DCSIMG

Will successor to Gosford toe the line?

THE funeral was like none many of the locals had ever witnessed before.

When Francis David Charteris, Earl of Wemyss and March, was laid to rest in a quiet corner of Aberlady Kirkyard overlooking the sweeping sands of the Bay, locals turned out in their masses.

More than 100 of the Earl's family and mourners – led by his grieving wife, Canadian-born Shelagh – had walked to the churchyard from the spectacular family pile, Gosford House. Before them on the back of a humble farm cart, were carried the last mortal remains of the 12th Earl of Wemyss and March.

Also among the mourners was his 60-year-old son James Donald Charteris – Jamie to those close to him – otherwise known as Lord Neidpath, and now, with his father's death, the 13th Earl of Wemyss.

He inherits the title along with his father's immense fortune and estate – 44,000 acres in Scotland alone that includes Gosford in East Lothian.

Jamie Neidpath's destiny was set for him since the day he was born. So why then, might the arrival of the new 13th Earl of Wemyss – and, perhaps most interestingly, his extremely liberal-minded second wife Amanda – strike an element of concern among some of the county's locals?

After all, what on earth could such high profile members of the aristocracy have to do with what has been described as one of the "most prolific LSD operations in US history" – or for that matter, the bizarre practice of trepanation, a centuries-old highly dubious practice of drilling holes in the head to boost creativity?

His father's widow, whom the 12th Earl married after a whirlwind romance in 1995, was too upset to talk about the estate or the future. And the new Earl is thought to be at his Cotswolds pile, the spectacular Stanway House.

It's there that in 2004 he oversaw the opening of the world's tallest gravity-fed fountain, a 350ft gushing folly that was constructed in the wake of the family's decision to sell one of Gosford House's Botticelli paintings, citing at the time financial pressures on the family estate.

The National Galleries of Scotland paid 10 million for it.

At the time of the sale many expected the funds to be used to restore the delicate fabric of Gosford – and a fountain in the Cotswolds was hardly anticipated for a family said to be struggling in the midst of an "agricultural depression".

The Earl has some somewhat unusual passions. Firstly, there is the association with trepanning, a practice which involves drilling a hole into your head, apparently to release oxygen, relieving depression and stimulating creativity.

Lord Neidpath was introduced to it by his second wife, Oxford drop-out Amanda Fielding – a devotee.

She once said: "I was trained as a sculptor, so I thought, 'I spend all my time making holes in objects, I might as well make one in my own head'."

The couple later travelled to Cairo in 1996 where they found a surgeon willing to cut open Lord Neidpath's head for $2000. "It seemed to be very beneficial," he was quoted as saying.

However, that's not the only stimulation she appears to enjoy. Indeed Lady Neidpath fronts the Beckley Foundation, which is devoted to the reform of drug policy – and makes no secret of a lifetime spent dabbling in mind-altering substances.

There is no suggestion that her husband follows suit. She has spoken openly, however, of her son from a previous relationship, Cosmo, and his use of cannabis.

The new Earl, however, did add his support, along with his wife, to William Leonard Pickard Jnr, a chemist and former drug policy researcher at the University of California, who found himself accused of involvement in the manufacture and distribution of LSD.

The Neidpaths' letter to a court in San Francisco said Pickard had helped them plan a conference on "Drugs and Society" at Windsor Castle. "We find it difficult to believe he can be involved in anything criminal," they wrote.

Pickard was eventually sentenced to life in prison for what became known as America's most prolific LSD operation, with enough raw material to manufacture up to $160m of the drug.

Since then, Lord Neidpath's name has been more often linked with his Cotswold estate and his business interests. He runs Chelsea-based Alro Group, a real estate fund management group, with his wife and her son Rock as executive committee members.

Certainly Gosford Estate has witnessed a share of development in recent years. In 1999, 23 luxury homes were built at Gosford Park, Aberlady. Another section of Wemyss land was sectioned off to create the new Craigielaw golf course.

For those living and working in the area, it's an unsettling time but there is optimism that the new Earl can follow in the footsteps of his father, a former president of the National Trust for Scotland.

And Bob Webster, who set up the Gosford Farm Shop in partnership with Lord Neidpath 18 months ago, is optimistic about the future.

He said: "Lord Neidpath was keen to utilise the building and he could see the potential of the shop. He's quite keen on getting the place up and running as a proper estate. I think he wants to get the house up to scratch. He wouldn't let projects like this carry on if he didn't think it was worth investing in."

Ian Malcolm, a local historian, adds: "It's a question of waiting and seeing what happens. The late Lord Wemyss didn't go out of his way to have a high profile in the community, but he was always there as a guiding hand. He was very good for the local area.

"Whether Jamie Neidpath has such a strong hands-on role, remains to be seen. My view is he won't change very much – I think he will be a traditionalist."

Author Peter Kerr who lives in Haddington is concerned that swathes of the estate may now be considered ripe for development.

"There were some houses built there a few years ago and the golf course. My concern would be that this is some of the best farmland in Scotland, and I certainly wouldn't want to see it being lost. I'd hope that the new Earl's arrival will be positive for the area."

REVAMPED THROUGH THE AGES

GOSFORD House, the home of the Earls of Wemyss and March, was designed by Robert Adam, with work beginning on the mansion in 1790.

Architecturally the house has been much altered – the original Adam wings were demolished by the eighth Earl, who didn't like them. New wings were added in 1890 by architect William Young, who also created the Italianate marble hall. The house also contains an extensive art collection – the tenth Earl was a passionate collector. The building was hit by fire while under the care of the military in 1940, having been requisitioned during the Second World War. Dry rot set in and a large part of the roof had to be removed, not to be replaced until the 1980s. The restoration work has been spearheaded by 12th Earl's wife Shelagh, now Dowager Countess, with Lord Neidpath carrying out work on the ponds.

The 12th Earl, who died in December, had lived at Gosford since the 1950s.

 
 
 

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