James, 7th Earl of Lonsdale, the preserver of the lands of Lowther
His forebears may have added to the Lowther estate, but James, 7th Earl of Lonsdale, put the land to work. As a young man of 30, he unexpectedly inherited the earldom in 1953, following the premature death of his father and, four years later, his grandfather, the 6th Earl.
At Cambridge University he had read mechanical engineering, then joined the army which sent him to Oxford to study electricity and magnetism. His regiment put the first allied tanks ashore in the D-Day landings on Normandy beaches in June 1944. Then he ran steel and heavy industry in the north east. All these experiences he drew on when the family persuaded him to give up a successful career and take up the challenges of Lowther.
His first problem was the crippling debt of his great uncle, the 5th Earl. The 7th Earl disposed of much of the West Cumbria estate – including the town of Whitehaven.
Another problem was Lowther Castle, which he disliked intensely. Returning from the war he said “it was a place that exemplified gross imperial decadence during a period of abject poverty”. The castle had stood empty for some years. The army had damaged the grounds and the buildings during the war. Lord Lonsadle offered Lowther Castle as a gift to three local authorities in the northwest but all turned it down. Options for finding a potential use for Lowther Castle were exhausted. Most owners of large country houses either opened them to the public or demolished them. The former was impossible. He would have completely demolished the castle, but after receiving representations from the townspeople of Penrith, in 1957 Lord Lonsdale removed the roof and some smaller wings, but left the shell of the building intact as a silhouette. The forecourt became pig pens, below right.. On the once magnificent south lawns of the castle, he utilised concrete left by the army as a base for a broiler chicken factory farm. The rest of the gardens he overplanted for timber.
His passion was land, and he set about expanding the estate's forestry and farming. He was never happier than when developing land-based businesses including a Wildlife Park and the Lowther Driving Trials and Country Fair. Throughout his life the 7th Earl of Lonsdale was a conservationist. In the 60s, with an impassioned speech in the House of Lords, he led the battle to prevent Ullswater being turned into a Manchester reservoir. He supported many local causes, was president of Grasmere Sports and Chairman of Border Television.
He married four times, had four sons and four daughters.
He died in 2006, age 83. His aim had been to rescue the Lowther estate and the surrounding countryside and ways of life and he had achieved that. A short Latin epitaph on his headstone in Lowther churchyard includes the words ‘agri lowtheriana servator’, meaning ‘preserver of the lands of Lowther’.
He was succeeded by his eldest son Hugh Clayton, the present and 8th Earl of Lonsdale.
Clockwise: James, 7th Earl of Lonsdale, in the Lowther Wildlife Park with third wife Nancy and son Jim; planning new ventures on the estate, Lord Lonsdale (right) with his mother the Hon Muriel Lowther (centre) and trustee Ian Dickinson (left); Lowther Castle without its roof, which the 7th Earl removed.