Lord Iveagh: The boy from the black stuff

Lord Iveagh – Ned to his friends – is a son of the Guinness family, a former member of the House of Lords and very much a gentleman. He talks to Eileen Wise about running Elveden Estate and restoring the Grand Hall to its former glory

Lord Iveagh – Ned to his friends – is a son of the Guinness family, a former member of the House of Lords and very much a gentleman. He talks to Eileen Wise about running Elveden Estate and restoring the Grand Hall to its former glory

His full name and title is something of a mouthful – Arthur Edward Roy Guinness, the fourth Earl of Iveagh. For practical purposes, he’s Lord Iveagh. For family, friends and acquaintances he’s simply Edward, or Ned.

Lord Iveagh is not an aristocrat who stands on ceremony. He may be a gentleman in the old fashioned definition of the word, but he’s also a gentle man – softly spoken, engaging and passionate about the many projects in his life.

Suffolk folk might recognise the name Elveden Hall and be familiar with the commercial businesses run there, even if they know little about this self-effacing man.

Lord Iveagh – or Edward, as we should refer to him from now on – runs Elveden, a 23,000 acre estate in the north of the county which is a sizeable farming enterprise, but also has a thriving caf�/restaurant, food and gift shops, and a recently opened pub. Shooting also takes place here and Christmas trees are grown.

Edward, 43, is a member of the Guinness brewing family, the son of Arthur Francis Benjamin Guinness, the third Earl of Iveagh, and Miranda Guinness, both now deceased. 

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He was born and brought up in Ireland, but Elveden Hall and the estate have become the focus of his life. He’s constantly looking to improve it, and just to illustrate that, we talked across a table in the Elveden Inn, a cosy pub with rooms and the estate’s latest enterprise.

Suffolk – indeed East Anglia as a whole – is his kind of world. “After I got married 11 years ago we moved here, and Suffolk is now very much our home. The county has a unique atmosphere, it’s a place made by its people, a community in the proper sense of the word. And, of course, the landscape helps make it special.” 

Edward loves Suffolk and Norfolk accents, but despite living at Elveden for so long and travelling widely in the area, he can’t do either of them. “The accents are part of our heritage and it’s wonderful to hear a proper Suffolk accent, the real vernacular.”

Before moving to Suffolk permanently he was based in London, and for a few years sat in the House of Lords as a crossbencher. He was in his twenties then and one of the youngest members of the house.

In his short time in Parliament he could take pride in one specific achievement. He introduced a Private Members’ Bill to restore full British nationality to the people of St Helena in the South Atlantic  – Britain’s second oldest colonial possession, but better known, perhaps, as the place where Napoleon Bonaparte went into exile and died.

Edward’s bill in itself didn’t secure the islanders their rights, but it was a vital step along the road that culminated in the Overseas Territories Bill of 2002. “Yes, it’s my claim to fame!” he laughs.

He quite deliberately chose not to align himself to any particular party. “I didn’t want to become governed by the Whips, I wanted to make my own mind up about issues. I loved the House – it was like a family, a very special place and the staff there are superb. I miss it very much. It was a huge privilege to be there, and it opened my eyes to so many different worlds that I could never have come across had I not been involved. It was a huge educational experience.”

When the House of Lords was reformed in 1999 many hereditary peers lost their seats and Edward was one of them. He would have liked to carry on. “I put my name down to stay and I was just three away from doing so. Later, I put my name down for various by-elections, because hereditary peers can do that now. But I’m not going to do it again as there is so much going on here at Elveden, so I’m happy to leave it to others at this stage.”

Running Elveden would be a full time job for most people, but Edward also has other business interests. He has a livestock farm in County Meath in Ireland, he runs The Iveagh Trust – set up in 1890 to provide homes for homeless people in Dublin – and he has various other businesses in London and Canada. 

“The Trust is a wonderful thing to be involved with. We have a hostel for men who can come and eat and sleep, and it’s got single flats and family homes. In southern Ireland today there are over 98,000 people on housing lists, a figure that has doubled in the last year. There’s such a huge demand and sadly the supply isn’t being provided to the full extent.” 

Edward’s father died when Edward was only 22. At such a young age was it a daunting prospect to inherit the title and all that it entailed? “I didn’t really have time to think – it was just my life and my life had changed. There were certain elements in amongst the fun that were very challenging; it was a whole new era.”

At the time of his father’s death he was studying at Cirencester Agricultural College, specialising in conservation and game management. “I was very pleased to have the vestiges of a student career that I could resort to, to help fend off invitations and offers of different things that were my new life, if you like, to salvage some kind of normality.”

He was at Cirencester for two years, but in some ways still regrets that he didn’t take his final exams. “I attended lectures, but I was exhausted with many things going on elsewhere, so I think it was a quite a stressful time. I thought well, I don’t honestly want to sit through exam papers – it was the straw that broke the camel’s back if you like,” he laughs.

But it has not held him back and he recently became a Fellow of the Institute of Agricultural Management. He’s now also been appointed as the organisation’s President Designate.

Taking on Elveden is a huge responsibility, but Edward and his wife Clare are committed to restoring the old house. It has a fascinating history dating back to the 1760s when it was built by Admiral Keppel, MP for Windsor and later First Lord of the Admiralty.

"I didn’t really have time to think – it was just my life and my life had changed"

Elveden remains a premier shooting estate and Edward showed me numerous black and white photographs on the pub walls of the shoots run by his family.

At the turn of the 20th century the First Earl of Iveagh doubled the size of the hall and redesigned the estate, adding sculpted gardens, a water tower and stables. During World War Two the American Air Force requisitioned it for use as their headquarters. The Iveagh family took the estate back after the war, but in 1984 Edward’s father sold the hall’s contents and it has remained mostly unlived in since then.

“The Elveden Estate has been a challenge for my family to keep on a self-contained basis. In my father’s time there were some years when it made money and some years it lost money, but when we made money we ploughed it back into the structure of the estate. In the last 25 years we’ve not sold real estate –- we’ve actually added,” Edward says.

Apart from the hall itself, there are more than 300 roofs to maintain– from cottages and barns to farm buildings – and private roads. One hundred and fifty people work on the estate full time, which rises to 200 during harvest. 

One day Edward and Clare may move into the Grand Hall from the comfortable house on the estate where they presently live. “We’ve got a lovely, delightful home which we enjoy. It’s private and it’s got all the things that a young family could ever wish for. It would be a big decision to move, so we keep our options open, but meanwhile we must spend a lot of money doing the boring things like re-roofing the hall and keeping the gutters clear.”

To make Elveden Hall habitable or suitable for public use will cost millions. “But we haven’t ruled anything in or out. There is something definitely to be said for living in a manageable, smaller house and if we ever did move in it would only be in part of it because it’s so vast.”

The day I visited a film crew were using the house and Edward confided there was a ‘A Hollywood Star’ present.” The hall’s impressive architecture and surrounding landscape has drawn many film makers in the past. “Eyes Wide Shut” (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (Angelina Jolie) were shot here. Edward is pleased when this kind of thing happens as it all contributes to the hall’s restoration.

But the main estate business is farming. “We are full scale vegetable producers. We grow more than 16 varieties of potatoes, some of them ending up as Walkers crisps.” In all, they produce about 25,000 tons of potatoes a year. Edward is proud that they are a MacDonald’s flagship farm and a valued part of their supply chain.

In the early days when they started to diversify they had a farmers’ market. “When we started that, the buildings needed a lot of money spent on them, and a lot of hard work, to get them up to scratch. We did the food shop and caf� to start with and then after that the gift shops to make it an overall destination.”

Much of the food sold in the shop and caf� comes from the estate – vegetables, beef, chicken, venison and rabbit. “It’s good that customers can ask our butcher how the cattle are raised and so on.”

They currently produce 28 different products in jars, from jams to chutneys, and Edward is particularly partial to their homemade carrot cake. At Christmas Elveden sells Christmas cake made with Guinness – what else – and does a roaring trade in Christmas trees grown on the estate. They also hired Peter McBurnie, former head chef at Claridges in London, to develop recipes for the Elveden label.

I wondered how involved he and Clare were with the food side of the business. “Well we certainly have our say and put our oar in. But we are very aware that we need to allow the staff to take responsibility and make decisions for themselves, so it’s a fine balance. We don’t want to interfere to such an extent that we are then the authors of our own downfall – that’s why I employ jolly good people!”

When they do take a break from the business, they like to relax at home and abroad. “We have taken a house in Bawdsey on the coast, and that’s been a wonderful family destination for us. We also have a house in Spain, along the coast from Valencia. There it’s beautiful and a bit warmer, and has some very challenging bicycling up and down the hills. I can really recharge the batteries there.”

Elveden is an ideal place for his two sons Arthur, 9, and Rupert, 7, to grow up. “Clare is very passionate about carriage driving and we recently had the East Anglian Driving Club here. She’s introduced the boys to ponies, but they have not really taken it up yet. I’m not an equestrian myself. Arthur’s keen on shooting and is developing into a very good shot, and both boys play cricket for the village cricket club.

“What we try to do is vary their life experiences – within reason, as they are only young. We went to Dubai earlier this year and I enjoyed taking them to the old town and looking round the local markets. It was just really wonderful for them to get acclimatised to different places and different cultures in a way that Suffolk and Elveden wouldn’t have exposed them to.”

Does he ever talk to Arthur about what he’ll inherit one day, even though he is only a little boy? “Well, we do discuss issues to do with Elveden across the breakfast table, as one does. And as we drive around the estate I talk to the boys, and Arthur understands it to some extent. But no, I certainly wouldn’t want either of them to be filled with management issues now!”

With Edward working as hard as he does, when the time comes for the next generation to take over there is sure to be a thriving estate and, in all likelihood, Elveden Hall restored to its former glory.

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