Bacon, Sir Edmund Castell, thirteenth and fourteenth baronet 1903-1982, premier baronet of England and landowner, was born 18 March 1903 at Raveningham Hall, the only son and fifth of six children of Sir Nicholas Henry Bacon, twelfth and thirteenth baronet, and his wife, Constance Alice, younger daughter of Alexander Samuel Leslie-Melville, of Branston Hall, Lincolnshire. He was descended from Sir Nicholas Bacon [qv.], lord keeper to Queen Elizabeth I. Born into a family where public service was a way of life, he did not flinch from the responsibilities which he later inherited and also created for himself. Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, he subsequently studied farming and estate management.
During World War II he commanded the 55 (Suffolk Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment of the Royal Artillery in Normandy and Belgium. He was mentioned in dispatches and appointed OBE in 1945. In 1947 his father died leaving him 4,000 acres in Norfolk, and 10,000 in Lincolnshire, a unique collection of English water-colours, and the collection of John Staniforth Beckett with its Dutch landscapes. He succeeded also to his father's titles, becoming thirteenth baronet of Redgrave (created in 1611) and fourteenth baronet of Mildenhall, created in 1627.
In 1949 he was appointed lord lieutenant of Norfolk, a post he held until 1978. His twenty-nine years' loyal and industrious service to the sovereign and to the county of Norfolk ended with the successful Silver Jubilee appeal in 1977. Norfolk was one of the few counties which exceeded its target.
In 1953 the eastern counties suffered from the severest of weather and tidal surges, Norfolk taking the fullest brunt of them. Bacon energetically organized the forces of relief and headed an appeal for a county relief fund. No other county raised such a large sum in proportion to its population and nowhere else were the funds so promptly distributed to the sufferers. It was this practical sense of administration which later allowed Bacon to spearhead years of crucial refurbishment in Norwich Cathedral after 1956, when he became high steward (until 1979). His religious beliefs were deeply held but they were more a positive moral conviction than an exact allegiance to one particular doctrine of Christianity. When he was made an honorary freeman of Norwich, he said that nothing had given him so much satisfaction as the part he played safeguarding the structure of the cathedral for the next generation.
His interests in agriculture were put to the test in the managing of his own substantial estates. These enterprises and a family property company in London, held since Elizabethan days, allowed him to develop a shrewd business sense which brought him national as well as local appointments. He was president of Eastern Counties Farmers, the country's second largest co-operative, until 1973. As chairman of the British Sugar Corporation during an eleven-year period of rationalization (1957-68), he was able to introduce company policy without the conflicts within the labour force which became so prevalent in the next decade. His most demanding job was as chairman in 1966-71 of the Agricultural National Economic Development Committee (NEDDY), whose purpose was to stabilize agricultural markets. Towards the end of his life he was awarded the Royal Agricultural Society's gold medal for distinguished services to agriculture.
He was a director of Lloyds Bank and president of the Norfolk branch of the Magistrates' Association for twenty-nine years. He played an active part in the founding of the University of East Anglia, being pro-chancellor from 1964 to 1973. He was awarded an honorary DCL there in 1969. It was during the period of student unrest and demonstrations in the late 1960s when his skill as chairman, presiding over critical meetings calmly and steadfastly, was most needed. This was also the era when Rhodesia dominated the media and the students' attention. During that time his great friend, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, as governor, had been confined to his residence since the unilateral declaration of independence. Bacon's work in Rhodesia, in supporting his friend during the difficult weeks in 1969, has never been much publicized. He disliked any glamour associated with himself unless it benefited the cause with which he was involved.
In 1965 he was appointed KBE and in 1970 he was among four new Knights of the Garter, the first baronet ever to be so honoured by the Queen.
Although he lived and looked like a country squire, and was happiest dressed in baggy, very old cavalry-twill trousers, he was a versatile man with wide interests. Hugely built, with hunched shoulders and sharp blue eyes, he endeared himself to people by his simple charm. There was always a kind greeting for those he met; he seemed never to forget a face among the many he encountered in his public offices.
Throughout his life the demands upon his time and energy had a deleterious effect upon his health. He suffered two heart attacks, but did not spare himself. In 1936 he married Priscilla Dora, daughter of Colonel (Sir) Charles Edward Ponsonby, later baronet and MP for Sevenoaks. They had one son and four daughters. Bacon died 30 September 1982 at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. He was succeeded in the baronetcies by his son, Nicholas Hickman Ponsonby (born 1953).
The Times, 2 October 1982
Eastern Daily Press, 2 October 1982
Contributor: Nicholas Bacon