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Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Roland Vaughan Gwynne, DSO, DL, JP (16 May 1882 15 November 1971) was Mayor of Eastbournemarker, Sussex, from 1928 to 1931. He was also a patient, close friend and probable lover of the suspected serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams.


Gwynne was born into a family of Irish descent, though, for reasons of prestige, he would later claim Welsh heritage, even going so far as to submit a false lineage to Burke's Peerage. His mother, May, was 41 when he was born. He was the last of nine children (though two had died). Until the age of 13, he was dressed by his mother as a girl in frocks, with bows, necklaces and long ringlets. He was educated privately before then being sent to Trinity Hall, Cambridgemarker.

The renowned harpsichordist Violet Gordon-Woodhouse was one of his sisters. One brother, Rupert, was Member of Parliament for Eastbournemarker from 1910 until his death in 1924; his daughter was the celebrated cookery writer Elizabeth David.


Though considered a "dunderhead" by his family, after university he became a Judge's Marshal. On 2 April 1904 he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Sussex Yeomanry and made Lieutenant on 1 April 1908. In 1904 Gwynne aided Viscount Turour in his maiden election campaign in the constituency of Horsham, which Turnour then held for the next 47 years. In 1910 Gwynne was called to the Bar at the Inner Templemarker, where he practised in the Probate and Divorce Division.

The First World War broke out when Gwynne was 32. He was sent a white feather, a symbol of cowardice, by a "friend of the family" and in September 1916 he volunteered for active service and won the Distinguished Service Order in Flanders in 1917 while attached to the Queen's Royal Regiment, much to the surprise of his family. He was wounded twice, leaving him with a permanent limp.

On 8 April 1921 he was made a Deputy Lieutenant of Sussex. In 1922 his mother died, leaving most of her money to Gwynne due to a family disagreement. That same year, Gwynne put his name forward as a Conservative candidate for Lewesmarker, East Sussexmarker, but withdrew it when his brother Neville hinted to the selection committee that Gwynne was a homosexual (around this time MP Noel Pemberton Billing was leading a witch hunt against homosexuals). John Bodkin Adams arrived in Eastbourne that same year.

Rupert died in 1924, just after being reelected to Parliamentmarker. Gwynne inherited his estate but, however, settled for local politics, being High Sheriff for Sussex in 1926/27 and then becoming Mayor of Eastbourne in 1928. While mayor, in 1929 the town bought of land surrounding Beachy Headmarker, to save it from development, costing the town around £100,000.

His term as Mayor ended in 1931 and on 9 November that year he was made the 8th ever Honorary Freeman of Eastbourne for his services to the borough. He stayed in local politics, being Chairman of East Sussex County Councilmarker from 1937 to 1940.

He constantly had financial problems, caused on the one hand by his extravagant lifestyle (he was famous for the wild parties he held at Folkington Manormarker, attended by, among others, Freeman Freeman-Thomas, Viceroy of India and Rudyard Kipling) and on the other, by his sexuality, which made him a prime target for blackmail. Indeed, his butler Wilde was known by those close to him to be one such person extorting money from him. After Gwynne's death, love letters from various local jockeys were found among his papers.

During the Second World War he took to drink.

In 1947, burdened with debt, he was forced to rent out Folkington and move into the smaller Wootton Manor.

John Bodkin Adams

Gwynne never married but established a close friendship with Adams, a general practitioner, with whom he went on frequent shooting holidays to Scotland and Ireland. He would visit Adams every morning at 9 a.m.

In 1956, Adams was arrested on suspicion of murdering two of his patients. Gwynne was Chairman of the Magistrates in Lewesmarker, East Sussexmarker, and had to step down from the committal hearing due to a conflict of interest. During the proceedings though, Gwynne was seen dining with Lord Chief Justice Rayner Goddard and former Attorney General Hartley Shawcross at a hotel in Lewesmarker. Goddard had by then already appointed the judge for Adams' case, Patrick Devlin. Later on, during the actual trial, while the jury was out discussing the verdict on Adams' first charge of murder, Goddard phoned Devlin to urge him in the case of Adams being found not guilty, to grant Adams bail before he was tried on a second count of murder. Devlin was surprised since a person accused of murder had never been given bail before in British legal history. After their meeting at the hotel Gwynne crashed his car while driving home. He had not been drinking.

A month after the trial on May 10 1957, Goddard heard a contempt of court case against magazine Newsweek and the shop chain W. H. Smith, which on 1 April during Adams' trial had respectively published and distributed an issue of the magazine containing two paragraphs of material "highly prejudicial to the accused", saying that Adams' victim count could be "as high as 400". Each company was fined £50. Goddard made no mention of his conflict of interest.

On 12 February 1957, Gwynne was knighted just before Adams' trial began. Adams was eventually acquitted of one charge and the other was withdrawn controversially. Gwynne cooled his relationship with Adams and even admitted to police when interviewed in connection with the investigation into Adams, that he had given instructions to be buried in a lead-lined coffin. This unusual procedure was usually designed to protect the water table from contamination or to preserve evidence in case an exhumation might ever be necessary.

Post Adams

Gwynne fell into depression and in 1963 suffered a stroke. He was made a ward of the Court of Protection in 1965, which prevented him from controlling his own money and possessions.

He died on 15 November 1971 in a nursing home aged 89. His death certificate was signed by Dr Adams. His last will left his estate, valued at around £1.7 million to Sir Dingwall Bateson, who predeceased him.


  1. Cullen, Pamela V., "A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams", London, Elliott & Thompson, 2006, ISBN 1-904027-19-9
  2. London Gazette
  3. London Gazette
  4. The Sussex County Magazine
  5. Ken Good, The House of Gwynne, Bookmarque Publishing 2002
  6. London Gazette
  7. Times, October 30, 1929. P. 11
  8. List of Freemen of Eastbourne
  9. Devlin, Patrick; "Easing the Passing", 1985
  10. London Gazette
  11. In 2002's money (according to K. Good, p.19)

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