Will the real Cecil Guinness please stand up?

You have, I think, to be a particularly hardcore Guinness nerd to know that the first Earl of Iveagh, the man who floated the St James’s Gate brewery on the London stock exchange in 1886, and headed the company until his death in 1927, a few weeks short of his 80th birthday, while generally known, at least after he became a baronet in 1885, as Edward, was called by his second name, Cecil, for the first 25 or more years of his life.

Cecil Guinness …

I never intended, honest, to be a hardcore Guinness nerd, but the as-yet-to-be-finished Great Porter History Book has a big chapter, naturally, on Guinness, and researching for that brought up events like the meeting in March 1869 in the Metropolitan Hall, Dublin called to protest at the Irish Church Act, which, as I’m sure I don’t need to remind any of you, disestablished the [Protestant] Church of Ireland and ended the payment of tithes, which had forced Ireland’s Catholic majority to fund Protestant priests and churches. Another of those controversies that once filled halls, and newspaper pages, and Parliamentary debates, with ferocious speeches and is now as forgotten as Nineveh and Tyre: but let us speed to the point. Before the ferocious speeches began at the Metropolitan Hall, a Dublin newspaper reported, the “boys” in the galleries “amused themselves in the usual manner with Kentish fire, &c … [and] cheered for ‘Cecil Guinness” [and] ‘Sir Arthur.'” “Sir Arthur” was the oldest Guinness brother, then MP for Dublin, later Lord Ardilaun, and Cecil was Ernest Cecil Guinness, his younger brother. (“Kentish fire”, as an aside, is prolonged rhythmical clapping.)

All this is leading up to the surprise and delight I felt last year when a Dublin bookseller advertised a genuine, previously unknown photograph of Lord Iveagh as a young man, signed, or at least inscribed in ink, “Mr Cecil Guinness”. It was priced at, hem hem, rather a lot of moolah, but what a scoop, I thought, for the Great Porter Book. Edward Cecil, born in 1847, had worked in the brewery since he was 15, unlike his eldest brother, who went to Eton and then Trinity College, Dublin. The young man in the picture, therefore, who looked to be between 20 and 25, was already an experienced brewer when he popped his top hat on a side-table and sat down, hand in pockets, to have his portrait taken.

Young Edward Cecil

Except that … when I sent a copy of the photograph to Patrick Guinness, who is a great-great grandson of Edward Cecil, he passed it on to someone who is researching the first Lord Iveagh for a biography, and the response was – that’s probably not Edward Cecil. And if you look carefully, you can see that, compared with known pictures of ECG, the ear lobe appears to be wrong and the lips are too thin, while “Cecil” in the photograph has too long thighs: ECG was notoriously a short man.  

So – who is this mystery Cecil Guinness, photographed, judging by the clothes, in the 1870s, and someone not much older than mid-20s, I would suggest? There WAS another Cecil Guinness about at the time, ECG’s third cousin (and later brother-in-law) Arthur Cecil Cope Jenkinson Guinness, born 1841, and also known, like the young ECG, by his second name: indeed, Arthur Cecil Guinness complained to ECG about the younger man calling himself “Cecil”, insisting that as the older member of the family, he, Arthur Cecil, had first dibs on the Cecil name.

Arthur Cecil Guinness: is he Mystery Cecil?

The only picture I have been able to find of Arthur Cecil is from the memoirs of his grandson, another Cecil, Cecil Edward Guinness, known to everyone as Edward (or Ted). This Edward, still, as I write, with us at 96, started working for the family firm in 1945 at park Royal, and rose to be a board member. Arthur Cecil is clearly in his 30s, at least, here, and sporting an impressive quantity of Vctorian face foliage, but he looks a lot more like Mystery Cecil than the young Edward Cecil does. More tellingly, Mystery Cecil looks a lot like Arthur Cecil’s sister, Adelaide, wife of Edward Cecil: the chin, the nose and the lips, in particular (though not the ears). However, when I sent a copy of Mystery Cecil’s picture to Edward Guinness, via David Hughes, who edited Edward’s memoirs, the message came back that Edward “did not recognise the man.”

Adelaide Guinness, sister of Arthur Cecil, wife of Edward Cecil, and bearing a distinct resemblance to the mystery Cecil …

So: Mystery Cecil will not be appearing in the Big Porter History Book. Arthur Cecil Guinness, in any case, is a peripheral figure in the Guinness story: he was descended from Samuel, Arthur Guinness I’s younger brother, and thus a member of what are known as the “banking Guinnesses”. Two of his younger brothers, Claude and Reginald, were important in the history of the brewery, both recruited by Edward Cecil, their brother-in-law, with Claude rising to managing director until his sudden death in 1895, aged 43, and Reginald following as MD and chairman. Arthur Cecil’s grandson Edward, recruited to the brewery by Edward Cecil’s son Ernest, had a long and thoroughly worthy career at Guinness, and played an important role in the climax of the Saunders Affair, the scandal of the financial shenanigans surrounding the company’s takeover of Distillers in 1986. Artur Cecil’s sister Adelaide was wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother to three Guinness chairmen and at least nine Guinness directors, But Arthur Cecil was  a good-looking failure, “tiresome and dishonest” according to his own grandson, who flopped as a sheep farmer in Australia and a pig farmer in Iowa, dying in San Francisco in 1898 aged 57.

Still, if any member of the Guinness family, or its wider branches and tributaries, reads this and DOES recognise the man in the picture as great-great grandfather/uncle Cecil, do get in touch, and I will be very happy to send you the original: it would be good both to find out who it really is a photograph of, and to reunite it with some descendants.

6 thoughts on “Will the real Cecil Guinness please stand up?

    1. Some time in 2021 – and I have a suspicion it’s going to be quite expensive, as it’s closing on on 300,000 words …

      1. Martyn –

        I’m sure it will be worth the price asked. It’s a book that needed to be written, because, as things stand, we really don’t know all that much about (arguably) the most important beer that ever existed. I do hope there’ll be something on the Rodenbach connection.

  1. This is really interesting. Maybe you could run the photo’s through some of the online facial recognition software programs and see if it turns up a comparison hit for the different photos? Also, I found a 1948 Current Biography for Arthur (Rundell) Guinness and it mentions Cecil Guinness as being a pioneer in slum abolishment. I’m not having my sharpest day so I’m still trying to figure out the people and connection at work here in your research. If I make a little family tree graphic I may see it more clearly. Ha ha.

    1. The “Arthur Cecil Guinness” that Current Biography mentions is in fact Edward Cecil – and that’s not the only error there. Benjamin Guinness was the first Arthur’s grandson, and son of Arthur II, not Arthur I’s son, and the first Lord Iveagh was thus Arthur I’s great-grandson. Arthur Rundell is the grandfather of Sabrina Guinness, one of Prince Charles’s ex-girlfriends, bwho is now married to Tom Stoppard, the playwright … I drew up a massive Guinness family tree, as the only way to keep track of them all – it gets exceedingly com0licated, because they kept marrying each other …

      1. I knew you would find holes in that biography! I’ve been looking at other photos online and to me the photo you have bears a strong resemblance to Edward Cecil and also a little to younger images of Arthur Guinness, 1st Baron Ardilaun. Also, if you look at photos of Edward Cecil’s son Rupert Guinness, 2nd Earl of Iveagh, he has that same jaw line. It has an unusual shape to me like a boomerang. With that said all the images of Cecil Guinness online he seems to have thin lips and that jaw much like your photo. The younger Edward Cecil photo wearing the top hat seems like the odd photo out with those fuller red lips. I’m trying to do some facial comparison analysis but the Microsoft program I have used in the past it is still free but now you have to give them credit card information which I’m not keen on doing. The program would compare photos and give a percentage of being a family member, the same person, or no relation. It’s now called Microsoft Azure Face. So your contention is that the photo you have is Arthur Cecil Guinness who has very few photos to conduct research? Maybe check with Marsh’s Library in Dublin since the Guinness family helped restore the library and donated personal material which may include photos.

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