Sir Antony Acland KG KCVO KCMG GCMG 1930 – 2021
It is with sadness we announce the death of Provost Sir Antony Acland, Provost from 1991-2000, who died on 8 September at the age of 91. We might have known he was destined for a long life since he must rank as one of very few Provosts whose father (who left Eton in 1921) was able to attend his Installation service. Antony Acland was at Eton in Francis Cruso’s house leaving in 1948 as Captain of the Oppidans, before going on to Oxford to read PPE. In common with two of his predecessors, Sir Henry Wootton and Lord Caccia, he enjoyed a career in the Diplomatic service. He served as Ambassador to Luxembourg and Spain in the 1970s, then as Head of the Diplomatic service during the Falkland’s War (at which time he was rather proud to extract a promise from Mrs Thatcher ‘All right, Antony – no more Foreign Office bashing’) and lastly Ambassador to the United States. Looking back on that role once at Eton he liked to contrast Mr Clinton’s being the 42nd holder of his office in some 220 years with his being Eton’s 40th Provost in some 550. The Aclands brought some of the glamour of Washington Embassy to the Provost’s Lodge and from the start were both generous and stylish hosts to the numerous guests they welcomed over their nine years in post.
Whoever coined the bon mot ‘The Provost does nothing and the Vice-Provost helps him’ clearly knew little of the preparation for, or chairing of, the 250 meetings of Resident Committee and 54 of the Fellows over which Sir Antony presided. Moreover, his term of office was a busy time for the College with much renovation and reshaping of the School’s facilities, notably in the Drawing Schools and the Music Schools, and also the History Department (Marten schools). Computer-aided teaching became well established and the essential work was done to ensure a connection in every room in the school – no small feat when you consider it. There was also much development of the School’s sporting facilities. The Thames Valley Athletics Centre was built (as a joint project with the RBWM and Slough councils), Upper Club Pavilion enhanced and an all-weather surface provided for hockey. By the end of his time the Rowing Lake was nearly completed. All this happened on his watch.
Antony and Jenny, very much his indispensable companion at a host of College events, were often to be seen watching the cricket, or cycling to the playing Fields with their beloved Labrador, Alfred, who deserves a footnote in Eton lore for having once foiled a burglary at the Provost’s Lodge. Jenny Acland played a huge part in entertainment of all sorts of Eton folk at the Provost’s Lodge, hosting Society meetings and attending concerts as well as a trip to the Edinburgh Festival to see ‘Double Edge Drama’ and to visit the CCF on camp – Provost Acland much enjoyed his link to the CCF as honorary colonel. The practice of reunion dinners for OEs was also introduced; twelve were held in his time and they have continued ever since. He took a great interest in the College collections and it was during his time that we arranged for the Myers Collection to enjoy far more international prominence by being shown at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and during which ownership of Casa Guidi in Florence was transferred to Eton.
Looking back, the 1990s at Eton were a happy time in the College’s history and Sir Anthony’s calm and authoritative presence in the Lodge contributed to that sense of institutional stability and good cheer. The Aclands retired to Devon to a farmhouse sited on the former historic Acland Estate – and we can be grateful lived that Sir Anthony enjoyed a long and happy retirement during which he was accorded the particular honour of being appointed Knight of the Garter in 2001. Eton remembers him with gratitude and affection.