Aristocracy is not what it used to be. Nor is it likely to return to its former dominant position in society. Are we better off without that?
In some cases, perhaps yes. I wrote the other day, for example about the bad 5th duke of Marlborough, who left little if anything better off when he exited the stage in 1840.
But not all dukes have been like that. And I was cheered by a show starring Mary Berry, the food writer, who visits various great country houses of Britain to showcase nice things one can find there. I was especially cheered by her visit to Goodwood and the Duke of Richmond and his family.
Here is a view of the main buildings
A quick note – Mary Berry may not be to everyone’s taste. She is not a hipster like Tony Bourdain To the contrary, she is proper lady and kind and respectful to all. No snarky comments, or even a single bead of sweat in the kitchen as she prepares coq au vin.
Back to the story. Goodwood is unique among the great estates for a variety of reasons. First, the Duke himself, taking after his father has proved to be an innovative estate manager. This story about the founding of the motor sport race track on the property gives you a hint
During World War II a large area of farmland on the southwestern edge of the Goodwood Estate was developed as the Royal Air Force Westhampnett fighter base, which became a center of historic aircraft action during the 1940 Battle of Britain. After the war, RAF Westhampnett was closed to operations and returned to the Goodwood Estate. The late Freddie March then led the way in persuading British government ministries to permit the disused aerodrome perimeter tracks to be adopted for motor racing, which led to the opening of the Goodwood Motor Circuit in 1948.
The Duke and his family have embraced some highly attractive values in their care of the property and care for the animals that they maintain there. That would include organic farming.
Mary Berry gave an interview where she said this
It’s very difficult to pick out a highlight. I went to a dinner during Members’ Meeting: the room was so unusual and beautiful, with grass laid out over the tables and then the wonderful surprise of motorbikes zooming through the front hall. You are in the middle of a conversation and all of a sudden there’s a slight draft as the door opens and before you know what is happening a motorbike shoots past.
I really enjoyed spending time with Susan, Duchess of Richmond and Gordon. She is exactly the same age as me and we reminisced about how things have changed and how we do things differently. I appreciate her love of animals and her efforts to take in battery chickens, nursing them back to health. What strikes me about Goodwood is that the whole house is in such pristine condition. The present Duke has done some amazing things including restoring the Egyptian Dining Room. Susan found the little crocodiles that were on the back of the original chairs tucked upstairs in the attic and brought them out so they could be restored. I am full of admiration for such endeavours and have loved getting to know the family a little.
You can watch the episode via good old YouTube. One thing impressed me most. The duke is committed to doing fine preservation and renovation of a historically important estate, yes. But he also seems to have a lot of fun in the process! Enjoy!
A final note. The above show was filmed not long after the duke and his wife had suffered from a break in and robbery at Goodwood. During the robbery, the Duke was physically assaulted. Historically important jewels valued at over £700,000 were stolen. No doubt he and his wife were traumatized by the experience. And yet, the Duke has not withdrawn from pubic view. Good for him!