Conservationist and Businessman
Born 1922 Died 2006
Born James Hugh William Lowther on the 3rd November 1922, he was the elder son of Anthony Lowther, known as the Viscount Lowther, and Muriel Farrar, the daughter of George Farrar, a South African businessman. Educated at Eton College he went up to Cambridge in October 1940 to read Mechanical Engineering but abandoned his course after three months and joined the Army Volunteer Service in 1941. They sent him to Oxford University where he completed a degree in Electricity and Magnetism in just six months, before transferring him to the Royal Army Corps where he was commissioned as an officer in August 1942. As a Regimental Technical Adjutant with the rank of Captain in the East Riding Yeomanry, he was responsible for the upkeep of fifty-two tanks, two hundred soft vehicles and fifty soldiers, and helped put the first tanks ashore on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. He was later wounded at Caen following the landings, but subsequently returned to the front.
After being demobilised in 1946 he managed a steel erection and sheeting company in Newcastle until his father died somewhat prematurely in 1949. He accepted his grandfather's invitation to take over the running of the family estates which he subsequently inherited four years later with the death of the 6th Earl in 1953. By this time the Lowther estates, which comprised some 90,000 acres in Westmoreland and Cumberland, were largely run down and burdened by debt, whilst the Inland Revenue was demanding the payment of death duties amounting to some £2 million. Much of the estate's property in Whitehaven, a town largely built by earlier generations of Lowthers, was disposed of as part of his rescue plan, as indeed was the sale of acres of timber on the estates, felled to raise ready cash, although in this case the Earl replanted half as many trees again. He also established a string of new businesses, Lowther Construction, Lowther Forestry Group, Lowther Park Farms and the Lowther Wildlife Park which helped restore the family's fortunes, but was however unable to find any alternative use for the ancestral pile at Lowther Castle, and he reluctantly decided in 1957 to remove the roof, buttress the walls and leave it as a romantic ruin. He also established the annual Lowther Horse Driving Trials and Country Fair which has attracted thousands of visitors to Cumbria each year, including amongst their number Prince Philip, a regular competitor at the former and the royal couple often stayed with Lonsdale and his family at Lowther during the trials.
Therefore regarded as the saviour of his family estates, he resisted inclusion in the Sunday Times Rich List on the grounds that he was virtually penniless. However after many years prevarication, he was eventually forced to admit his wealth and appeared in the 2006 Rich list with an estimated net worth of £80 million and later admitted that he anticipated that his death would result in the payment of "somewhere between £3 million and £5 million to the Treasury because it's high time society had its chunk".
He briefly came to public prominence in 1962 when Manchester Corporation proposed turning Lake Ullswater into a reservoir to serve the people of Manchester. Having made a speech against the proposal in the House of Lords, the Earl became a leading figure in the Ullswater Preservation Society which campaigned against the scheme and eventually forced the Corporation to adopt a drastically revised scheme. He thereafter became passionately concerned with the issue of the conservation of the Lake District and a particularly opponent of the modern notion of building wind turbines on any available piece of windswept moor. When of his sons struck a deal to place wind turbines on part of the estates that he controlled, the Earl openly opposed the construction at the subsequent public inquiry, and was no doubt gratified when the inquiry duly rejected the proposal.
The 7th Earl was a founder director of Border Television, and was chairman of that company from 1985 to 1990. He also served as a chairman of the Northern Sports Council and a member of the UK Sports Council, spent six years on the Northern Economic Planning Council and was a member of the English Tourist Board. In addition he was president of Grasmere Sports, the Patterdale Dog Day, and the Cumberland and Westmorland Playing Fields Association, and served on a number of bodies such as the Hill Farming Advisory Committee, Westmorland Agricultural Committee, Northern Arts and the Rosehill Theatre at Whitehaven.
He eventually retired as head of the Lowther estate in 1993, having reached the age of seventy, and handed the business over to his eldest son. In later life he developed an interest in horse racing and was a part-owner of Motivator, the 2005 Derby winner and died at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle on the 23rd May 2006.
The 7th Earl was married a total of four times. He married his first wife Tuppina Cecily Bennet in 1945; they were to have a daughter and a son before their divorce in 1954, and in that year he married his cousin Jennifer Lowther, with whom he had a son and two daughters. That marriage ended in 1962 and in the following year he married his third wife Nancy Ruth Stephenson (née Cobbs), originally of Pacific Palisades, California, with whom he had a son. They were divorced in 1975 following which he married his fourth and final wife Caroline Sheila Ley on the 3rd December 1975, who bore him a further son and a daughter. All in all the Earl had eight children, and thirteen grandchildren by the time of his death.
His eldest son Hugh Clayton succeeded him as the 8th Earl of Lowther.
- Obituary: The Earl of Lonsdale Daily Telegraph 17/06/2006
- Eton, Oxbridge, the military and industry equipped the Earl to transform his estate, 02/06/2006
- A champion of the countryside whose Lowther legacy lives on, 26/05/2006