Noble on dole after stately home venture fails

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The Independent Online
HIS FAMILY won lands from King Edgar for eradicating wolves from Staffordshire. But for Sir Charles Wolseley the economic wolves are now firmly at his door - he is signing on the dole.

The 11th baronet, whose fortune and 1,300-acre estate evaporated into bankruptcy two years ago, is now a regular at the Jobcentre where he is tasting life at the sharp end.

The 54-year-old aristocrat is spared the ordeal of signing on thanks to the 12 miles distance from his stately pile to the Jobcentre but postal coupons declaring his availability every fortnight ensure his pounds 140 Giro cheque.

Signing on for benefits marks a huge change in the personal fortunes of Sir Charles, whose estate is just a few hundred yards from Shugborough Hall, home of the Queen's cousin, the Earl of Lichfield. The estate lands date back to Saxon times and it are believed to have been given by King Edgar to the Wolseleys in 975 for destroying wolves in Staffordshire.

The family's motto remains "Homo homini lupus" - Man is as a wolf to his fellow man.

Sir Charles fell on hard times after deciding to open up his family home to visitors in the late 1980s at a cost of pounds 1.73m.

Wolseley Garden Park, which covers 45 acres, eventually opened in 1990 but it failed to bring in the number of visitors hoped for and took only pounds 30,000 in gate receipts in its first year.

Sir Charles blamed the recession as debts reached pounds 4.6m and at one point more than 100 creditors were owed money. He put the estate on the market in December 1995 before being made bankrupt in May 1996 and then the bank stepped in to sell the property to pay the debts. Woodland totalling 350 acres has already been sold and a garden centre on the estate has been leased.

Sir Charles now risks losing his home, Park House, which is on the estate and which he shares with his American wife Lady Jeannie.

The property is up for sale and is mortgaged to the National Westminster Bank as security.

He said: "I am now on job-seekers allowance and one gets by the best one can. I am trying to get a job. "I am a qualified chartered surveyor, but I am over-qualified and when you are 54, age is against you."

Sir Charles, who in the past has been forced to accept free potatoes from a tenant, has been claiming benefit for several months but has yet to be offered an interview despite making several applications for jobs as a surveyor.

The baronet said: "I have no idea what we will do if it is sold. We can't really make plans because we just don't know when that will be and in what circumstances."

Sir Charles said he was saddened that the Garden Park had been left to grow wild. It was once the centrepiece of his attraction but is no longer in his control since he was made bankrupt.

"Trees that are broken have fallen and have been left unrepaired. It's just a scene of devastation and dereliction," he said.

"It's also been vandalised. For instance, there was an obelisk in the garden which has been smashed to pieces and there were benches which have been thrown into the lake."

Lost

Fortunes

Marquess of Bristol: jailed for 10 months in 1993 for possession of heroin and cocaine - lost a reputed pounds 20m and was forced to sell Ickworth, the family's Suffolk stately home since the 15th century, to the Nation Trust to pay off debts.

Sophie Buchan-Watt: lost her share of pounds 500,000 inheritance after the 10th Earl of Selkirk cut her out of the will for getting a job as a topless dancer.

Sir Julius Wernher, the "Randlord" baronet: built a pounds 100m fortune which included the Luton Hoo estate in Bedfordshire. His great-grandson Nicky Phillips, the Duke of Edinburgh's godson, killed himself seven years ago after the estate's value crumbled to pounds 6m.

Lord Brocket: jailed five years ago for his part in a pounds 4.5m insurance fraud, involving the fake theft of his classic car collection, which was organised to stave off mounting debts that threatened the family home, Brocket Hall.

Honor Fraser: the sister of the 18th Lord Lovat who inherited a pounds 7m debt following the tragic events which killed her father, grandfather and uncle in a year. She went into modelling and is now the face of Couture Givenchy.

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