The Earl of Cardigan
PUBLISHED: 15:38 31 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:20 20 February 2013
His ancestor led the Charge of the Light Brigade. Today's Lord Cardigan is in charge of something a little more sedate.
Lord Cardigan is Hereditary Warden of one of the oldest forests in England and the only privately owned forest in the country still in existence. It has been the haunt of Kings, blown up by accident in the second world war and is soon to be the scene for a remarkable transformation of the ancestral seat at Tottenham House.
David Michael James Brudenell-Bruce is the 14th Earl of Cardigan, owner of the pre-Norman Conquest Savernake Forest near Marlborough. Lord Cardigan lives in a house on the estate and has two grown-up children, a 24-year-old son, Viscount Savernake, and a 22-year-old daughter, Lady Catherine Brudenell-Bruce. Amongst his varied interests he lists skiing, sub-aqua diving, motorcycling and foreign travel.
A famous earlier Earl of Cardigan led the Charge of the Light Brigade against the Russian artillery at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. In 2004, the present Earl attended the 150th anniversary of the battle in the company of Prince Philip, who is Commander-in-Chief of the present Regiment. Prior to a solemn church service at the war memorial on the battlefield, Lord Cardigan was filmed by BBC News riding a horse at the 'walk' as he attempted to retrace the exact line of the Charge.
As hereditary warden of Savernake Forest he is responsible for the upkeep and day-to-day running of one of the oldest forests in Britain, an important role signed over to him by his father more than 30 years ago, when he was in his early twenties. Lord Cardigan explains: "My father was the 30th hereditary warden but had little interest in running the estate and wanted to spend his life as a London stockbroker. He handed over the estate to me soon after I had completed my time at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester. There, I attended the one-year farming course and three-year estate management course. My father put me through the college in order that I could do the job myself rather than employ someone else."
The Savernake Estate is owned by two trustees, one of whom is Lord Cardigan. He says: "Although we own the forest - said to be the only privately owned forest in England - the Forestry Commission lease most of the timber rights. They look after their trees and I look after my bit. I go around the forest every day checking on the houses, the fields, the farms, or whatever. I really enjoy driving around the estate, particularly on a nice day, trying to make sure as many things as possible are in good order. Some of the other big English estates are run rather differently," he points out. "They have an agent, or a big firm with an office on the estate, or an owner who wanders in and has a quick look around, says it's all going splendidly and then pops off to Ascot, or wherever. I choose to do everything myself."
Born in London in 1952, Lord Cardigan began his education at Hawtreys Boys Prep School, which, at that time, was located in Tottenham House, the old ancestral family home on the Savernake Estate, before moving on to Rannoch School in Perthshire, Scotland. After Lord Cardigan's grandfather moved out of Tottenham House at the end of the war, Hawtreys leased the property until 1994. For the young Lord Cardigan, the five years he spent there were memorable, if less than idyllic. He recalls being punished regularly for minor transgressions in order to dispel any notion of favouritism towards the owner's grandson.
As a consequence of being a Grade I Listed building, Tottenham House is horrendously expensive to maintain, and to Lord Cardigan and his father it has long been a 'great white elephant'. But, thanks to an amazing leasing deal signed in 2002 between its owner and the Buena Vista Hospitality Group of Orlando, Florida, Tottenham House is about to be sympathetically restored and transformed into the Savernake Club, a multi-million pound, 200-bedroom luxury resort hotel, with a conference centre, luxury spa and a championship golf course designed by Peter Alliss.
It's a fortuitous deal. "Out of the blue we've got this huge hotel development poised to happen, which will be enormous in terms of the estate. With the ravages of time the estate has diminished, and without the hotel that process would have gone on for ever. Now we are actually going to be able to buy back some of the houses, fields and farms which we've had to sell for generations. This will be enormously satisfying."
It was quite a privilege to be given a personal tour of Savernake Forest by Lord Cardigan, especially when you quickly realise he clearly knows every bit of it. One of the many interesting places we visited was a delightful woodland glade, which was very nearly used as the setting for the wedding scene in the highly popular 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. "I was approached by the production team, who were so keen to use the forest for six weeks filming that they flew up to the Scottish Highlands, where I was on holiday at the time, to discuss the matter. Although it was a weekend, we quickly drew up a contract, which was then ready for them to sign first thing on the Monday. But in the meantime the film crew had changed their mind and gone off to Burnham Beeches instead."
"They were going to pay me an absolute fortune," he recalls, wistfully. "When the film came out it took me ages to pluck up enough courage to go and see it because every scene had already been described to me. And now, every time I hear the film's theme tune, sung by Bryan Adams, it reminds me of what I'd missed out on!"