Lord Montagu, motor museum founder, dies aged 88

Lord Montagu founded the National Motoring Museum. Picture: BBC

Lord Montagu founded the National Motoring Museum. Picture: BBC

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Lord Montagu, founder of the National Motor Museum, has died at the age of 88, his family’s estate said.

The peer died peacefully at his home following a short illness, a spokeswoman for the 7,000-acre Beaulieu Estate in Hampshire announced yesterday.

An estate funeral will be held at Beaulieu, followed by a memorial service at St Margaret’s in Westminster “for his friends in London and further afield”, the spokeswoman added.

The dates are yet to be confirmed.

He is survived by his wife Fiona, his son and heir Ralph, daughter Mary and second son Jonathan.

Lord Montagu was one of the pioneers of the stately home industry and first opened his home, Palace House, to the public in 1952.

He also founded the National Motor Museum on the 7,000-acre estate and was a leading authority on veteran and vintage cars, usually taking part in the London to Brighton run. A champion of historic vehicles, Lord Montagu also played a major role in the preservation of stately homes and the development of the UK tourism industry.

Edward, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, inherited the estate following the death of his motoring pioneer father, John Montagu. Edward was born when his father was 61 and desperate for an heir. Only two years later his father died, leaving the estate to be run by his widow and trustees until Edward turned 25.

Young Edward boarded at St Peter’s Court school in Broadstairs, Kent and was due to go on to Eton but the Second World War intervened and he and two of his sisters were evacuated to Canada.

He belatedly took up his place at Eton on his return to England before joining the army and then, aged 21, reading modern history at New College Oxford.

In his second year at university, an altercation between the Bullingdon Club – of which Prime Minister David Cameron was later a member – and the Oxford University Dramatic Society led to his room being wrecked, and he felt obliged to leave.

Rather than retreat to his family estate, he went into advertising and public relations where his first job was to launch the classic comic Eagle.

A keen party-goer, Lord Montagu enjoyed rubbing shoulders with the artistic and bohemian set as well as being part of normal society.

On his 25th birthday in 1951, he took over the estate, but found the £1,500 a year he could expect from his inheritance hardly covered the running costs. He would later say: “In 1951, to any sensible, rational being, the house was a white elephant. The wise solution was to get rid of it. For me, however, neither entirely sensible nor rational, that was unthinkable.”

He eventually opened the house to the paying public.

In the 1950s, Lord Montagu was charged with homosexual acts, which were then illegal. He was convicted and handed a 12-month prison sentence.

Following his release, he rebuilt his life and only broke his silence about the trial in 2002 in his autobiography, Wheels Within Wheels.

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