal and 1937 Coronation Medal (both engraved A/Cdre Sir Philip Sassoon 601 Squ. A.A.F.); France, a decoration of a Knight of the Legion d’Honneur, a decoration of a Knight of the French Colonial Order of the Black Star; Belgium, Officer of the Order of the Crown; French Croix de Guerre and Belgian Croix de Guerre; mounted in the court style.

The arts

He was Chairman of the Trustees of the National Gallery from 1933 - 1935, and as Minister for Works in the 1930s he was responsible for embellishing many of London's monuments and parks. As a collector Philip Sassoon was, like many of the Rothschilds, drawn mainly to the English and French 18th century, but he also collected contemporary artists such as John Singer Sargent and William Orpen.[9]

Personal life

Sassoon never married and was said to have lived an openly homosexual life.[10]


Sassoon died on 3 June 1939, aged 50, of complications from influenza.[11][12][13]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Who Was Who 1929-1940. London: A. & C. Black. 1941. p. 1197.
  2. Boothby, Robert (1947). I Fight to Live. London: Gollancz.
  3. 1 2 3 Aslet, Clive (1982). The Last Country Houses. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300034741.
  4. Hussey, Christopher (17 January 1931). Country Life: 66–7. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. Girouard, Mark (1978). Life in the English Country House. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300022735.
  6. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31586. pp. 12401–12405. 3 October 1919. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  7. Dictionary of National Biography, 1931-40, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1949, p.784
  8. Spink, February 2005 Medal Newsletter
  9. Agnews press release for An Exhibition of paintings and drawings from the collection of Philip and Sybil Sassoon
  11. "Sir Philip Sassoon: Death in England". The Argus (28949). Melbourne. June 5, 1939. p. 9.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Edward Sassoon
Member of Parliament for Hythe
Succeeded by
Rupert Brabner
Political offices
Preceded by
William Leach
Under-Secretary of State for Air
Succeeded by
Frederick Montague
Preceded by
Frederick Montague
Under-Secretary of State for Air
Succeeded by
Anthony Muirhead
Preceded by
The Earl Stanhope
First Commissioner of Works
Succeeded by
Herwald Ramsbotham
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Edward Sassoon
(of Kensington Gore)
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