Lord Montagu, founder of Britain’s National Motor Museum and a groundbreaking figure in the classic car world, has died after a short illness. He was 88.
Edward, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, inherited the Beaulieu Estate when he was two years old: it was managed by his father’s widow and trustees until he was 25.
But with an allocation from his inheritance of just £1,500 a year to run the estate, Lord Montagu was faced with a dilemma. “In 1951, to any sensible, rational being, the house was a white elephant,” he said.
“The wise solution was to get rid of it. For me, however – neither entirely sensible nor rational – that was unthinkable.”
He thus decided to open the estate to paying visitors, with an added USP: exhibiting classic veteran cars.
This, he said, commemorated his father’s life – he was a car enthusiast too – but “without it, my life would have been very different and I doubt whether I would have been able to remain as owner and occupier of my ancestral home.”
In 1952, the collection became Britain’s first car museum. By the 1960s, it was attracting half a million visitors a year.
Lord Montagu also created the world famous Beaulieu Autojumble in 1967 – a name he invented and which has long had an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Because it was proving so successful, an all-new 40,000 square-foot museum was built in the early 70s and opened by the Duke of Kent on 4 July 1972: it became the National Motor Museum. It won the title of National Heritage Museum of the Year in 1974 – the same year a monorail was opened to help visitors tour the 7,000-acre estate.
In recent years, the World of Top Gear, displaying cars as driven by Clarkson, Hammond and May in the huge hit show, has proven an ever-popular attraction.
Montagu was also chairman of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission: one of his early actions as chair was to rename it English Heritage.
Lord Montagu is survived by his wife Fiona, his son and heir Ralph, daughter Mary and second son Jonathan.
In accordance with his wishes, the estate and visitor attractions are continuing to operate as usual.
An estate funeral will be held at Beaulieu, followed by a memorial service at St Margaret’s, Westminster.