Lord Burlington - High Sheriff of Derbyshire
- Credit: Archant
Pat Ashworth talks to Lord Burlington who was sworn in as High Sheriff of Derbyshire on 5th April
There’s a giant Ordnance Survey map of Derbyshire mounted in the passageway of Lord Burlington’s family home on the Chatsworth Estate. He stands in front of it and marvels at the length and breadth of the county with its mix of urban and rural. He points out well-loved towns and villages and identifies others to be explored and discovered in the course of a year as High Sheriff.
‘Isn’t it incredible?’ he says with pleasure. ‘I absolutely love maps and I can’t wait to get out there.’ Bicycles will feature in his year: he is a keen cyclist, very familiar with the highways and byways around Chatsworth, and – inspired by David Coleman, a former High Sheriff who walked the county boundary – planning ways he might use cycling to connect with people, places and causes. He rides a Mercian bike, made in Derby.
‘I feel connected when I’m on a bicycle,’ he reflects, adding, ‘I don’t want to drag everyone out on them but I might do something on the Monsal Trail, for instance… Derbyshire is a great cycling county, from the Velodrome in the city to these incredible hills – people come from all over the country just to ride up Winnats Pass.’ He has an app which registers where he has cycled, ‘so it’ll be very interesting to see that over a year.’
Lord and Lady Burlington have been spending more and more time at Chatsworth and love having having a base there where their children can enjoy ‘larking about in the barns’ and going to Brownies. Chatsworth holds happy memories from his own childhood because of its association with Christmases and other exciting visits, and he says warmly, ‘My grandparents were fantastic. I loved them and they have been generous to me all along: they let me come and bring my friends and always had an open door for me. They were both quite long-lived, so I got to know them as an adult and was very fond of them.’
He remembers accompanying his grandfather to Eastbourne, where he was re-opening a miniature railway, his grandfather having asked whether he might bring his grandson. ‘When we got there, they’d got these balloons for me and were quite surprised to see that I was 30 years old… they were going to let me ride the engine and everything!’ he says with a chuckle. ‘But I was very lucky to spend time with him: it was a big learning thing. In a sense, this is a family business, so to have had the chance to see him in action was wonderful.’
I ask him whether it’s a daunting thing knowing that, as the only son, you will ultimately have the responsibility for Chatsworth, as your father does and your grandfather before him? He thinks a moment and reflects, ‘If it suddenly landed on your doorstep, yes, you might be a little bit daunted. But it’s always been part of who I am. And we have such an amazing team here, and there’s so much that can be done for good, not just for Chatsworth but nationally and even internationally for the reputation of the county and the country. It’s a wonderful opportunity and I try to give it the best I can.’
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Then again, he adds with a smile as he thinks about it further, ‘When I was younger, the concept of free will did creep into my mentality, and I think that’s partly the reason why I went off and did something completely different.’ He enjoyed a successful career in his own right as the photographer, Bill Burlington, and remains grateful to his parents for freely supporting that.
In preparation for fully working with his parents and entering the family businesses, he went to Harvard Business School, from where he graduated in 2017. Americans must have been intrigued to have an English Lord among them, I suggest, and he does admit that, ‘when you had to tick which business sector you were in, I couldn’t find the right sector in the list they gave… so I wrote down, Real Estate, and that seemed to be okay. I just played it very quietly, though some people enjoyed the concept.’
Educated at Eton and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge, he acknowledges, ‘I’ve had all the educational opportunities throughout life, and that’s why I’m passionate to increase the potential for other people to have opportunities.’ The Devonshire Educational Trust, of which Lord Burlington is chairman, is widely respected and valued for the learning opportunities it provides. In 2018, Lord Burlington became Chancellor of the University of Derby, following in the footsteps of his father, the Duke of Devonshire, who was in the role for 10 years. The University is ‘an amazing force for good,’ he says with genuine warmth and enthusiasm.
‘From the students I’ve met, and from others who have graduated or who are studying online, it’s apparent that they’re making it easier and easier for people who might not be able to study full time to further their opportunities. I am very motivated by the quotation, “Talent is everywhere but opportunity is not.” I’ve seen first-hand how the University is opening doors that weren’t there before. And it’s having a real impact on both the city and the county, especially with the Buxton & Leek and Chesterfield campuses. They’re investing in the infrastructure and delivering a lot of great student outcomes, but they’re also connecting with businesses.’
Chatsworth has a formal partnership with the University, ‘so using their resources and ours, we are mutually trying to help each other achieve our separate but aligned goals. They’ve taken that on board and done it with other entities and organisations, in each case for mutual benefit. That’s so powerful!’ he says.
Lord Burlington is a very modest man. The invitation to become High Sheriff came as a surprise and ‘took a bit of time to get my head round the whole idea… When I go for something, I do commit, and I didn’t want to say yes very lightly. I didn’t want to let anyone down, so that thought process took quite a while. But I don’t suppose I would have been asked if people didn’t think I could do it, so once I thought about what I could bring to the role, I did start to make some plans.’
Many of these revolve around what he calls the unsung heroes of Derbyshire, and the High Sheriff role is a chance to ‘shine a light on a lot of good work,’ he suggests, observing, ‘The voluntary sector is very much a vital part of life in these days of cash-strapped councils and police force. More and more, society is relying on the volunteer force and all the good they’re doing.’ He highlights Foundation Derbyshire, which supports some of the most vulnerable people in society, as one organisation with which he will be closely connected; and some of the communities where life is hardest as the ones he wants to get to.
And whilst he ‘won’t be raising a hue and cry’ in a role that was originally concerned with law and order, he will be working to raise awareness of the good work being carried out across the county by the police force, judiciary and probation service. Well aware of the long-term problems facing them, he acknowledges, ‘A year in knickerbockers is not going to sort everything, but hopefully help to continue the momentum in a positive direction.’
Of the role in general, he ponders, ‘Having been a photographer for a period of my life, I think that ability to stand back and observe and listen and ask questions, will allow me to find connections to make. The role can bring people together and potentially break down barriers too. It’s a very old office. The role is particularly relevant because it is non-political and non-partisan. And I want to make sure it’s relevant, not just a fancy dress affair – it’s more serious than that. It’s about bringing people together.’
He had initially taken quite a casual view of the uniform – ‘I was just going to borrow a suit and find some economical way of doing it…’ – but the early days of thinking about the role coincided with House Style, a stunning exhibition of five centuries of fashion at Chatsworth, inspired and initiated by Lady Burlington’s discoveries among the archives. An ‘enthusiastic and willing participant’ in her husband’s High Sheriff year, she reminded him that his uniform would be likely to find its way into that archive.
And so he went to Gary Shepherd, bespoke tailor in Calver, who has done ‘a brilliant job on the suit’; to CW Sellors in Ashbourne for the silver and jet buckles; and to David Mellor in Hathersage for the buttons, inspired by the design of one of the domes at Chatsworth. ‘And I have my mother’s father’s sword, although he was in the Navy... it’s ceremonial, so I hope nobody will mind. It definitely makes you stand out, that’s for sure.’
But he’s resolved not just to have pictures of the High Sheriff in velvet uniform. He will use social media as an outlet for pictures from a wide range of situations and even has a Twitter account where they can be posted.