OBITUARY : Earl Waldegrave

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Garter banner of Geoffrey, 12th Earl Waldegrave, represented one of the earliest grants of arms in England: per pale, argent and gules. It has now been taken down from his stall in the Quire of St George's Chapel, Windsor, where it had hung since his installation as a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order in 1971. Lord Waldegrave was justly proud of his illustrious ancestry. The first and second Earls had been Knights of the Garter, and his own appointment by the Queen almost overwhelmed him because he also possessed the rare virtue of true humility. He was always a diffident man. His death this week, at the age of 89, concludes a remarkable chapter. He succeeded his father in 1936.

Perhaps the key to his inner personality was the fact that his father, the 11th Earl, was a Somerset parish priest. He grew up in a country rectory. All his life, he remained a thoroughly committed and sacramental Christian and a convinced Anglican. He had a deep faith and was a man of prayer. He cared about his parish church and the exercise of his duty as a patron. He loved the Book of Common Prayer.

He had a special love of the Cathedral Church of St Andrew in Wells. For many years he was Chairman of the Friends; and in 1976 he became president of the great appeal for the preservation of the west front and the restoration of the high vaults of the cathedral. The appeal ran for eight years, and the work occupied 11 years, culminating in a great Eucharist with thousands of worshippers on the Cathedral Green, using the completed west front as a huge reredos. The Prince of Wales, as President of the Cathedral Preservation Trust, gave personal encouragement at every stage and unveiled the crowning figure of Christ carved by David Wynne.

Geoffrey Waldegrave's links with the Prince of Wales went back to his membership of the Prince's Council of the Duchy of Cornwall from 1951 to 1958. He was Lord Warden of the Stannaries from 1965 to 1976. The Lord Warden was the ancient link between the tin miners of Dartmoor and the Crown. He presided over the tinners' Great Court. The Stannary towns were Tavistock, Chagford and Ashburton.

After education at Winchester and Cambridge, Waldegrave served in the Second World War as a major in the Royal Artillery. Various appointments followed. He was Joint Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, 1958-62. A story from this period illustrates his down-to-earth humour. At the end of a long conference, in which livestock experts had been promoting plans to fatten cattle to the ultimate level, Waldegrave calmly pointed out that, on the basis of the figures quoted, the ideal beast would be unable to stand.

He was Chairman of the Forestry Commission from 1963 to 1965. Trees greatly interested him, and he spent much time and energy over his own plantations on the family estate at Chewton Mendip, where he also set up a cheese- making business (Chewton still produces one of the best cheddars). Rural activities in Somerset were of abiding interest to him. He was President of the Somerset Trust for Nature Conservation and of the Royal Bath and West Show.

Other interests included being a director of Lloyds Bank and of the Bristol Waterworks Company, and governor of the National Fruit and Cider Institute at Long Ashton; he was also one of the Bristol Merchant Venturers. He was on the General Advisory Council of the BBC, and on the Council of Bristol University, who gave him an honorary LLD in 1976.

In 1930 he married Mary, daughter of Lt-Col A.M. Grenfell DSO. She supported him through a long and happy marriage, sharing all his interests and chronicling the history of his distinguished family through extensive research into early documents and the Walpole con- nection (the Waldegraves had inherited Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole's Gothic house in Twickenham). In spite of her frail health, she was unfailingly hospitable and loyal to their family and many friends.

They had five daughters and two sons. One daughter, Lady Susan Hussey, has been a Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen for 35 years. Their elder son, Viscount Chewton, succeeds to the earldom. Their younger son, William Waldegrave, continues the family tradition with distinction in politics and in Parliament.

Countless people will treasure the memory of Geoffrey Waldegrave. His Christian example, his charming personality, and his warm humour enchanted us all.

Geoffrey Noel Waldegrave, landowner and public servant: born 21 November 1905; styled Viscount Chewton 1933; succeeded 1936 as 12th Earl Waldegrave; member, Somerset County Council 1937-58; chairman, Agricultural Executive Committee for Somerset 1948-51; member, Prince's Council of the Duchy of Cornwall 1951-58, 1965-76; Liaison Officer to Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire 1952-57; Joint Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 1958-62; Chairman, Forestry Commission 1963-65; Lord Warden of the Stannaries 1965-76; Chairman, Advisory Committee on Meat Research 1969- 73; KG 1971; GCVO 1976; married 1930 Mary Grenfell (two sons, five daughters); died 23 May 1995.