Impoverished lord needs help - excluded from crumbling Wiltshire ancestral home
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Tue Feb 5 18:40:49 GMT 2013
The Earl of Cardigan and the battle of the Savernake Estate
The Earl of Cardigan talks of his battle with estate trustees, trying to live on £5 a day and why he's training to be a lorry driver.
The Earl of Cardigan at the entrance to the estate's crumbling stable block Photo: Christopher Jones for the Telegraph
By Adam Lusher - 8:30AM GMT 03 Feb 2013
It is the bleakest of country-house tours. Our guide begins by patting the exterior wall, the better to demonstrate how easily the peeling paintwork falls away. He points out the salient architectural features: the rotting window frames that, he says, allow water to pour into his bedroom.
Inside, in a living room so cold your breath condenses, he shows how the wallpaper is peeling, and invites us to feel the sodden curtains. "We have had no heating in the house for two years. There's no hot water in the kitchen. The ¬rainwater pours into my bathroom
If he wants a hot shower, he goes to a nearby leisure centre. Supporting himself and a foreign-born wife on a single man's £71-a-week jobseeker's allowance, he sees no other option. "I am effectively on five quid a day," he says. "I simply can't afford to turn on the hot water."
The greatest irony of all, of course, is that this is no cry for help from the victim of a slum landlord, still less a plea from a council tenant on a sink estate.
David Michael James Brudenell-Bruce is the Earl of Cardigan. His title was made famous by a very distant relative, the 7th earl, who led the Charge of the Light Brigade against the Russian guns at Balaclava during the Crimean War. Lord Cardigan, 60, will become the 9th Marquess of Ailesbury upon his father's death.
He is speaking from the 19th-century lodge on the Savernake estate: 4,500 forested acres near Marlborough, Wilts, that have been in the family since 1067, when William the Conqueror rewarded one Richard Esturmy for services rendered at the Battle of Hastings. Another relative was Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, who grew up in Wolf Hall, the estate's former manor house.
Before Lord Cardigan's grandfather deemed it too big to be manageable in 1945, the family seat had been Tottenham House: more than 100 rooms of Grade I-listed Palladian grandeur overlooking the Capability Brown-designed park, and the main house on the estate. The once-magnificent house now lies empty and is slowly decaying.
In 1946 Tottenham House was leased to Hawtreys, a prep school, and shortly afterwards the young Lord Cardigan found himself studying his Latin grammar and French verbs there.
As the future Marquess of Ailesbury sat at his desk, alongside the future Duke of Somerset, the future Duke of Seymour and the future Marquess of Worcester, he surely never imagined it would come to this "an entire winter huddled around one Aga in one room" since the lodge's kitchen is the only habitable part of the house.
Not to mention, of course, last week's highly-publicised court appearance, during which it emerged that the earl was on benefits and training to be an HGV driver. He has taken about 10 lessons so far. In the meantime, he works sporadically as a delivery driver for a company that supplies items to private jets at Heathrow.
On Tuesday, Lord Cardigan, while maintaining his innocence over charges of criminal damage of six pheasant feeders (worth £66) and the alleged theft of a battery and electrical power unit (worth £80) at Swindon Crown Court, he agreed to be bound over to keep the peace. No prosecution evidence was offered.
The previous Thursday, the earl was cleared by Salisbury magistrates of assault allegations involving claims he spat at an estate trustee.
To inquire as to exactly how all this came to pass is to hear the earl talk of a world of dark machinations that are fit for the name Wolf Hall, the old manor house after which Hilary Mantel titled her Booker Prize-winning novel.
"I am in dire straits because of what the trustees have done," is his angry summary, although David Bloom, the assertive legal adviser, insists we scrutinise the particulars of the claim submitted to the Chancery Court.
The earl is referring to the former friends he is seeking to remove from the post: John Moore, a barrister's clerk, and Wilson Cotton, an accountant.
He claims his troubles started in November 2008 when he stepped down as trustee of the estate and the two men took over.
He has a 49 per cent "beneficial ownership" of Savernake, but "the legal title is vested in the two trustees" so he can't simply sell a few acres to raise enough cash for regular hot showers.
Indeed, when he sought to sell 12 rarely-used silver entree plates using a pseudonym so he could get a fair price a High Court judge granted the trustees a temporary order preventing him selling "estate chattels". Now, standing by the lodge's Aga, Lord Cardigan goes so far as to claim: "The trustees will not spend a shilling on this house because they basically want me to push off without people asking awkward questions."
The awkward questions, he claims, involve the management of the estate and the sums paid to the trustees.
The Chancery Court has even been presented with the claim that Mr Moore "has engaged in a malicious campaign of harassment against the Claimant in which he has himself or procured others to lodge complaints to the Police with a view to having criminal charges brought against the Claimant".
The allegations are denied comprehensively by the trustees and even those not directly involved in the case appear to be unsympathetic to the earl.
Driving through the estate unaccompanied, we found an estate worker muttering about how angry everyone was that the criminal proceedings failed to secure a conviction. When accompanied by the earl, our presence was recorded by a passing worker with a camera.
Swindon Crown Court heard prosecution claims that Lord Cardigan's alleged offences were "generally of a nuisance and aimed at disrupting the workings of the trustees and the estate".
Now, however, the trustees feel obliged to maintain a reluctant silence. Mr Moore and Mr Cotton both said they were bound by their duty of confidentiality to the beneficiary, Lord Cardigan, and that they were also unable to comment while the Chancery Court proceedings were ongoing.
Last week, Mr Moore was quoted in a local newspaper as saying: "Trustees are governed by the Trustee Acts and other rules, and cannot always do as their beneficiaries would like. Such criminal charges, as Lord Cardigan says he has faced, would have been brought by the police."
Today, he says: "I wish I could talk freely, but I can't."
Lord Cardigan has perhaps already endured more than his fair share of conflict, which may possibly explain his enthusiasm for that much-publicised career change: "It would just be me, the open road, and the truck."
His Chancery Court submission states that the trustees have claimed "that the principal cause of the Trust's financial difficulties was [Lord Cardigan's] divorce."
This protracted split from his first wife, Rosamond, the artist and cookery writer to whom he was married for 25 years and who died of cancer in July last year aged 63, was finalised in 2009.
It was Rosamond who announced the marriage was over, informing the earl while they were in Arizona visiting their daughter, Catherine, a singer who performs as Bo Bruce and who was being treated for drug problems.
The earl says the trauma of the divorce left him needing to take antidepressants, before he eventually checked into another American clinic for counselling.
"Which was where I unromantically met Joanne, who is now my wife," he says. "She was being treated for trauma. Some couples have starlight, gondolas, and others
She was an American property developer in her forties with a son, who is now 15, and had already filed for divorce when she met Lord Cardigan. The couple married in May 2011 at a private ceremony in an Italian hilltop village near Pisa. The earl complains bitterly that his situation means he cannot afford the £900 fee for the resident's permit that would allow his wife to stay with him in Britain.
Another conflict in Lord Cardigan's family life is also revealed in his court submission, through a reference to an application for a "non-molestation [harassment] order" made by his daughter.
Last year, when the singer Catherine "Bo" Bruce, 28, made it to the final of the BBC talent show The Voice, her estrangement from her father became public, along with reports that she had taken drugs as her parents' marriage disintegrated. The earl is also thought to be estranged from his son, Thomas, Viscount Savernake, 30.
As for today's dispute, Lord Cardigan claims there is a final, bitter irony. The whole point of the estate being run by a trust was "to preserve it for future generations".
The trust was created in 1951 by his grandfather, Cedric, the 7th Marquess of Ailesbury, and his father, Michael, the 8th Marquess, who were haunted by tales of the family's dissolute "bogeyman": Willie, the 4th Marquess. By the time he died in 1894, Willie was married to a chorus girl and trying to sell the estate to settle astronomical gambling debts.
The trust was established to ensure no future marquess would ever have the power to cause similar ruin.
Now, however, Lord Cardigan takes us on another tour, this time of the exterior of Tottenham House. The interior is empty. No one has lived there for years. A bitter wind blows the leaves against the Bath stone façade. Carrion-eating kites circle above.
Lord Cardigan points out the smashed windows, and the brambles growing from the roof of the similarly shabby Grade II*-listed stable block, which, in happier times, was fit for 40 horses and six carriages, with workers' quarters in the rooms above.
He shows the ruin that the 1818 limestone building is becoming. Daylight streams through holes in the ceiling, the fallen debris turning one staircase into a rubble scree.
The staircase, if you can negotiate it, leads to what was once the apartment used by the 8th Marquess. In one room you would hesitate to call it a bathroom now there is still a bath and sink, but both are filled with rubble from the collapsed ceiling. "Bombsite," mutters the earl.
Exactly when the decay started, on whose watch, and who if anyone is to blame, are, of course, matters that remain fiercely contested. The judges of the Chancery Court will soon have the unenviable duty of deciding where responsibility lies.
Like his famous, if impossibly distant relative, the present Earl of Cardigan prepares himself for battle.
He remembers his lineage, looks at the state of the house, and refuses to contemplate defeat, declaring that he would never allow the house to be sold. "Thirty-one generations have done their best to keep this estate going. That I might break that chain is utterly unthinkable.
"While there is breath in my body I will do all I can to save it."
Earl of Cardigan on Jobseekers Allowance and training to be HGV driver 29 Jan 2013
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