Calgary’s Downton Abbey connection

Photo by Amanda Borys

Fans of Downton Abbey no doubt remember Season 4 of the popular show when Rose McLaren was “Presented at Court.” Among the plot lines was the theft of a love letter between the Prince of Wales and his mistress, Freda Dudley Ward. The Crawley family’s commitment to the Crown led them to go above and beyond, saving the day, and resulting in Rose’s first dance at her ball being with the handsome Prince. 

But did you know that there is a Calgary connection to this story? The third person in the relationship between Mrs. Dudley Ward and the Prince of Wales was her husband, the honourable William Dudley Ward who died on Nov. 11, 1946, and was laid to rest in Section S of Calgary’s Union Cemetery. 

Dudley Ward was born in London, England on Oct. 14, 1877, to William Humble Dudley Ward and the Honorable Eugenie Violet Adele Brett. His paternal great-grandfather was William Humble Ward, 10th Baron Ward and his maternal grandfather was William Brett, 1st Viscount Esher. 

Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, Dudley Ward was a member of the Cambridge rowing team. In 1899 and 1900, he and his crew won the Boat Race. He also partnered with Raymond Etherington-Smith in the Henley Royal Regatta where the pair were runners-up in the Silver Goblet in 1900. He was also a member of the crew that won the Stewards’ Challenge Cup in 1901, 1902 and 1903, the Grand Challenge Cup in 1902 and 1903, and the Silver Goblets with Claude Taylor in 1903. 

To round out his rowing accomplishments, Dudley Ward was a part of the crew in the 8-metre class that would win the bronze medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics.  

Dudley Ward was called to the Bar in England in 1904 and entered politics in 1906 when he won the seat for Southampton. He would serve as Treasurer of the Household under Asquith from 1909 to 1912. 

During World War I, Dudley Ward was officially a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, though it was believed he carried out counter-espionage work for Admiral Sir William Reginald Hall, the Director of Naval Intelligence. 

His future wife, Winnifred May Birkin, known as Freda, met Dudley Ward aboard the R.M.S. Mauretania. (The Mauretania was the sister ship to the R.M.S. Lusitania, which was sunk by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915.) 

Dudley Ward was travelling back from North America, including his first visit to Calgary. He was walking the deck with two friends when the trio noticed a beautiful young woman sitting in a deck chair, reading a trashy novel. The four eventually start talking and one of the men threw Freda’s book overboard, claiming she was too young and beautiful to read such items. 

Despite a 16-year age difference, Dudley Ward and Freda had a whirlwind romance and married at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster in July 1913 after knowing each other for only a few months. The Mauretania again carried the pair across the Atlantic, this time on their honeymoon tour of the U.S. and Canada. 

Their first child, Penelope, was born on Aug. 4, 1914, and became a leading actress in the 1930s and 1940s. 

A second daughter, Angela, was born on May 25, 1916. 

Sadly, the couple’s romance did not last and the marriage became strained in only a few short years. Dudley Ward’s political career continued to rise and by 1917 he was the Vice-Chamberlain of the Household under David Lloyd George, a role which required him to put in long hours and late nights. 

Freda met the Prince of Wales at a party and the two quickly began a long-term and very open affair. Dudley Ward was aware of the situation but did nothing to rock the boat. A divorce would have been a scandal and detrimental to his political career. Instead, he and his wife led increasingly separate lives, though both remained doting parents to their daughters. 

In 1922, Dudley Ward lost his Southampton seat in Parliament. He was made a member of the Privy Council in the Dissolution Honours and spent 1923 as a member of the Council of the British Olympic Association, which worked to raise money to allow athletes to compete in the 1924 International Games held in Paris. Dudley Ward also worked to promote increased trade between Canada and the U.K. 

In June of 1930, Freda filed for divorce from her husband on the grounds of his having committed adultery. This was granted quickly and quietly and Freda gained custody of Penelope and Angela. 

Dudley Ward began to live in Calgary for longer periods, residing at the Ranchmen’s Club until he completed a home in Brooks, where he enjoyed hunting. He also made frequent visits back to the U.K. While in Calgary, he invested in real estate, purchased the Ward Block located on Stephen Avenue, and started British Industries in 1932 to foster better trade. 

Dudley Ward also served as a director of Sicks Brewery Ltd. 

Dudley Ward died at 69 years of age, following an operation at the Holy Cross Hospital five days earlier. 

Though he had been recovering well, in the early morning hours he took a turn for the worse and passed away. He was remembered as a kind man with a wide circle of friends both in the U.K. and throughout southern Alberta. 

His headstone reads, in part, “In Loving Memory of Daddy.”