Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, founder of Britain’s National Motor Museum, dies at 88

Lord Montagu in a 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost outside Palace House in Hampshire, England | Beaulieu Estate photos
Lord Montagu in a 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost outside Palace House in Hampshire, England | Beaulieu Estate photos

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, the British aristocrat who founded the landmark National Motor Museum on his 7,000-acre estate in Hampshire, has died at the age of 88 after a brief illness.

Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, third Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, is best known among classic car enthusiasts for his efforts in promoting the appreciation of vintage cars and creating a world-class automotive collection and reference library. His father, John, whose death in 1929 made 2-year-old Edward the successor as Lord of Beaulieu, was a pioneering proponent of motoring and the preservation of early motorcars, which Edward carried forward with establishment of what became England’s key automotive museum.

Part of the display at the National Motor Museum
Part of the display at the National Motor Museum

Lord Montagu first opened his historic home, Palace House, to the public in 1952 as a means to financially support his family’s property. This move helped established his work in building Britain’s “stately home” industry that eventually opened thousands of country estates to visitors. Since 1983, he has served as chairman of English Heritage, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission.

The beginnings of his public work was interrupted by the infamous Montagu trials of 1953 and 1954, in which he was convicted of committing homosexual acts, which were then against British law. He served 12 months in prison for the conviction, leading to recommendations that gay sex be decriminalized in Great Britain, which was finally accomplished in 1967.

Lord Montagu, who never denied being bisexual, was married twice and is survived by two sons and a daughter. His eldest son, Ralph, is the heir to the Beaulieu peerage.

The automotive museum was originally sparked by Lord Montagu’s idea for gaining public interest in tours of Palace House, which was not as grand as some other British estates. He took a page from his father’s automotive interest and began displaying veteran cars at his home, including the one owned by the estate, a 1903 6hp De Dion Bouton. Other classic car collectors answered the call to show their vehicles, and soon a small motor museum was established in the front hall of Palace House.

A young Lord Montagu with robe and crown
A young Lord Montagu with robe and crown

By 1956, the vehicle collection had outgrown the home and Lord Montagu placed them in large sheds around the estate, which launched the Montagu Motor Museum. At this time, he started Veteran and Vintage magazine, which he published though 1979 when it was sold to IPC and eventually became Classic Cars magazine. Lord Montagu also became a successful author, with 21 books to his credit on motoring and heritage topics.

The vehicle collection continued to grow and in 1959 he constructed a new building on his property with a grand opening attended by such motorsports stars as Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks and Graham Walker. In 1967, inspired by automotive swap meets he had seen in the United States, he established the now world-famous Beaulieu Autojumble; he invented the word autojumble, which came into regular use in the U.K. and was given a place in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Beaulieu classic car collection expanded with new buildings and world recognition. In 1989, National Motor Museum Collections Centre opened as an administrative center and to house the ever-expanding motoring libraries and archives, with a reference library that is one of the largest of its kind.

Lord Montagu said later in life that his original plan to show old cars in the front hall of Palace House made his mark and established him as a world leader of the classic car hobby, among other accomplishments.

“What catapulted me permanently into the major league for the future was the idea of commemorating my father’s life… by exhibiting veteran cars,” Lord Montagu is quoted in his official obituary. “Without it, my life would have been very different and I doubt whether I would have been able to remain as owner and occupier of my ancestral home.”

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