top of page

Flying High - the Instone Family

Updated: Aug 5, 2023

The Instone family.

By Bassano Ltd. Whole-plate glass negative, 20 May 1922. Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974.

National Portrait Gallery - Photographs Collection, NPG x121577.

When you’re doing historical research, sometimes you come across a name or place that makes you sit up and say to yourself: ‘I wonder…’.

Such was the case when I was researching a Jewish family from Swansea and came across the name Alfred Einstein (cue doubletake – Alfred). But digging deeper did not take me in the direction I had hoped, but rather revealed a family with important and interesting links to Cardiff and south Wales.

Alfred, born in 1883, was one of four brothers born to Adolphe Einstein originally from Bavaria and his wife Maria. His older brothers were Samuel (1878) and Theodore (1880) and his younger one Gustave (1888). They were all born in southeast England.

All four brothers came to Cardiff early in the twentieth century to develop their respective careers. There is evidence to show that they had a presence there as early as 1901, when a Theo. Einstein sang at a private concert, and an S. Einstein applied for a patent for a ‘cigarette box with match box and striker combined’.

Sir Samuel Instone (né Einstein).

By Bassano Ltd. Whole-plate glass negative, 20 May 1922. Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974.

National Portrait Gallery - Photographs Collection, NPG x121580.

In 1908, Samuel, who had been working as the manager of a French shipping company, set up as a coal merchant with brother Theodore, and, in 1914, they bought the ship Collivaud from the Morels, a leading Cardiff shipping family.

It is likely that it was through Samuel’s contacts in the shipping industry that Alfred was introduced to Phyllis Goldberg, the daughter of Hyam Goldberg of Swansea, himself a ship owner and sometime president of the Swansea Congregation. They married in 1913. It is noteworthy that both Samuel Einstein and Hyam Goldberg had both chosen not to follow traditional Jewish careers, but rather enter a profession with little Jewish presence.

In 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War the Einstein brothers, presumably to hide their obviously German name, changed their name to Instone and it was during this period that the family business flourished. By the end of the war, the Cardiff-based shipping firm Samuel Instone & Co had been incorporated, owning ten ships. However, the shipping slump of the 1920s affected the shipping business, and, in 1925, the company’s last three ships were sold.

It was not just in shipping that the family were involved. In 1921, Samuel branched out and became the controlling shareholder in the Bedwas Navigation Colliery, with Alfred being a director along with their brother-in-law Marcus Davis. The family also invested in the new colliery at Askern near Doncaster in Yorkshire. There, Samuel is listed as being the chairman of the Askern Coal & Iron Co, with Theodore as managing director and Alfred and Marcus Davis as directors. With help from the government, the Instones created a ‘Garden Village’ for their Yorkshire workers, appropriately named Instoneville, with streets after family members – Alfred Rd, Theodore Rd etc.

It is another venture, however, that the Instones are best known. At the end of the First World War, with shipping and communications having been disrupted, government approval was sought to send the Instone’s business documents, particularly ‘bills of lading’, to France by air. And so, in 1919, the Instone Air Line was founded with its inaugural Cardiff to Paris flight, via Hounslow Heath, taking place on the 13th of October of that year. The aircraft took off from Ely racecourse. All four Instone brothers were directors with Samuel being its chairman.

Some Instone directors, pilots, and staff in front of 'City of Glasgow’.

Image courtesy of Jeremy Instone and Instone Air.

This was not the only time the family were at the forefront of air transport – earlier, in 1910, they had sponsored Ernest Willows’ airship ‘City of Cardiff’ on its pioneering flight from London to Paris. And later still, in 1922, Samuel entered an aircraft into the inaugural Kings Cup air race and won, the pilot being Frank Barnard, Instone Air Line’s chief pilot.

Charlie Chaplin boarding an early Instone Aircraft.

Image courtesy of Jeremy Instone and Instone Air.

The company grew quickly, building a fleet of ten cargo and passenger aircraft, and was pioneering in many ways. It is thought that they were the first airline to introduce uniforms for its cabin staff, and the first to transport a racehorse by air. And, in 1920, Samuel made a telephone call from his home to a passenger on a flight to Paris, believed to be the first one to an inflight aircraft. They also started service from London to Cologne in 1922.

Grouse after arrival from Scotland.

Image courtesy of Jeremy Instone and Instone Air.

In 1923, a government committee recommended that the main British airlines should merge to create a single financially sound company. Instone Air Line, therefore, merged with three others to create Imperial Airways. Samuel was appointed a director and remained one until his death in 1937. Imperial Airways subsequently merged with BOAC in 1939, which became part of British Airways in 1974.


Of the four brothers, Samuel is the only one known to have had a permanent residence in Cardiff. In 1911, he was living at 52 Cathedral Road with his wife Alice, a well-known violinist, and four-month-old daughter Mary. The young family were already affluent enough to employ a live-in gardener, cook and nurse. With contacts in the shipping industry, he quickly became a respected member of the community.

Alice Maud (née Liebman), Lady Instone.

By Bassano Ltd. Whole-plate glass negative, 20 May 1922.

Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974.

National Portrait Gallery - Photographs Collection, NPG x121572.

By 1918, Samuel had moved up-market and was living in Rumney House, Llanrumney, now demolished, and in the same year he was elected as the first president of the Windsor Place Synagogue. The following year, Samuel returned to London but bought a property in Windsor Place as a base for his Cardiff operations.

Notwithstanding his imminent departure for London, Samuel stood for election for Cardiff Council in the 1919 municipal elections in the Riverside Ward as a Liberal candidate. During hustings, he was challenged about his family’s Jewish and (in particular) German heritage, and about his change of name. He lost soundly to an ‘Ex Servicemen’ candidate.

In London, Samuel continued to take an active interest in all his ventures and in 1921 was knighted in the King’s Birthday Honours for his creation of the garden village in Yorkshire. Other honours included being appointed a Freeman of the City of London, and a Commander of the Belgian Order of Leopold.

Sir Samuel Instone (né Einstein).

By Bassano Ltd. Whole-plate glass negative, 20 May 1922. Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974.

National Portrait Gallery - Photographs Collection, NPG x121578.

He died unexpectedly following surgery in 1937 and is buried in Willesden Jewish Cemetery.

Of his five daughters, two, in particular, became successful in their own fields:

Anna Instone (born in 1912) joined the BBC and rose through the ranks to become the head of ‘Gramophone Programmes’ and its Record Library. In 1946, she married a BBC colleague and musicologist Julian Herbage who for several years planned and staged the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, ensuring they were suitable for live audiences and broadcasting. Between 1944 and 1973, Anna and Julian were joint editors of the long-running weekly music program ‘Music Magazine’, with Julian presenting for the run of 1155 editions.

Anna Instone (Mrs J. Herbage).

By Bassano Ltd. Whole-plate glass negative, 6 May 1929. Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974.

National Portrait Gallery - Photographs Collection, NPG x124564.

Edwina Instone (born in 1921) is best known under her married name Edwina Coven. In the 1950s and 60s, she tried her hand as an author of children’s cookery books and as an actress with limited success – the highlight of this period in her career being a small part in the film The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery. Like her sister, she moved into broadcasting, starting with a contribution to Woman’s Hour before moving to management roles in BBC Radio London, and eventually becoming a director of TV-AM. It was in public life that she had her biggest impact. She was a magistrate and chair of many public bodies and committees such as the City of London Police Committee, and, in 1987, she was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London. She caused controversy in 1973 when she was elected twice to the Aldermanic Court of the City of London, but on both occasions, her admission to the Court was refused by its members. Notwithstanding, she later became the first woman to be elected Chief Commoner.


Alfred, although no evidence has been found of him having an address in south Wales, nevertheless had close connections with the Jewish community in the area. As well as marrying a Swansea girl, and being a director of the Bedwas Colliery, he represented the Pontypridd Hebrew Congregation at the Board of Deputies from 1910 until at least 1922.

During the First World War, he enlisted in London’s Port Police and was quickly promoted, being commissioned, and rising to Captain in the intelligence branch of the Imperial General Staff.

Like other family members, he sought to serve the wider community through elected office. He became a Justice of the Peace for the County of London and a member of Paddington Borough Council, serving as Mayor of Paddington in 1927-28. A member of the Conservative Party, he twice stood unsuccessfully for election to parliament, most famously in Leicester against the then-Liberal Winston Churchill. (They both lost to the Labour candidate.)

Based on his experience with Instone Airlines and his knowledge of early commercial airlines, in 1938, he wrote a book, published by the Western Mail: Early Birds. Air Transport Memories 1919-1924.

Alfred’s two sons followed their father into military intelligence. Ralph (born in 1918), being a classical scholar was recruited to Bletchley Park where he worked as a cryptographer on Italian naval codes. Alfred’s younger son David (born in 1921) was a corporal in the Intelligence Corps when he was killed in Italy in March 1945.

Stella (born in 1915), his daughter, studied medicine and became a GP in Brighton specialising in women’s health.


Theodore, like his brothers, was heavily involved in the family ventures, again maintaining close connections with south Wales. For 20 years, he was a member of the Cardiff Shipping Exchange. Through the family’s coal interests, he became interested in the idea of producing oil from coal and became associated with companies producing smokeless fuel. He took over the helm of the Instone business interests following the death of Samuel in 1937.

He was also known as a keen sportsman, with a particular interest in rugby and cricket, being the president of Horsham Cricket Club. In 1928, having learned that Glamorgan County Cricket Club was in dire financial difficulties, he organised a high-profile fundraising dinner at the Mayfair Hotel in London aimed primarily at exiled Welshmen in the capital. Patrons supporting the event included David Lloyd George, Ramsay MacDonald, the Lord Mayors of London and Cardiff, and a large number of south Wales shipping magnates.

He was also a Freeman of the City of London.

Theodore’s son Frank was also a keen sportsman. He represented his county (Sussex) at rugby, played for London Welsh, and had a number of trials for the Welsh national side. He was friends with the Cardiff sportsman Maurice Turnbull who played rugby and hockey for Wales and cricket for England and together they arranged a fund-raising rugby match at Cardiff Arms Park between an Instone XV and a Turnbull XV. The proceeds again went to Glamorgan Cricket Club.

In the Second World War, Frank enlisted in the RAF and followed the family tradition by working in intelligence and security. It was he who made the security arrangements for the arrival of Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov, who was stopping over in Britain on the way to America. Frank was then assigned to the Dambusters project, providing security and counter-espionage cover for that operation before organising operational security for all air assets waiting to be deployed on D-Day. He was also reported to be the first British officer to enter liberated Brussels. He left the RAF with the rank of Wing Commander.


The youngest of the four brothers, Gustave was also involved in the family enterprises, but with a bit of an artistic twist. The Kinematograph Weekly reports in 1910 that “Mr Gustave Einstein has taken over the management of the Cardiff Electric Theatre, in Queen Street, and under his management, the business is thriving”. He also had some success in writing music for songs.

Gustave married Ellen Faulder, a photographer’s daughter, in London on 13th October 1915. He then had several addresses in London and the Home Counties between his marriage and the early 1920s, before spending a few years in Brussels looking after the Instone family interests there. He returned in 1925 as managing director of United International Corporation, another Instone venture, set up to buy, distribute, and manufacture films and acquire a number of cinemas. In reporting this, the Kinematograph Weekly remembers him as the former manager of the London Provincial Theatres and the Express Film Service. In the early 1930s, he moved to Doncaster to manage the coal business there. He died in Doncaster on 11 March 1934, aged just 45, and is buried in Willesden Jewish Cemetery in London.

The exploits of Gustave’s son Gordon Instone during the Second World War read like something out of Boy’s Own. Listed as ‘missing presumed dead’ at Dunkirk, Gordon had in fact been captured but had managed to escape. Adventures ensued, with Gordon being captured, and escaping, on two further occasions, before arriving back in Britain in April 1941. For his exploits, he was awarded the Military Medal. Like other members of the family, he joined the Intelligence Corps and was later seconded to the American General Staff in Washington.

And Gordon's son Anthony Instone is also worthy of mention. He is better known by his stage name of Tony Macaulay, the songwriter who, during his long career, has written hits for the like of Donna Summer and David Soul, and co-authored many more. In the 1970s, he twice won the Ivor Novello Award for best British songwriter.

With their business achievements, their record in public service, and their resultant contacts in the upper echelons of London society, the Instones were never far out of the news. Their lives, particularly those of the ladies, were regularly featured in the society magazines of the day, such as The Tatler. It would need a book to tell their stories in full.

Today, the Instone legacy lives on. In 1976, the airline established by Samuel and his brothers was reformed as Instone Air by Frank’s sons. The company specialises in the international transport of animals.


British Library, Sound and Moving Image catalogue, Edwina Coven interviewed by Rebecca Abrams, C408/019/01-04 (20 February and 5 April 1991) <> [accessed 13 July 2023]

National Portrait Gallery, Sir Samuel Instone (né Einstein) <> [accessed 13 July 2023]

Written by John Farnhill, JHASW/CHIDC Volunteer.

76 views0 comments


bottom of page