Essex Community Foundation
It gives me great comfort and confidence to see the philanthropic wishes of my ancestors continuing to help local people year after year
George Courtauld DL

The Courtauld Family

One of the county’s most famous families, the Courtauld family, are well known for their philanthropy across many generations and several funds established by the family are managed by ECF.

For the Courtauld family, enterprise and benevolence have always gone hand in hand, and for many decades they have used much of the wealth they made in their textile business, which was launched in Essex, to improve life in the county. Today their philanthropy continues, through the charitable funds established by various members of the family across the generations.

ECF manages four funds connected with the Courtauld family and through these has to date distributed a total of £160,000 to support local voluntary and community organisations and individuals.
George Courtauld, vice president of ECF and former Vice Lord Lieutenant of Essex, whose ancestor and namesake set up the Courtauld textile empire in Essex in 1794, explains: ‘I am delighted that members of the Courtauld family have been reunited under the auspices of ECF. It gives me great comfort and confidence to see the philanthropic wishes of my ancestors continuing to help local people year after year.

‘My family has a Calvinistic background, which stresses personal responsibility, together with a feeling of obligation to the community and an ethos of hard work and anti-establishmentarianism. This background was important to the founding and development of Courtaulds. The Courtauld family considered they owed a debt to the community and to the people who worked for them and helped create their wealth, so they left a legacy of ploughing back some of the profits into the community.

‘Evidence of the business still remains within the towns of Halstead, Braintree and Bocking and their environs, with domestic houses, community centres and amenities, hospitals, schools, town and village halls, parks and sportsgrounds. The family’s scope extendedinto Essex as a whole, including Sir William Courtauld’s contribution to the County Hall and George Courtauld’s contribution to the town of Maldon, where he was Member of Parliament from 1878 to 1885.

‘There are several charitable trusts founded by family members, some of which are managed by ECF. My gratitude and admiration for the work of ECF has steadily increased over the years and I am particularly impressed by the foundation’s ability to combine compassion with efficiency.’

Among the funds run by ECF which have a Courtauld family connection is The Marion Ruth Courtauld Educational Fund. Marion Ruth was born in August 1866 and died nearly 100 years later in January 1966. She was one of seven daughters who were a formidable force in the progressive world of female emancipation.

Although Ruth’s life was more sedentary than those of most of her sisters, she was a great influence in the background and having the fortune to be extremely wealthy, her philanthropy, although generally unrecognised, was of enormous benefit to the people of Essex. She never married, but her influence lives on, through her generosity. The Marion Ruth CourtauldFund continues to support educational and cultural opportunities for young people from the Braintree area.

The William Julien Courtauld Medical Fund bears the name of William Julien Courtauld, born in 1870, who inherited his family’s puritan ethic of sharing personal good fortune with the community. He bequeathed a charitable fund to help those in need of medical support in his home district of Braintree. As a Baronet, county councillor and High Sheriff, he appeared to be an austere and reserved man, but his acts of generosity included the building of the William Julien Courtauld Hospital in Braintree, Braintree Town Hall and a large part of County Hall in Chelmsford.

Later in life William had tuberculosis, which caused him to wear very dark glasses. According to his great nephew, George Courtauld, these alarmed those brought before him in the Magistrates Courts and he was known throughout the criminal fraternity as Black-eyed Bill. The William Julien Courtauld Medical Fund distributes grants to voluntary organisations needing medical equipment, such as hoists or Wheelchairs.

The Reverend Christopher Courtauld established the Duet Fund in 2012 to give young people, particularly those who are disadvantaged, the chance to achieve personal development through the challenge of voyages at sea on the classic yacht Duet.

Duet was built in 1912 and is believed to be Britain’s longest-serving sail training vessel. Since she began this role in 1960 she has sailed more than 250,000 miles and provided a sailing adventure for more than 8,000 young people.


Her involvement with the Courtauld family began in 1931, when arctic explorer Augustine (August) Courtauld, virtually buried alive under snow in Greenland, kept himself together by designing a possible future boat which would turn out to be Duet.

He had volunteered to man a weather station on the Greenland ice cap and was alone there for five months, cut off from the outside world. During the final six weeks he was trapped and buried in his tent under the snow with only a breather pipe for air and running out of food and fuel. Two plans had occupied his thoughts while he was trapped, the first to marry his future wife Mollie and the second to design a yacht.

He was eventually rescued and after his safe return to England he scoured the country looking at boats for sale, until he found one at Burnham on Crouch, which was so similar to the one he had designed in his mind that he bought her. He renamed her Duet in honour of his forthcoming marriage to Mollie.

August’s son, Christopher, inherited Duet and in 1960 co-founded the Ocean Youth Club with Duet, making her available for young people to enjoy the experience of sailing. Sadly, Christopher died in January 2014, but before he passed away he explained that ECF had been chosen to manage the fund because of its expertise and the highly regarded reputation of the organisation and its trustees.

The endowed fund will enable Duet, a 15-metre iconic gaff-rigged yawl owned by members of the Courtauld family and operated by the Cirdan Sailing Trust based at Bradwell on Sea, to continue to give youngsters the challenge of an adventure at sea.

Finally, The Cecily Courtauld Scholarship takes the name of Cecily Courtauld, one of Marion Ruth Courtauld’s sisters. It was among the 10 dormant educational charitable trusts transferred to ECF by Essex County Council over the past year.

The scholarship is now being revived for the benefit of young people in Essex wanting support for their aims in education.