04 April 2022

The Earl of Lichfield who
made the Radcliffe Infirmary
Oxford’s great hospital

A portrait of George Henry Lee, 3rd Earl of Lichfield, in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Arriving in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford last week for further treatment for my stroke, I noticed the name of the Lichfield Day Surgery Unit in the West Wing, a few floors below the Neuroscience Ward, where I was staying.

But why, I wondered, did a unit in the hospital have the name Lichfield?

As I walked through the hospital corridors I came across a portrait by an unknown artist of the Third Earl of Lichfield (1718-1772), and so I learned about the links between an Earl of Lichfield and the world-renowned hospital in Oxford.

The Earl of Lichfield made the dream of an infirmary in Oxford a reality and was the first President of the Radcliffe Infirmary.

George Henry Lee II (1718-1772), 3rd Earl of Lichfield, was one of the Radcliffe Trustees who decided in 1758 to use £4,000 from the legacy of Dr John Radcliffe to erect a county hospital that would eventually become the John Radcliffe.

Lord Lichfield also shared in both the choice of Stiff Leadbetter as the architect and was involved in the local supervision of the building.

He was deeply involved in public life in Oxford as MP for Oxford County (1740-1743) and Chancellor of the University of Oxford. He was described as a ‘jolly, good humoured man’ who kept a genial and convivial eye of county, city and university affairs.

Wharton wrote that he was ‘skilled to lend dignity with ease, to unite affability with propriety, and to embellish good sense with all the graces of wit.’ Archbishop Secker said of him, ‘He sometimes drank too much but I have been assured that he doth not habitually.’

George Lee was born on 21 May 1718 at Windsor Castle, the son of George Henry Lee I, 2nd Earl of Lichfield. His father was a great-grandson of King Charles II through his illegitimate daughter Charlotte Fitzroy by his mistress Barbara Villiers. His mother, Frances (Hales), was brought up a Catholic by her father, Sir John Hales, who was the 2nd Earl of Tenterden in the Jacobite peerage.

From birth, he was known as Viscount Quarendon as heir to the title of Earl of Lichfield. He was educated at Saint John’s College, Oxford. He became an MA of Oxford in 1732. He was MP for the county of Oxford in 1740-1742. When his father died on 15 February 1743, he succeeded as the 3rd Earl of Lichfield. Later that year he received the degree DCL at Oxford. His links with the university continued: in 1760 he became the High Steward of the University of Oxford, in 1762 he came Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

The Gentleman’s Magazine noted in 1763 that ‘The graceful dignity, the polite condescension, the ne quid nimis (‘Let there be nothing in Excess’) of the Chancellor were universally admired.’

He was a member of the Privy Council and his other offices and sinecures included Lord of the Bedchamber to King George III (1760), Captain of the Band of Gentlemen Pensioners (1762), Deputy Ranger of Hampton Court Park (1762), and Deputy Lieutenant for Oxfordshire (1763). He was also a Vice-President of the Society of Arts.

Lord Lichfield and his wife Diana or Dinah, daughter of Sir Thomas Frankland, were married in Bath on 16 January 1745. They had no children, and when he died on 17 September 1772 the title of Earl of Lichfield passed to his uncle Robert Lee (1706-1776) as Fourth Earl of Lichfield. He too was MP for Oxford (1754-1768).

Because both the third and fourth earls had no sons to inherit the title of Earl of Lichfield title, it died out in 1776 and the Lee family estate at Ditchley was eventually inherited by Lady Charlotte Lee, eldest surviving sister of the third earl. Lady Charlotte had married the 11th Viscount Dillon in 1744, and their son, Charles Dillon-Lee (1745-1813), 12th Viscount Dillon, inherited the Ditchley estate, which remained the home of the Viscounts Dillon until 1934.

Although the title of Earl of Lichfield died out in the Lee family, it was later revived in 1831 for Thomas Anson at the coronation of William IV. And as well as George Henry Lee, the 3rd Earl of Lichfield who helped to shape the Radcliffe Hospital, there was another 3rd Earl of Lichfield in the person of Thomas Francis Anson, (1856-1918).

The Lichfield Day Surgery Unit is in the West Wing in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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