UK: Better going at Goodwood. (1 of 3)

UK: Better going at Goodwood. (1 of 3) - The landed gentry are much envied, but it is not easy to be to the manor born, as Charles Darwent found out.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The landed gentry are much envied, but it is not easy to be to the manor born, as Charles Darwent found out.

In 1799 Charles, third Duke of Richmond and Lennox, duc d'Aubigny, Earl of March, Darnley and Kinrara, Baron Settrington and Torbolton, settled at his desk, opened a calf-bound ledger entitled "Money Matters", and glumly headed one page "Statement For Settling My Debts". In 1991 Charles, tenth of all the above (plus fourth of another dukedom - Gordon - acquired along the way), sits at his desk with the aforementioned ledger, underlines the heading with his finger, pulls a face and says: "Plus ca change."

It seems an unlikely claim for a man sitting in an unarguably stately home, replete with Van Dycks and Canaletti, set in 12,000 acres of Sussex and with his very own racecourse (Goodwood) just visible on the brow of his very own hill. But "Money Matters" backs up the story. The present duke flips happily through the pages, jabs at another headed "Assets not producing an income", and smiles meaningfully. Included in its column of figures are the house, the paintings, the acres and the racecourse.

It is, in brief, the story of England's landed aristocracy. "We're rich," says the Duke of Richmond, "but we haven't got any money. I'm quite open about the family portfolio. Roughly speaking, 70% of our assets (independently estimated at £45 million) are held in land, another 29% or so in pictures et cetera, but only about 1% in Stock Exchange securities. If you looked at our return on capital employed, you'd leave Goodwood at once."

The woefulness of this tale is all the more apparent to the present incumbent of Goodwood for his being, unusually in ducal circles, both an experienced corporate chartered accountant (five years in Courtaulds' financial controllers department) and a Companion of the British Institute of Management. This particular inheritance has left the duke sounding uncannily like a good, old-fashioned entrepreneur. At one memorable meeting of the Historic Houses Association, for example, he caused something of a frisson among his peers by announcing that, in his view, "more aristocrats must become businessmen".

Not unnaturally, Goodwood, too, has come to bear more than a passing resemblance to a mid-sized land and leisure plc since the present duke took over the estate's running in 1969. (He succeeded his father, himself an ex-Bentley apprentice, in 1989.) With a turnover in the region of £9 million in the latest financial year, Goodwood is now divided into four separate specialist holding companies: Goodwood Estates Company Ltd (owning the estate, house and other property), Goodwood Racecourse Ltd, Goodwood Home Farm and Terrena Ltd (operating the estate's aerodrome and once-famous racing circuit).

This surprising plc-ishness appears in other guises. Board members of Goodwood's four firms (two of which - Terrena and Goodwood Racecourse - also include non-executive directors) refer to His Grace not as His Grace but as "the chairman", and all eight full-time directors and general managers also participate in a quarterly decision-making group known as the "policy forum".

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