The Last Will and Testament of the Right Honourable Maurice

26 Jun

I’m spending a few days with my family in Somerset but I’ve taken a mountain of papers with me to try and stay on track. Today I’ve been looking at Maurice’s will, made in 1954 (four years before his death), and the copy of the lease made between the National Trust and Cheshire Council when they took over the running of Tatton Park in 1960. It’s interesting to see his priorities in his will, and the extent to which his wishes were honoured (or ignored!) after his death with the new estate management.

The Will begins by listing the gross value of the Tatton estate, which was £1,717,572: 18s: 4d. If I use a calculator to estimate what that would be in today’s money it is around £39,886,831. I’m not sure how accurate or useful these figures are, but the scale of it surprised me somewhat as I believed that Maurice had sold off a lot of his land to fund his businesses and property in Kenya. The value of his Kenyan interests are not listed in the will. The story has always been told that the National Trust were reluctant to take Tatton as there was no cash endowment. I’ve also heard that Maurice was in the bad books with his British bank as he argued that all his money was in Kenya. I will make it my goal to better understand the truth of his financial situation, as stories would paint him either as a prince or a pauper. As so many local estates in Cheshire were leased or demolished in Maurice’s time, it is no mean feat that Maurice held on to Tatton and was able to invest in new land and property abroad.

Another interesting feature of the will is that he makes surprisingly few personal bequests, and that none of these are family members. Of the 8 people mentioned, 5 were men who lived either locally or on the estate, and two were his land agents in Manchester. The largest sum given was £2000 to Kenneth Selwood, who Maurice originally befriended as a boy on a ship journey in 1920 (another example of his close/strange/generous/spontaneous relationships with boys). Selwood acted as a trustee, and theirs was arguably one of the closest friendships forged in Maurice’s lifetime. It could be said that these bequests show that Maurice was closest to ordinary men and was keen to reward service, and that his own family were somewhat distant from him. As he had no children or neices and nephews, his closest family were cousins, and Maurice was satisfied for the occupation of Tatton to come to an end with the end of his direct line. This seems hard to believe, but I really feel that Maurice knew he had been lucky to hold onto Tatton for as long as he had, and that he knew the time of genuine aristocratic power had come to an end. However, this didn’t stop the newspapers from speculating ‘who will inherit the Tatton Millions?’ after his death in 1958

Something that came up from my wider reading was the variations of the fate of private collections after the death of their owner. Whilst some owners were keen for their children to inherit the collection, they often recognised that their children did not have the same passion for it as themselves, and would make reluctant heirs of collections they cared little for. It was more likely that private collectors collected with the end goal being museum acquisition either in their lifetime (signalling recognition of their taste and skill) or posthumously (to ensure that their name and legacy would be remembered). The third, and least likely, option was that private collectors wished their collection to end with their death, and be dispersed or disposed of, enabling the ‘sacred’ objects to re-enter the commodity market and be re-collected by others.

For me, the most interesting part of Maurice’s will is that he specifies his wishes for his collection before that of the wider historic mansion collection and the garden and grounds. It is the first issue he addresses. He makes it very clear that the fate of the collection was foremost in his mind and that it was the most important part of what he had to leave behind. He wished for the collection to be ‘permanently maintained as a museum collection and should be houses at my said mansion house’. As Maurice had kept his collection privately in his lifetime, it had become a monument to his own prestige and identity. If he had gifted it privately to a nominated heir, this sense of identity might have been lost, superceded, or tampered with. Similarly, if he had given it to a museum, it was likely that the collection would have been broken up to be stored and displayed separately, thus losing connections with the collector. By insisting that it remained at Tatton, Maurice ensured that the collection would be kept as he had ordered it, and that his legacy would be preserved in the best way possible.

In the end, his generous act allowed a wide variety of people to marvel at his collection, but it has also offered Maurice up for mass interpretation and speculation, when in his own lifetime he tried so hard to live discretely.

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