Obituary: The Earl of Jersey

FOR THE ninth Earl of Jersey, Osterley Park was never truly home. However, this did not extinguish his interest in and fondness for the family house which he inherited as a boy - an interest which continued throughout his life.

His foreword to the present guide book, entitled "Memories of Osterley", dwells lightly on the part he himself played in Osterley's history. He was only 13 when his father died, but on coming of age he seems rapidly to have assessed his inheritance and planned a way forward.

This was most swiftly realised in 1935, when he commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens to build a new house at Middleton Park, Oxfordshire, a family property, where he had pulled down the existing house which Christopher Hussey had described as "without architectural merit besides being difficult to run and maintain".

Osterley presented a different problem. While on the one hand finding it like a museum because as a child he was never allowed to touch anything, Lord Jersey also knew it as the place much beloved of his grandmother. It was she, the wife of the seventh Earl, who in 1884 took the house back in hand after the death of its tenant. Initially she and her husband had planned to give one garden party before reletting, but instead they were "fascinated with the place", and for the Countess it became "the joy of my life".

Osterley Park was built in the 16th century by Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange. Refashioned and largely furnished in the 1760s and 1770s by Robert Adam for the bankers Francis and Robert Child, it became what Horace Walpole described as "the palace of palaces". The Principal Floor with its State Rooms and Long Gallery was and is the chief glory. It was Robert Child's granddaughter Sarah Sophia who in 1804 married the first Earl of Jersey.

George Francis Child Villiers was born in 1910 and succeeded his father as Earl in 1923. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. In 1932 he went to work at Glyn Mills, which had absorbed Child's, the family bank, in the 1920s.

Lord Jersey received a steady stream of requests to see inside the house at Osterley, and responded by opening it to the public in 1939. Asked why he had chosen this course, he told the Times that he felt it was "sufficient answer that he did not live in it and that many others wished to see it". His letter to the newspaper a month after opening conveys great pleasure that so many people - 12,000 in that month alone - had visited and enjoyed themselves.

This concern for the visitor was something that never left him. He often had ideas for how a visit could be made more interesting and pleasurable, and he wanted to know what we at the National Trust were doing to make this so. His own solution in 1939 had been to organise in some of the top-floor rooms a series of changing exhibitions of work by living artists and sculptors, something which be felt provided an interesting and stimulating contrast to the 18th-century rooms below.

In the park Lord Jersey inherited the enthusiastic planting of his grandfather. The seventh Earl had travelled extensively as well as having been Governor of New South Wales, and he added many exotic species. The cumulative effect was too much for his grandson, who opened up vistas while retaining the rarer trees. Indeed in 1939 he himself conceived a scheme to create an arboretum at Osterley - something which was never realised.

The Second World War cut across all these plans and ideas and at its end Lord Jersey (who had served during the war in the Royal Artillery) renewed his attempts to find a permanent solution to the future of Osterley. He went back to Middlesex County Council who had previously shown interest in buying the place, but in the end gave the house and immediately surrounding park to the National Trust and sold the furniture to the nation - defined in this case as the Victoria & Albert Museum.

By this time Lord Jersey had moved to the island of Jersey - he and his third wife, Bianca Mottironi, whom he had married in 1946, had been much taken with it on a visit in 1949, and he became the first Earl of Jersey to live there. It was in Jersey too that many of the things he had taken with him from Osterley, including a large proportion of the pictures, such as Van Dyck's portrait of Charles I on horse- back, were tragically destroyed in a fire at the depot where they were stored.

However, even from a distance Lord Jersey was always in touch with what was going on at Osterley. Through the years when it was maintained by the Ministry of Works and managed by the V & A he particularly helped the curators in their researches on the house's history. Through these the museum undertook its ground-breaking work to show the rooms as they would have been in the late 18th century - formal and uncluttered. He and his family also enthusiastically participated in parties there, echoing the truly magnificent ball which the Georgian Group held at Osterley in 1939 under his auspices.

In 1991 the National Trust took back the various strands of management. Lord Jersey responded with pleasure to the fact that Osterley was once more run by "one hand". Over the last seven years he made magnificent gifts back to Osterley of silver, porcelain, furniture and miniatures. Images of his family, who first acquired Osterley in 1713, can once more be seen there. Portraits of Lord Jersey and his wife by Howard Morgan, commissioned by the trust in 1994, hang upstairs. His interest, support and encouragement were a crucial factor in all that has been recently achieved at Osterley.

George Francis Child Villiers, landowner: born 15 February 1910; succeeded 1923 as ninth Earl of Jersey; married 1932 Patricia Richards (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1937), 1937 Virginia Leach (nee Cherrill; marriage dissolved 1946), 1947 Bianca Mottironi (one daughter and two sons deceased); died St Helier, Jersey 9 August 1998.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent