The women who saved our country piles
How have so many great country houses managed to survive? One answer is: thanks to women. Emma Rutland “runs one of the most successful country-house operations in Britain”, says Elizabeth Grice in The Daily Telegraph. Born Emma Watkins, a savvy farmer’s daughter form Powys, she remembers the shock of first moving into Belvoir Castle with her four young children when her husband, David, became the 11th Duke of Rutland.
“The Tardis of perplexing rooms and corridors,” says Grice. “The chill. The children’s fear of ghosts. Two and a half acres of rotting roof. Disintegrating drains. Death duties of £9m.” The new duchess remembers her mother-in-law handing her a huge black box of keys. “She looked me in the eye with a slight smile and said ‘Good luck’. I read her expression as: ‘You’ve got to get on with it. Find your way.”
That was 12 years ago, and Emma Rutland did find her way. There are others like her: Jane Northumberland, mistress of Alnwick Castle and the creator of its wonderful gardens, is one. “I was fortunate to have a husband who allowed me a completely free rein to do what I wanted to do, so long as it remained ‘in budget’,” she says. Fiona Carnarvon at Highclere Castle, a former accountant, is in the same mould. So is American-born Lady Ashcombe, who has helped turn Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds into a thriving business.
Within three weeks of her tenure at Belvoir, Emma Rutland was woken by her children announcing that water was pouring into the two libraries. “I pulled my Barbour on over my nightie,” she told Elizabeth Grice, “yanked on my wellies and made my way on to the roof, several children in tow.” A dead pigeon had blocked a drain. To a “giggling” audience, she “slid down the lead roof on her bottom” and dug it out with her bare hands. “That dead pigeon taught me a lot,” she says. The castle now has its own birds of prey.
She wrote to the famously entrepreneurial Duchess of Devonshire. “Help! Where do I start?” Over lunch, she was given a tutorial on how to manage an ancestral pile, says Grice, “without losing its integrity, or her sanity”. Now Belvoir is flourishing. Russians, Americans and Chinese flock to the 16,000-acre estate to shoot “vertiginous quantities” of pheasant and partridge. They often end the day in the family’s private dining room, with the Duke and Duchess as hosts, before retiring to four poster beds. After each season, the Duchess is off to America, Russia and the Far East to recruit for the next one. “I love selling,” she says.
Belvoir costs £500k a year to run. “We are not spoiled creatures sitting up in a tower having our nails filed,” says Rutland. “We are working girls, modern-times girls who have often previously run our own businesses. I am a working mum. I do my children’s food. I do the supermarket shop... I am absolutely devoted to Asda. I do all my shopping there in 50 minutes – £150 for the week’s shop, and out.”
Tabloid money… Cameron at last decides to “stand and fight”
• “If the Cabinet reshuffle means anything, it surely signals David Cameron’s long-overdue decision to stand and fight for Tory values,” says Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun. “Having wasted two years, he will be judged at the next election on jobs, prosperity, crime, fuel prices and Britain’s right to rule without Brussels meddling. This is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the dramatic rise of right-wingers Chris Grayling, Owen Paterson and Michael Fallon to key roles in the coalition power game.
As Justice Secretary, Grayling will stand up to arrogant judges, both here and in Strasbourg.” The new environment supremo will rein in the multi-billion-pound wind farms scam. “And Mr Fallon will take on his boss, Vince Cable, by liberating the labour market and giving firms the right to hire and fire.”
• Spare us the surveys about lifestyle choices that don’t exist any more, says Fiona McIntosh in The Sunday Mirror. “There was a time, pre-recession, when women did still have the right to choose. If they kept a very careful eye on the household budget, new mums could just about afford to take time off when their kids were small. Now, stay-at-home motherhood is a pipe dream enjoyed by the rare few who have enough time on their hands to read surveys. Women and kids are the worst-hit victims of the recession.”
• “Judge Peter Bowers tells drug-addicted serial burglar Richard Rochford that robbing houses ‘takes an enormous amount of courage’,” says Tony Parsons in the Daily Mirror. “Not half as much courage as it takes to pick up a baseball bat and go downstairs to confront whoever just kicked down your front door. It takes an enormous amount of stupidity to be as out of touch as Judge Bowers. Burglary is a violation of all that you love. A home is never quite the same after it has been burgled.”