Obituary: The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham

CHRISTOPHER WINCHILSEA was an individualist, a promoter of unfashionable but distinctive and worthy causes, and a liberal to his core - a man of principle.

Born in 1936, Christopher Finch-Hatton was educated at Eton, which he loathed, and then at Gordonstoun, which he liked. At the age of 13, he inherited from his father the ancient titles of Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham. For much of his life he regarded this as a burden he could not justify or enjoy. After National Service in the Royal Navy, Winchilsea sought to distance himself from his title and his background, relations with his mother being particularly strained. He spent some years living and sometimes working in the United States when he was in his twenties and he retained a great love of people and things American all his life.

In 1962 he married Shirley Hatfield and the following year they returned to Britain. They took time to work out where to live and what to do. The issue of disclaiming the title was not addressed. Instead Chris and Shirley bought South Cadbury House in south-east Somerset and committed themselves to improving the house and grounds, and to sinking their roots deeply into the local rural community.

Winchilsea had no pretence about him, and he could be disarmingly naive, but his charm was as radiant as it was natural. He saw himself as a grass- roots Liberal, an ordinary party member, a leaflet deliverer, and a reluctant district council candidate. He was never so happy in political life as when out canvassing on the doorstep. He was a generous benefactor to the Liberal cause in Somerset.

Winchilsea was persuaded after many years that he should take his seat in the Lords to give Liberalism the extra political representation there which it had been ruthlessly denied in the Commons. The House of Lords gave him a platform which he proceeded to use with skill, despite his diffidence and his preference for doing good away from the limelight. He was a backbench Liberal (Democrat) peer for over 20 years. He was naturally delighted when his home constituency was won by the Liberal Democrats in 1997.

He identified with the grass-roots in other walks of life, in particular with two groups whose interests he sought to represent in the Lords - taxi-drivers and policemen. Winchilsea became known to licensed taxi-drivers all over Britain as he investigated the problems they faced from mini- cab competition, local councils and central government. In gratitude for his work he was presented in the 1980s with a London taxi-cab.

The Police Federation also approached Winchilsea to act as one of their spokespersons in the Lords. He took this on and spent a period on the beat in Hackney to see what the job really entailed and to inform his interventions in the Lords.

These two interests gave him a vast network of contacts which he was able to use extensively in support of his greatest passion, the promotion of the interests of the displaced Sahrawi people. Since 1975 these people have survived in refugee camps near Tindouf, in the Algerian part of the Sahara Desert, waiting for a resolution of the failure to achieve a proper decolonisation process in the Spanish Sahara. Spain had allowed the Moroccans to annex their ex-colony but most of the native population fled rather accept a fait accompli.

Winchilsea did more than anyone in the West to keep the plight of the Sahrawi people in the public eye. He publicly denounced the King of Morocco's state visit to Britain in 1987, and he went on to involve the ex-US President Jimmy Carter, and through him James Baker, former Secretary of State, in the process of reaching a settlement of the Western Sahara conflict under the auspices of the United Nations.

Winchilsea helped to found, to organise and to promote in the UK the Sahrawi Refugee Aid Trust. Its most spectacular results were the Rainbow Rover convoys, the most recent of which reached the camps at Tindouf last November. The convoys were made up of Land Rovers, painted in rainbow livery, and took vitally needed medical and food supplies to the camps. Winchilsea organised 10 such convoys over the years, the vehicles and the supplies all being gifts, many of which had been donated by contacts and sponsors. Taxi-drivers and the police were prominent convoy participants.

Winchilsea had many other interests. He achieved environmentally sensitive improvements to the Winchilsea estate in Northamptonshire. His passion for jazz led to the offer of his own series on Jazz FM. He became a patron of the Terrence Higgins Trust after a friend developed Aids. He was a devoted father to Daniel and Alice. He ensured they attended the local state schools, and he and Shirley were passionate advocates for more resources and enlightenment in the comprehensive schools - Shirley eventually being elected a local county councillor. Together the Winchilseas made a powerful and effective team, Shirley providing emotional and practical support which kept Chris on track.

In the early 1990s, Chris suffered his first heart attack and immediately gave up smoking, though no one could shift his love of Coca-Cola. His son, Daniel, succeeds to the title.Christopher Denys Stormont Finch-Hatton, campaigner: born 17 November 1936; styled Viscount Maidstone 1939-50; succeeded 1950 as 16th Earl of Winchilsea and 11th Earl of Nottingham; married 1962 Shirley Hatfield (one son, one daughter); died South Cadbury, Somerset 26 June 1999.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The crowd enjoy Latitude Festival 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'

Is this the end of the Dowager Countess?tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn