Tag: Ronnie Tree

A Rich Life: In Barbados

     Ronnie Tree in the Tropics




By Megan McKinney



Heron Bay was Ronnie Tree’s Palladian villa in Barbados

In his May 2018 article in Town & Country, contributor David Netto asked, “Is Heron Bay in Barbados the Most Exquisite House in the World?” Ronnie and Marietta Tree shared a history in Barbados, a romantic history. Although they had known each other in New York and been immensely mutually attracted, it was not until January 1946 in Barbados that they could be alone together. It was then that both decided to end their current marriages.


The entrance front of Heron Bay

As a British citizen, a house in Barbados was a natural desire for Ronnie. The stunning Palladian villa, built in 1947, was designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, who in reality was a landscape architect and did not visit the site until construction was complete. Heron Bay, therefore, was truly the work of Ronnie Tree, a student of Palladian architecture. The house is on the western side of Barbados, the romantic, dreamy Caribbean side, far away in temperament from the frenetic twentysomething, surfboarding side with the frothing waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing on rock and/or sand beaches.

Atlantic Ocean waves on the eastern side of Barbados

The delicious, sensual villa Heron Bay was constructed of coral stone in six months during 1947. Although Mereworth, possibly the greatest Palladian house in England, belonged for a time to Ronnie’s half-brother Peter Beatty, who left it to Ronnie’s son Michael, the coral stone of Heron Bay’s construction, combined with its Palladian style, makes this house special and David Netto’s Town & Country question is definitely valid.


Ronnie and Marietta’s daughter Penelope described Heron Bay as being, “like a submerged house, as though, if a tidal wave were to cover it, it would be at rest again. It is a house out of Atlantis.”

Ronnie’s fondness for Barbados and his determination to assure that the exquisite island-nation have a fine Five Star resort led him to purchase the Sandy Lane sugar plantation on western beachfront acreage. After putting together a syndicate of investors, he opened the Sandy Lane resort in 1961.

Under Ronnie’s direction, Sandy Lane attracted many of the world’s great visible figures and assembled a collection of celebrity stories, including the time “Aristotle Onassis was rowed ashore from his yacht while Maria Callas breast stroked alongside, a pet marmoset on her back. David Niven dreamed up cocktails at the bar, and Elton John once adhered to the New Year’s Eve black-tie rule by wearing a bow tie as a garter.” In 1998, Sandy Lane was sold and, following a three-year, $450 million restoration, re-emerged more delightful than ever.

The Sandy Lane Country Club is a favorite with its lunching golfers.

For many years another legendary Barbados house along the western beach was the beloved island residence of the late film star Claudette Colbert. This is the entrance to her property.

A favorite area in Claudette Colbert’s Barbados was her indoor/outdoor dining room.


Join Classic Chicago Publisher Megan McKinney’s Great Chicago Fortunes next for a  segment about Ronnie Tree’s first wife, Nancy Lancaster, and her continued association with some the most stunning houses in the English-speaking world.


Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Author Photo: Robert F. Carl






Tree’s Great English Houses

Tree’s Great English Houses

                Starring Ditchley Park


Nancy’s Chinese Room at Kelmarsh Hall




By Megan McKinney


Ronnie Tree’s paternal grandfather, Lambert Tree, had wished a career in American public service for the young man; for this reason, English-born Ronnie had been happy to remain in the United States and to join his wife, Nancy, in buying and maximizing Mirador. Although their partnership in the renovation of the Langhorne family estate, with the guidance of Billy Delano, was a delightful experience, Mirador would not remain their permanent home.

With Ronnie’s English birth, his Anglo upbringing and inescapable British accent, he would soon realize that an American elective position was not likely. So, it was back to England.

The Tree’s first adventure was with Kelmarsh Hall, a circa 1730 Georgian house in Northamptonshire, designed by James Gibbs and owned by the Lancaster family.

The Great Hall at Kelmarsh has recently been restored to Nancy’s 20th century design. The Trees move to the hunt country of England was a great success; while Nancy dove into decorating another fine house, Ronnie became Joint Master of the Pytchley Hunt.

Celebrated English artist Sir Alfred Munnings painted Ronnie as Pytchley Hunt Master.

Sir Alfred also painted this image of Nancy and a son on horseback.

In 1933, Ronnie was elected Member of Parliament for Harborough in Leicestershire. He was at last was in the public service his paternal grandfather, Lambert Tree, had wished for him, although in England, rather than Lambert’s America. The Trees were continuing to live well but the best was yet to come. They both fell in love with Ditchley Park, a great house in Oxfordshire, near Blenheim Palace.

Although run down when they first came upon it, the 18th-century house, also designed by James Gibbs, had great bones with amazing proportions. The Trees pooled recent inheritances to buy the estate. Although Marshall Field did not believe in leaving large sums to women–and his formal estate plan, drawn up by William Beale of Chicago’s Isham Lincoln & Beale, was based more or less on primogeniture–he had indulged his only daughter, Ethel, through the years. At her death the legacy she left Ronnie, the eldest of her sons, was sizable, making it possible to spend an immense amount in fitting out Ditchley Park.

Ronnie Tree commissioned watercolors of the restored rooms by Alexandre Serebriakoff. The above is the artist’s rendition of Ditchley’s Great Hall.

The handsome White Drawing Room is shown in a photograph.

The Ditchley Library was another great room interpreted by Alexandre Serebriakoff.

Above is Serebriakoff’s watercolor of the Ditchley Saloon.

This rendering of the Blue and White Bedroom was among Serebriakoff’s handsome watercolors. Ronnie and Nancy would have two sons, Michael and Jeremy.  Michael married Lady Anne Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and, in 1949, he inherited one of the greatest Palladian properties in England from his uncle Peter Beatty.

Credit: Robert Whitfield

Mereworth Castle was designed by Colen Campbell and built in the 1720s for the 7th Earl of Westmorland; it is almost an exact copy of Palladio‘s Villa Rotunda near Venice.

Mereworth’s red rotunda

Credit: Country Life

Although Nancy continued throughout her life to be the talented interior designer we remember; she became increasingly unstable. As a result, Ronnie spent less and less time at home. During his long absences, Colonel Claude “Jubie” Lancaster would take his place. (Lancaster had been the Tree’s landlord at Kelmarsh and would eventually become Nancy’s third husband.)


Join Classic Chicago Publisher Megan McKinney’s Great Chicago Fortunes next for a  segment about Ronnie Tree and his American second wife, Marietta Peabody FitzGerald, as he continues to own and be otherwise associated with some the most stunning houses in the English-speaking world.


Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Author Photo: Robert F. Carl





A Rich Life: Ethel Tree Beatty

       Marshall Field’s Unruly Daughter


The beautiful, vivacious–and very rich Ethel





By  Megan McKinney


Ronnie Tree, the only child of Arthur and Ethel Tree to survive infancy, was under three when the innocence of his toddler years was invaded by a completely adult world. At the beginning of 1899, little Ronnie’s mother—already separated from his father, Arthur Tree—was fox hunting near Newmarket, Suffolk, when she met British war hero David Beatty, who was captivated by the beautiful, vivacious and very rich Mrs. Tree. Although devastated, Arthur willingly released Ethel from their marriage and gained custody of Ronnie. Although the boy spent little time in his mother’s properties, they were an impressive portion of the Tree tradition of grand style and well worth studying.

A favorite estate of Ethel and David Beatty was Brooksby Hall, a late 16th century manor house, which sits on 800 acres of land between Leicester and Melton Mowbray. David and Ethel were ardent fox hunters and at the time Melton Mowbray was still the center of fox hunting England; from this base it was possible to go out with a different hunt six days a week.

Ethel had two sons during her second marriage, David Field Beatty in 1905 and Peter Randolph Louis Beatty in 1910. David would marry four times and Peter never at all.

Ethel with her sons, David and Peter Beatty at Brooksby Hall

Ethel’s affair with David Beatty while married to Tree was not a random occurrence, which is possibly why the heartbroken Arthur gave her up so willingly. Both she and Beatty carried on affairs with others throughout their marriage and Ethel was a notoriously poor mother. She basically abandoned her son Ronnie from her first marriage; then in 1912,  she left the children of her second marriage with her husband while she scooted off on a gambling trip to Monte Carlo

Dingley Hall, in Northamptonshire, was another long-time residence of the Beattys.   

Although Ethel was buried at Dingley Hall when she died in 1932 and David requested in his will that he join her, the war hero is interred at St. Paul’s Cathedral. As a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath he also has a stall plate in the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey.   

This handsome drawing room was a favorite in Dingley Hall, one of the Beattys’ long-time properties.

Another property was the steam yacht Sheelah, which the Beattys contributed to the Admiralty as a hospital ship during World War I, with Ethel stepping up to bear the cost of fitting her out.

In 1919, David was raised to the peerage when he became the first Earl Beatty, making Ethel Countess Beatty.

Ethel Beatty and her son, David.

Young David would inherit his father’s title. By contrast, his brother Peter’s life was dreadful, and it was “generally accepted” that he was illegitimate. He had had birth complications that were thought to originate from a venereal disease carried by Ethel. They affected his eyesight and muscle control for the rest of his life, which ended in 1949 when he died by his own hand after learning he would lose his sight completely.

Oddly, however, his nickname was “Lucky” because of success in betting on racehorses, and he would also own one of England’s great historic properties, which will be examined in an upcoming segment of this series.

Ronnie Tree

It is with Lady Beatty’s eldest son, Ronnie Tree, his wives, his taste and his almost unlimited funds from the Chicago-based Lambert Tree Trust that the wonder of the glorious Tree-related houses and their sumptuous interiors escalate.


Join Classic Chicago Publisher Megan McKinney’s Great Chicago Fortunes next for the story of Ronnie Tree and his first wife, the fabulous interior designer Nancy Lancaster.


Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Author Photo: Robert F. Carl