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
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
artSistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
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.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?