Remembering West Horsley Place owner Bamber Gascoigne CBE (1935-2022)

Bamber Gascoigne at West Horsley

Bamber Gascoigne at West Horsley - Credit: Francesco Guidicini

Tributes have been shared for former University Challenge presenter, author and philanthropist Bamber Gascoigne, who was known for his 'limitless thirst for knowledge' and for transforming Surrey's West Horsley Place from a crumbling estate into a leading arts and culture hub 

The TV presenter and author died at home in Richmond on February 8 2022 after a short illness. The 87-year-old, famous for being the original host of BBC’s University Challenge, had been married to his wife Christina, a potter, for 55 years.

In her statement released via Grange Park Opera, Christina Gascoigne spoke of the couple's happy 62 years together that was 'full of friends and adventures', adding that they 'never had a quarrel, not even when I turned the car over while we were driving to India'.

She describes him as a 'generous', opera-loving person with a 'limitless thirst for knowledge, which he retained like a sponge.'

West Horsley Place in Surrey with sheep grazing in the field

In 2014 Bamber found himself the unexpected heir of his great-aunt Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe; inheriting West Horsley Place, its contents and 380-acre estate - Credit: Richard Lewisohn

Bamber Gascoigne inherited the 14th century West Horsley Place in 2014 from his aunt, the Duchess of Roxburghe. At the time, the Grade I listed medieval Manor House was on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register, but Bamber threw himself into finding a way to save it.

Adrian Lajtha, Chair of the West Horsley Place Trust, said: 'The Gascoigne vision for West Horsley Place was that it should be brought back into good repair (no mean feat with £10-12 million required in repair works) and should be open for as many people from as many different walks of life as possible to come and enjoy with history, arts and nature at the heart of our activities.

'It is thanks to the remarkable vision and tremendous generosity of Bamber and Christina that our charity exists. More than preserving this remarkable place for future generations, this vision means that West Horsley Place has a mission to enrich peoples’ lives.'

In a 2016 interview with journalist Angela Wintle for Surrey Life, he talked about his motivation at the time.

'It’s such an incredible place and I knew it well, so the idea of immediately selling it off seemed not only amazingly foolish but also missing the fun that was involved,' said Bamber.

Read our 2016 interview with Bamber Gascoigne in full here.

Bamber Gascoigne at West Horsley Place

Bamber's wife of 55 years, Christina Gascoigne, said: 'We never had a quarrel, not even when I turned the car over while we were driving to India' - Credit: West Horsley Place

Bamber agreed with Grange Park Opera to build an opera house in the woods behind the estate's ancient orchard. The £12m cost of the building was raised by Grange Park Opera, founder Wasfi Kani CBE, from private donations in just one year. 

Wasfi Kani recalls how the project came about: 'My trustees tentatively asked for a meeting, tiptoe-ing around the proposal. Bamber's reaction was typically ebullient “Of course you can”. Just 18 months later, he was cheered to the rafters at the first night.'

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On top of the impact Bamber made on West Horsley Place, he will be remembered, by those who knew him well, for his vibrant personality. 

As West Horsley Place Trust's Adrian Lajtha adds: 'Above and beyond his incredible career, Bamber was so kind, so witty and such joyous company, a wonderful story teller and a truly rare intellect. He was always delighted to meet our volunteers and visitors and be ‘hands on’ and was a huge presence in the work of the Trust. While we mourn the loss of our founder, we celebrate the achievements and legacy of this most remarkable of men.'

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