The Prince and his Mistress

Last updated on 20 September 2019

Edward, Prince of Wales, often flew into Tollerton Aerodrome in the 1920s and 1930s when attending both official and social events. Of course between 1927 and 1933 he owned Grove Farm, on the banks of the River Trent at Lenton, so made visits there to inspect the farm and the pedigree cattle that he kept here.  On other occasions he used the aerodrome for quick access to the surrounding area when he joined both the Quorn and Belvoir hunts. His love of hunting in this region, official visits and the purchase of a farm in Nottingham were not the only things that drew him to this area though!

In 1918 he first met Freda Dudley Ward in London. It was a chance meeting but he was soon Infatuated with her and she became his mistress. Freda was the married daughter of Colonel Charles Birkin and his wife, Claire Birkin, of Lamcote House, Radcliffe on Trent. The Birkin family were renowned lace manufacturers in Nottingham. Despite Freda’s marital status and having two children the affair with the Prince of Wales continued for many years but contact between them ended somewhat abruptly in the early 1930s soon after Edward began his relationship with Wallis Simpson that lead to his abdication from the throne in 1936.

In 1925 the Prince of Wales was a ‘surprise’ guest at the wedding of Freda’s sister, Vera, which was held in central Nottingham. On some occasions he stayed at Vera’s home in Radcliffe where he could spend time with Freda. On other occasions he stayed under guard at Lamcote House, Radcliffe – the home of the Birkin family.

Social visits to Radcliffe were conducted with some discretion so Tollerton residents may have been totally oblivious to many of his arrivals and departures at the aerodrome. However, residents of Radcliffe at that time do recall some of those visits, seeing him in and around the village seemingly trying to blend in with village life. There was no secret about the affair between Edward and Freda – their families, local residents, aristocrats and politicians were all well aware of this liaison.

On other occasions his official visits were well publicised and the itinerary known in advance. One such occasion was in June 1932 when he visited his Lenton farm and then in the afternoon visited both Cotgrave and Cropwell Bishop. It is said quite a crowd gathered at Tollerton aerodrome to see his arrival that day including students from the Paton Congregational College at Tollerton Hall. An awaiting car whisked him away as seen in the following hazy image from the Nottingham Evening Post on Wednesday, 29 June 1932.

The accompanying article stated that those who had gathered to see his arrival engaged in community singing whilst waiting. It was suggested that many of the students from Tollerton Hall were seen leading that singing.

The caption reads “The Prince’s arrival. The Royal car leaving Tollerton Aerodrome for Grove Farm, Lenton”

On visiting Cotgrave in the afternoon, which was an official engagement, he sported a fine straw boater as seen in a further newspaper article about that part of his visit. Edward, Prince of Wales, was always well known for his dress and it is said that what he wore greatly influenced men’s fashion trends both in this country and across the Atlantic, in USA.

It is doubtful that Edward had any encounters with Freda on that visit, though we can not confirm this.  In 1931 he first met Wallace Simpson though there was no romantic link between them at this stage. That same year Freda and her husband divorced and adultery was cited as the reason for this divorce. Freda died in 1983.