Motor museum founder Lord Montagu of Beaulieu dies aged 88


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 said.

A champion of historic vehicles, Lord Montagu also played a major role in the preservation of England's old homes and the development of the UK tourism industry.

Edward, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, inherited the Beaulieu Estate following the death of his motoring pioneer father, John Montagu, when he was two years old.

His birth on October 20 1926 came as a relief to his father who, aged 61, was desperate for an heir to his title and the estate.

In a sad twist, John Montagu died soon after his longed-for son's birth, leaving Beaulieu to be run by his widow and trustees until Edward reached 25.

Young Edward boarded at St Peter's Court school in Broadstairs, Kent. He 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 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 Beaulieu Estate, but found the £1,500 a year he could expect from his inheritance would barely cover 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 pleaded not guilty but was convicted and handed a 12-month prison sentence.

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

His estate said he "played as hard as he worked", with a passion for foreign travel, wind-surfing and competing in historic motorsport events.

He also adored theatre, opera, gourmet restaurants and parties, which he continued to enjoy in his advancing years.

Lord Montagu was first married in 1959 to Belinda Crossley. They had a son, Ralph, in 1961 and a daughter, Mary, in 1964.

Their marriage ended in 1974, after which he wed Fiona Herbert. They had a son, Jonathan, in 1975. Elder son Ralph succeeds to the barony.