Birth: 10 July 1901
Place or Registered Place of Birth: Marylebone, London
Baptism: Not Known
Place of Baptism: Not Known
Death: 26 October 1996 - Aged 95
Place or Registered Place of Death: Shellingford, Oxfordshire
Father: Richard Arthur Surtees Paget
Spouse(s): Christopher John Howard Chancellor
Date of Marriage: 18 February 1926
Place or Registered Place of Marriage: Shepton Mallet, Somerset
Sir John Paget Chancellor (1927-)
Teresa Chancellor (1933-)
Susanna Maria Chancellor (1935-)
Alexander Surtees Chancellor (1940-)
A philanthropist of wit and charm who remained unbowed by war in Shanghai or the Blitz in London
The Daily Telegraph—London
Wednesday, October 30, 1996
Lady Chancellor, who has died aged 95, was a woman of irresistible charm and wit — gifts which were tempered by an inherited philanthropic strain.
For all her vivacity and sparkle, Sylvia Chancellor was curiously lacking in intellectual self-confidence. Yet she knew how to cut the pretentious down to size, and proved extremely effective in her charitable work.
Touched by the plight of a cleaning woman whose husband had been arrested in the small hours, and who was at a loss about how to act, Sylvia Chancellor founded the Prisoners' Wives Service. Through hard work, and her ability to co-opt such sympathisers as Earl Mountbatten and Roy Jenkins, she was able to create a flourishing organisation. She was appointed OBE in 1976.
Lady Chancellor was born Sylvia Mary Paget on July 10 1901, the eldest of three daughters of Sir Richard Paget, 2nd Bt, and of his wife Lady Muriel, daughter of the 12th Earl of Winchelsea and 7th Earl of Nottingham.
Lady Muriel's mother, Sylvia's grandmother, was the daughter of Edward Harcourt, MP, and a great friend of Alice Liddell, the model for Lewis Carroll's Alice. On her father's side Sylvia Paget was connected with the novelist R S Surtees.
Sir Richard Paget was an eccentric amateur scientist and inventor, who specialised in working for the deaf, and stuffed his daughters' ears with treacle so that they could test the sign language he had developed.
A man who valued spirit, he trained his daughters to jump about on the roof of Cranmore Hall, the family home in Somerset (which was later taken over by All Hallows preparatory school). When electricity was installed, Sylvia, aged nine, was told to do the wiring.
The Paget girls were also required to throw themselves backwards off buses which were proceeding down Park Lane at 30 mph. This was to demonstrate Sir Richard's theory that the force of the air behind them would see to it they landed safely on their feet.
The children's mother, Lady Muriel, was generally absent, often in Russia, where she founded the Anglo-Russian hospital for wounded soldiers in the First World War. She was also a friend of Tomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia.
Sir Richard preferred to keep his distance from these activities; asked if he was related to Lady Muriel, he returned: "Only by marriage". The children were largely left to their own devices, and Sylvia, at only 13 or 14, often found herself in charge of the staff at Cranmore Hall.
Of her sisters, Pamela married the 2nd Lord Glenconner, head of the Tennant family, and Angela married Sir Piers Debenham, 2nd Bt, an early campaigner against the Common Market. Their brother, who was considerably younger, became a distinguished engineer.
Sylvia was educated at Roedean, and then at Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read English. It was during this time that she met Christopher Chancellor, the son of Sir John Chancellor, who ended his career as a colonial pro-consul in 1931 as High Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief in Palestine.
Though he was younger than she, and both families disapproved of the match, they married in 1926. Perhaps in reaction against her parents' marriage, Sylvia Chancellor showed herself notably supportive of her husband's career, and was always a dutiful mother.
Chancellor joined Reuters, and in 1931 was sent out to Shanghai. It was a difficult period, for the Japanese captured Shanghai in 1932.
In these circumstances Sylvia Chancellor demonstrated that she had the same instinct for philanthropy as her mother. Together with a Jesuit priest she established an orphanage, and helped to care for the refugees who flooded into Shanghai. She also organised a production of The Beggar's Opera for the benefit of the Red Cross.
When a decapitated Japanese soldier was discovered in the garden. Sylvia Chancellor, aware of the danger of reprisals, ensured that the body was quickly disposed of.
Back in Britain in 1939, the Chancellors lived both in London (where they treated the Blitz with disdain in their flat in St Paul's Churchyard) and at Dane End, a house near Ware, in Hertfordshire, which Sylvia Chancellor inherited, together with an estate of some 2,000 acres.
In London Sylvia Chancellor worked for refugees as Secretary of the Czech Institute. She also helped to organise the celebrations for centenary of Antonin Dvorak's birth in 1941. Blessed with the Pagets' musical gene, Sylvia Chancellor played the piano excellently by ear — often as accompaniment to her own verses.
At Dane End she showed a marked talent for gardening. Under her guidance the nursery garden was such a success that she opened greengrocer's shops. When she went up to London to replenish stocks, she was greeted as "Duchess" by the costermongers.
Dane End was sold in the late 1950s, and the Chancellors moved to Hunstrete House, Pensford, near Bath. Sylvia Chancellor always loved animals, and at Hunstrete she not only kept swans on the lake but also allowed a pet white goat into the house.
In the late 1970s the Chancellors bought the Priory at Ditcheat, near Shepton Mallet. Although Sylvia Chancellor was now nearly 80 her enthusiasm for gardening was undimmed.
Sir Christopher Chancellor (he had been knighted in 1951) died in 1989, and Lady Chancellor spent her last years in a cottage near Faringdon. Her wit remained to the last. "Your children seem devoted to you," she told her elder son recently, "you must continue to neglect them."
Sir Christopher and Lady Chancellor had two sons (of whom the younger, Alexander, was editor of the Spectator from 1975 to 1984) and three daughters, one of whom died of spinal meningitis in China.
Sylvia Chancellor was particularly proud to see her grand-daughter Anna Chancellor play Miss Bingham [sic] in the recent television version of a novel by another relation, Pride and Prejudice.
Sylvia Chancellor was born in the year Queen Victoria died. She was the eldest child of talented but eccentric parents. Her father, Sir Richard Paget, was among other things a scientist, inventor and musician, but never quite made it in any particular line. Her mother, Lady Muriel (born Finch-Hatton and cousin of Out of Africa Denys), was a Mrs Jellyby on a grand scale, who in 1915 left her young family to run a field hospital in Russia. After the Bolsheviks came to power she escaped across Siberia, but her family always took second place to her international and humanitarian concerns.
At an early age, therefore, responsibility was thrust upon Sylvia. In her teens she found herself more or less in charge of a large country house - Cranmore Hall, her home in Somerset (later sold) - and two of her sisters and brother. Despite the family's shortage of funds, she was educated at Roedean, and after the First World War read English at Newnham College, Cambridge. Throughout her long life she remained addicted to Romantic literature, especially Keats, and she knew a great deal of Shakespeare by heart. She was also musical, like her father, and played the piano well by ear.
At Cambridge she met Christopher Chancellor and they were married in 1926. He soon joined Reuters (of which he was later head) and for most of the 1930s was general manager in the Far East, based on Shanghai. Sylvia was determined not to emulate her mother's irresponsibility, and always put her family first. She was a loyal corporate wife to Christopher, both at Reuters and, later, when he was chairman of Bowaters; and she was an equally devoted mother.
Yet she was not Lady Muriel's daughter for nothing. When the Japanese invaded China, she worked with the Jesuit Father Jacquinot in establishing a safe zone and hospital for the refugees who flooded into Shanghai. She also persuaded Sir Victor Sassoon to pay for a building to house Jewish refugees - showing an ability that she never lost to buttonhole rich people for good causes.
She acquired a smattering of Chinese and Japanese, and the latter came in useful when she was arrested at a frontier post returning on the Trans- Siberian railway, and was taken first to Korea, then to Tokyo. She demanded to be sent to Shanghai at Japanese expense, and her will prevailed. In her dealings with Japanese troops in Shanghai she was always briskly authoritative and got away with it. On one occasion, when some of them burst into her house and demanded tea, she gave them hot water.
Back in England during the Second World War she commuted between a flat near St Paul's Cathedral (which was bombed) and a large house in Hertfordshire, Dane End, which she had inherited from an aunt. She also ran the Czech Institute - another sign of maternal influence, since Czechoslovakia had been one of Lady Muriel's pet subjects. In 1941 she organised the Dvork centenary celebrations.
But her most important achievement was the Prisoners' Wives Service, which she founded in 1965. The idea came to her when a daily arrived one morning in tears, desperate because her husband had been arrested and taken away, and she knew that his wages would be stopped at the end of the week. It seemed to Sylvia that there was a gap in social provision that needed to be filled, and she proceeded to fill it.
Recruiting people she knew to act as visitors, and raising money from the Waites Foundation and other sources to establish a small office, she was soon in a position to bring significant help to the wives and families of prisoners, mainly in the form of prompt advice and moral support. The personal connection thus provided was good not only for those who had previously had to cope on their own when a man was sent to prison, often not knowing where to turn, but also for the prisoners themselves, who were reassured that their families were receiving sympathetic attention.
Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary gave the venture his blessing, and a liaison officer from the Inner London Probation Service was assigned to work with it. In 1973 it received a grant of pounds 500 a year from the Home Office. Before she retired at the end of the decade, Sylvia was awarded the OBE for her pioneering initiative.
The PWS lives on today as the Prisoners' Families and Friends Service (a tactfully inclusive name). Its funding is entirely independent - the Home Office no longer contributes - but instead of the dozen or so visitors who worked with Sylvia at the outset there are now 60 visitors, or "befrienders", active in the Inner London area, and 30 more volunteers helping in other ways. As well as its primary work in London, the service answers enquiries from all over the country.
When Dane End was sold the Chancellors moved to Somerset, the part of England she loved best. First at Hunstrete House near Bath, then at the even larger Ditcheat Priory, she indulged her taste for doing up houses and gardening (which gave him pleasure) and for animals (which he disliked). When he died, in 1989, she moved to a small cottage in Oxfordshire, near one of her daughters, where she spent her last years.
Anyone who met the Chancellors casually might have thought him a person of steely intellect and character, while she seemed vague, absent-minded and even at times, in a charming way, slightly dotty. But in her case appearances were very deceptive. In reality she always knew what she was about, and her feet were firmly on the ground. She and Christopher were both tough, but of the two she was probably the tougher.
She was a very humorous woman, and her humour could take an inconsequential form. But her mind was always shrewd and penetrating. She was a churchgoing Anglican, with a special fondness for hymns, but this was quite consistent with being essentially a free spirit. Her attitude to life was liberal, with a distinctly Whiggish tinge. In her, the temperament and outlook of an Edwardian grande dame survived almost to the end of our century.
Sylvia Mary Paget, philanthropist: born London 1 July 1901; OBE 1976; married 1926 Christopher Chancellor (knighted 1951; died 1989; two sons, two daughters and one daughter deceased); died Shellingford, Oxfordshire 26 October 1996.
Lady Sylvia Mary Paget