Charles Gordon-Lennox, Earl of March and Kinrara, is the master of Goodwood, a traditional English agricultural and sporting estate of some 12,000 acres that stretches from the top of the Sussex Downs to the outskirts of Chichester. At 3,400 acres the Home Farm is one of the largest lowland organic farms in the UK, with arable, dairy, beef, pigs, turkeys for Christmas, and a flock of 1,200 sheep. There are 1,900 acres of deciduous and coniferous forestry. Sporting activities on the Goodwood estate include shooting, two golf courses, horseracing, the motor circuit, the aerodrome and flying school, and cricket.
Monty the butler is bringing a cup of Earl Grey tea with lemon to Lord March. Monty has been at Goodwood House for ten years, and is an important part of the establishment. Why is he so important? He is ahead of the game. People visit Goodwood House most days and Monty is very enthusiastic about the place, a busy and knowledgeable ambassador. When he drives us back to the train station in the same black and silver Rolls Royce that Lord March drove us round the racetrack in at high speed he says, “When Lord Fellowes came we told him we were jealous of the amount of staff they had at Downton!” Before he came to Goodwood Monty was a military man, a submariner, and he declares himself impressed by Lord March’s strong work ethic and early-morning starts.
Lord March, you are a photographer. You started aged seventeen and worked with Stanley Kubrick on Barry Lyndon and you recently went back to it?
I started photography very intensely when I was ten. At Eton I was in the dark room a lot. I left there aged sixteen, and, I went to work for Stanley Kubrick.
Did you become a press photographer?
Yes, I did a lot of advertising work. London in the early Eighties was very creative and exciting, no actual product was being photographed. I had a fun and very busy time for ten years until I came down here.
And now you are back into it and have had exhibitions of your work?
Two years ago I had a show in London called Nature Translated, abstract pictures of trees. I had an exhibition at the Russian State Museum in February of last year, in the Marble Palace in St. Petersburg. Then Olga Sviblova, took over a very beautiful wooden palace and I had a dedicated show during the Moscow Biennale. Adam Lindemann did a new show in New York in January and February this year, and Hamiltons Gallery in London had a different set of pictures in late February/March. Those were all pictures I took in St. Petersburg while doing the show there, and I took the pictures when I walked to the museum every day.
So you are an eclectic man, but what is your main stream? You obviously give a lot of your time to the running of this estate.
Yes, the house was bought in 1697 by the 1st Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of Charles II and Louise de Kéroualle, who was a French spy for Louis XIV. King Charles created a play in which he could fall on top of her and she was his last mistress. The child born was the 1st Duke of Richmond and the first illegitimate son to be recognised. Since then the house has been in the family. My father is still alive and is the 10th Duke.
Don’t you sit in the House of Lords any more?
The inherited peers will soon be out completely. The days for inherited peers to sit in the Lords are numbered.
What are the political issues that affect a place like Goodwood?
Mansion tax, inheritance tax, and primogeniture is becoming more of a debate, with the move for daughters to be able to inherit. I have four sisters and for me it is very important to make sure everyone is looked after.
You have three sons?
Yes, and technically only one can become the Duke and inherit the land. The property needs to go with the title. If you separate them out it doesn’t maintain the family’s position in the future.
And your own father?
Whoever runs the estate lives in the house.
You could always sell the house?
It’s a Grade 1 building and I am committed to keeping it going. We employ 650 people, my whole thrust is to keep it going. Father took it on in the late Sixties and I was twelve when we moved here, my grandparents were here until then. My grandfather was mad about cars and aeroplanes. In 1967, when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, taxes were at 98%, the house and estate was in bad shape. It was a post-war environment, my grandparents never thought they would live here again after the war. About 1,500 country houses were knocked down at that time, the way of life was not a thing you wanted to be part of, it was not appropriate in a modern world. Now there is much more acknowledgement.
How were you able to keep the house?
If you gave it to the National Trust you also had to give a massive endowment. There was no cash, no money for the endowment! Father decided to try and make a go of it as a business, he started to make the house available for activities. This is a sporting estate and is unusual, the owners and families that have lived here wanted to share their passions with other people. Their first one was fox hunting! Horses were a huge passion. The 1st Duke bought the house for the fox hunting. The Kennels were the HQ for the first major fox hunt in the world, the Charlton Hunt. He was badly behaved and got his son married to a rich girl to cover a big gambling debt – even though he had a huge allowance. The boy was thirteen, the girl fifteen, and they hated each other. The boy had an inspired tutor who took him on the Grand Tour and met Canaletto. We have some great Canalettos, two magnificent pictures of London, and we just bought the sketch of one of them, we didn’t have it before. On the way back the boy met his best friend in the Hague and they went to the opera. He saw a girl there and fell in love with her. It was his wife! They had four children, eminent children, three girls and a boy, and twenty-five pregnancies. This boy who went on the Tour was mad about cricket. The first game was played here in 1702, incredibly early, and he wrote a set of rules in 1727, the earliest existing rules of cricket in our archive. There is still a lovely cricket pitch here.
His son, one of the four eminent children, was the 3rd Duke, a politician who raced his horse on the top of the Downs against the King and the local Sussex militia, and they bet heavily. It was only two horses to a race. Then other people started watching, and in 1802 they held the first public race meeting and every July since Goodwood Week is held. “Glorious Goodwood”, five days racing. The Qataris are now sponsoring this in a big way, and the prize money has gone up a lot. The Queen used to always stay here, every year, and while Prince Philip played polo at nearby Cowdray she watched the horse racing. As a small boy I remember well the whole royal entourage arriving here.
There is also shooting, and we have it all back in hand now, as well as the golf courses.
Do you shoot?
Yes, I like it, pheasant and partridge. Golf was introduced in 1914 by the 5th Duke’s children, who built this rather wonderful golf course. I managed to get it back twelve years ago and rebuilt it. It’s a lovely old course, right on top of the hills, for members only.
And the cars?
My grandfather, the 9th Duke, was mad about cars. He started racing and won a lot at Brooklands. His parents hated him doing it. Then, after the Second War, a couple of young drivers based at the Battle of Britain airfield we had on the estate turned what had been the perimeter track for the airfield into a race track. He ran it until 1966 when it was closed. When I came it was broken and rotting away. Now the Goodwood Revival takes place there.
And the Festival of Speed?
I started the Festival of Speed, and since 1993 we have had more great cars here than anywhere else in the world. F1, Indy, Group C, Le Mans, all sorts of cars across one hundred plus years of racing and motoring. With five hundred cars competing and thousands and thousands of people on site, the Festival of Speed is the biggest car culture event in the world. It is held at the end of June every year, 200,000 people come. It has been very helpful to the estate and the business. Motor sport is our biggest revenue stream.
What are your main activities?
Our mantra is horse racing, motor racing, golf, flying, shooting and cricket. All sorts of different people come, but we do have Sporting Members who are involved in all those activities.
Do you have an art collection?
18th Century art, and furniture and portraits and paintings. There are five great pictures in the house, two big Canalettos of London and three lovely Stubbs. All these five are painted for here. Then there are two little Italian ones and Reynolds, the usual. We do buy, but they have to be relevant to the place. I buy things back. We have a pair of beautiful early 18th Century William Kent chairs and some beautiful candle sticks.
What kind of life do you have?
I am very busy, I am very focussed on estate and family. I am here all the time, my job is to get Goodwood out into in the world. Three quarters of a million people a year come through the estate. I develop the business and bring in new partners and sponsors. We have 150 big relationships like that. I started trying to bring all the sports together.
What is the future about?
It is about how we can make Goodwood relevant to the modern world, engage, and turn events into the marketing muscle for something else. I am interested in retaining the authenticity of our sports. We don’t have to make it up, luckily we have dollops of authenticity. We are the business, we live it and breathe it. I love it. My passion is to get the place fully on the map; and people want to be part of it. For the Revival people come all dressed up. It feels exactly as if you are having a 1950s race meeting. Today I am wearing a 1960s tweed jacket by Terry Haste with the new Apple watch.
Do you like old fashioned style?
It turned out in a way we never intended, rebuilding the circuit with a period setting, the right cars, dressing appropriately. It’s the biggest historic race meeting, we had seven Ferrari GTOs at one meeting. Stirling Moss had his first race here, which he won, and his big accident was here, when he stopped.
Do many foreigners come to the events?
From all over, from the USA, Japan, Australia, France, Italy.
Do you have a typical English garden?
Mostly English parkland, not really a garden. 1,500 cedars were planted in 1740 by the 3rd Duke, now we are getting seeds from the Lebanon via Edinburgh University. There are six gardeners, the farm is 4,000 acres and organic. We do dairy, we make our own cheese, we supply milk for the independent coffee shops in London, which is delivered every day. There is beef, lamb, pork, our own butcher; and beer, both ale and lager.
Is the farm a good part of the business?
Not an easy part of the business. We had to decide whether to keep it or contract it all out, which would have been the normal way. Fifteen years ago we decided to run it ourselves and create our own food brand. We decided organic was the right way to go, and to operate it ourselves.
You have a label?
It is Goodwood.
Do you travel a lot?
A bit. The Middle East for obvious reason, but not very much. I need to be here. What we do is here. I travel a bit for the photography.
And your children?
The children will keep it going. My eldest son is at Oxford and is very keen on the events and enjoys the horse racing and motor racing. If you can get the succession right, that is the most critical thing. You have to be able to manage the handover.
When will you retire?
Not for a while, my eldest son is only twenty. At least another ten years.
Do you get any State help?
Zero. No public money, although the farm gets EU farming subsidies and grants like everyone else.
Do you see the potential to get bigger?
Yes, we need to grow the brand in the right way, a retail way. The digital world is huge for us. We have Goodwood.com and Goodwoodracing.com. If you think about cars you should go straight to Goodwood. Your son John came to the Revival.
Do many famous people come?
Lots of drivers. We’d like to be renowned for doing things well. I am very keen to touch people when they are here, having a special and shared experience. The Revival they actually take part in, and there is a guide as to what to wear at The Revival.
What else have you developed?
Since ten years we have the premises for the Rolls Royce car factory, designed by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw. A lot of the building is below the surface. We also renovated The Kennels as our clubhouse and are building ten really super hotel rooms over the road from it. I am keen to be innovative, entrepreneurial and flexible.
How can you be entrepreneurial?
Make the best of what exists. The challenge is to make it relevant. We have 12,000 acres, that’s a big estate for the South of England. Diversity is our great strength.
6th May, 2015.
Portrait of Lord March, photo by Jonathan Green.
Many thanks to Goodwood for the images.