Peking Picnics

Feo, Stancioff and Sir Miles Lampson, Ann Phipps Collection, © 2008 Charlotte Thomas

A figure who looms large in Sino-British diplomatic relations in the late 1920s — literally because he was well over six foot tall, and hefty with it — was Sir Miles Wedderburn Lampson, later 1st Baron Killearn. Uncle Miles is how we know him in the office, though, for we have now digitised several albums of photographs taken or owned by his niece, Ann Phipps. Phipps twice visited the Peking Legation for extended periods between 1926-33 when Lampson was British Minister to China (the position was not upgraded to Ambassador until the 1930s).

Some 230 of these photographs have now gone live on the site. This is real Peking Picnic territory, the world sketched quite wonderfully in Ann Bridge’s novel of that name, first published in 1932. Bridge knew her territory, for she was married to Sir Owen O’Malley, who was Acting Counsellor of the British Legation from December 1925 until, embroiled in an insider trading scandal in 1927, he was ‘Permitted to Resign’ from the diplomatic service. (He was subsequently exonerated, and resumed his diplomatic career). There are picnics galore in Ann Phipps’s albums, and days at the Peking races, and holidays in the Western hills. We only lack some of Bridge’s bandits.

Lampson is generally most closely associated with Egypt, where he served as High Commissioner from 1933-46, but his contribution to the improvement in British relations with the Guomindang, and its National Government of China after 1927 was substantial. So, what do our photographs tell us about Sir Miles that has previously been little noted? Well, one thing to us is quite obvious: he liked his hats.

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