Wednesday, 20 June 2012

9th Marquess of Londonderry, 1937-2012

I am saddened to hear of the death of the 9th Marquess of Londonderry.

The Most Hon Alexander Charles Robert [Vane-Tempest-Stewart], 9th Marquess of Londonderry, was the son of Robin [Vane-Tempest-Stewart], 8th Marquess (1902-55) and his wife, the former Romaine Combe (d 1951).

Alistair londonderry inherited his title and family estate in County Durham on the death of his father in 1955, when he was just 18.

But after devoting much effort to renovating the huge family mansion, Wynyard Park, the costs became overwhelming and in 1987 he was forced to sell the house and its 6,800-acre estate to the property developer Sir John Hall -- later Chairman of Newcastle United football club.

Inheriting the family titles in late adolescence had denied Alistair Londonderry a university life, so he created one for himself, becoming proficient in French, Italian and German, and knowledgeable about European literature.

An authority on Franz Liszt, he became an accomplished pianist, studying in America under Egon Petri, and was an early patron of John Ogdon and Leslie Howard.

Lord Londonderry was entertaining company, with a penchant for dreadful puns, but he also suffered from bouts of depression. Yet though his life was scarred by tragedy, he never succumbed to self-pity.

Alexander Charles Robert Vane-Tempest-Stewart, always known as Alistair, was born on September 7, 1937, the son of Robin Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, heir to the Londonderry title and Unionist MP for County Down between 1931-45.

His mother Romaine was a brewer's daughter. He had two older sisters, of whom the younger, Annabel, became better known as Lady Annabel Birley and later Lady Annabel Goldsmith, wife of Sir James Goldsmith and mother of Jemima Khan.

Lady Annabel Goldsmith recalled an idyllic, privileged childhood spent at the family's Irish seat, Mount Stewart, by Strangford Lough in Co Down, and at Wynyard, in the care of fleets of nannies and under-butlers.

Young Alistair, who suffered from a stutter as a child, was educated at Eton, where he founded a jazz band called the Eton Five. But in 1951, when he was 14, his mother succumbed to mouth cancer and his father embarked on a rapid descent into chronic alcoholism, eventually succumbing to liver failure in 1955.

The Londonderrys had been immensely rich, owning more than 50,000 acres, a colliery empire and three other houses in addition to Wynyard, Mount Stewart and Londonderry House.

But by the time Alistair inherited the title, mismanagement, taxation and the nationalisation of the coal mines had taken their toll.

Londonderry House was sold to Hilton Hotels and later demolished, while Mount Stewart, which had been bequeathed by the 7th Marquess to his daughter, Lady Mairi Bury, Alistair's aunt, was subsequently handed over to the National Trust.

He became secretly engaged to a 16-year-old blonde beauty called Nicolette Harrison, the daughter of a stockbroker. When they married in 1958, he and Nicolette, a vision in her Norman Hartnell satin gown, were hailed as an example of the new unstuffy aristocracy. The bride was barely 17 and the groom not quite 21.

They had two daughters and a son who, as heir to the Londonderry title, was initially styled Viscount Castlereagh.

When the baby was 18 months old, however, blood tests established that he was not, in fact, Lord Londonderry's, but the son of Georgie Fame, a Lancastrian weaver's apprentice-turned-pop star whose hits included The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde. Nicolette had fallen in love with him after spotting him on Top of the Pops in 1964 and had begun an affair.

The story featured on newspaper front pages for days. Fame was named as co-respondent in the Londonderrys' subsequent divorce in 1971 and the following year he and Nicolette were married.

They had another son together but in 1993 Nicolette committed suicide by jumping off Clifton Suspension Bridge.

In 1972 Lord Londonderry married Doreen Wells, former principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, but happiness continued to elude him.

After 17 years his second marriage, too, ended in divorce and more discomfort was to follow when Lady Cosima Somerset, whom Lord Londonderry publicly accepted as his daughter by his first wife, claimed that her biological father was the nightclub pianist and writer Robin Douglas-Home, nephew of the former prime minister and a close friend of Princess Margaret who had killed himself with an overdose of pills in the Sixties.

In the Sitxties Alistair Londonderry bought a house in Tuscany, which he renovated and where he did enjoy great happiness. After the sale of Wynyard Park, he moved to Dorset.

Although he held the title for longer than any of his eight predecessors, Lord Londonderry never took his seat in the House of Lords (where his coat-hook in the cloakroom bore his English title Earl Vane), and nothing gave him greater satisfaction than to be told that he did not "look like a lord".

Lord Londonderry is survived by the two daughters of his first marriage and two sons by his second. His eldest son, Frederick Aubrey Vane-Tempest-Stewart, styled Viscount Castlereagh, shall succeed to the titles as 10th Marquess.

The 9th Marquess will be interred at Tir nan Og, the ancestral burial ground at Mount Stewart, County Down, the details of which are to be announced in due course.

Londonderry arms courtesy of European Heraldry.


Unknown said...

Interesting to note that the funeral will be at Mount Stewart, the erstwhile Irish seat. This is where the 7th Marquess and his wife, Alistair's grandparents Charley and Edith, are buried along with his aunt, Lady Mairi, who died in 2009.

His own parents were reinterred at St. Mary's Church, Long Newton in County Durham following the sale of Wynyard Park, where they were first buried.

Although the Londonderry (or rather the Vane-Tempest) vault is at Long Newton, I did wonder whether this would be too remote as a final resting place considering there is no longer a connection at Wynyard. It would seem Mount Stewart is the most appropriate place, all things considered.

Anonymous said...

The Long Newton and Wynyard Park estates were completely separate former landholdings of the Londonderry family (both sold by the 9th Marquess)in NE England, some distance apart from each other. The former was the estate of the Vanes, the family ownership dating back to the seventeenth century, and the latter (Wynyard) was an estate bought by the Tempest family in 1742.

As regards the third landholding, linked to the third name in Vane-Tempest-Stewart, it would seem that there is nothing "erstwhile" about Mount Stewart. The Mount Stewart landed estate (bought by the Stewarts in 1744) currently belongs to the Executors of the late Lady Mairi Bury JP and there has been no public announcement of any intention of Lady Mairi's heirs to sell that estate in County Down, which has been in continuous family ownership for 268 years so far. It is very appropriate indeed for the 9th Marquess to be buried in the same county of Down of the United Kingdom, which includes Castlereagh borough, as his forebears.

Anonymous said...

The Mount Stewart Gardens were given to The National Trust in 1957, then Mount Stewart House and most of it's contents were also given to The National Trust in 1977. Therefore, it all belongs to The National Trust already.