Happy Hundredth Birthday Lord Saye & Sele

  • 22 Sep 2020

From everyone at Historic Houses, we'd like to wish our long-standing house member Nat Fiennes, 21st Lord Saye & Sele, a very happy one hundredth birthday today, 22 September.

Norman Hudson, Historic Houses consultant, who has known Lord Saye & Sele for many years, paid tribute on behalf of us all:

'I cannot recall any of our more prominent house members becoming a centenarian.  If they have, then they will not have been as helping in furthering Historic Houses' purposes as Nat Saye.

'Nat, whose family have owned Broughton Castle since the fourteenth century, has often been cited as an exemplary owner of an historic house.  His great personal effort to restore and maintain it, his role in the community, preparedness to share the house for local charitable purposes, and the opening of it to the public without overt commerciality or ‘bolt-ons’ makes it a particularly special place.  His generosity, warmth and friendliness to the community is legendary.

'When Nat’s father inherited the house in 1948, there was water coming through the roof – and there was no money.  Nat inherited in 1968 and, while there was an 1,800 acre estate, there was little extra money other than his income as a Chartered Surveyor.  The stone was crumbling, windows’ leadwork had wasted, and Deathwatch Beetle was devouring the beams.  In the early 1980s he started on a £1m programme of restoration with the help of a grant from the (then) Historic Buildings Council.  For twelve years, successive parts of the castle were shrouded in scaffolding.  Notwithstanding this he was able to build up visitor numbers to twenty thousand a year and have the castle used on several occasions as a film location.

'Nat is of diminutive stature but that is the only thing that is diminutive.  He was a remarkable cricketer, captaining the Eton Eleven and the Public Schools Eleven in 1939.  He subsequently played for Oxfordshire, the Army and the Rifle Brigade for whom he played until he was about sixty.  In the War he saw action in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, where he was among the first to enter the Belsen concentration camp and witnessed (and smelled) at first hand the appalling piles of the dead, and emaciated skeletons of the living.

'He has been supported throughout by Mariette, his wife of 62 years.  Their lives have not been without sorrow and tragedy.  They had five children, three of whom survive.  One was killed, aged three, and their eldest son and heir, Richard, suffered from a form of ‘epilepsy’ which manifested itself in violent mood swings, taking him from being charming and seemingly normal through to being physically violent.

'Their youngest son, William, who has and continues to suffer from Crohn’s Disease, is a successful author and his second best-selling book, ‘The Music Room’ is centred on his recuperation and recovery in the castle, and also touches on the difficulty of his brother Richard, who died aged 41.

'Martin Fiennes, Nat’s second son, is well-known to Historic Houses, having been Chairman of the Next Generation Committee.  He is currently running the castle, and has three sons.

'Nat Saye & Sele has been a great supporter of Historic Houses and the association has often used him as an example of the merits of responsible private ownership.  

'On a personal note, Nat was one of my first clients and I was given a great start when The Times ran a full-page article on me and my work at Broughton.  That is one reason why I am eternally grateful to him – but there are others.  In life one learns lessons from others.  His integrity, modesty and general modus operandi was a huge influence on me.  I spoke with him on the telephone last Friday.  His voice is still strong and although his memory less good, that might be said for a lot of us!'

We are grateful for all Lord Saye & Sele's tireless work on behalf of this association over the years, and offer our congratulations and happy returns.

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