Few people have done more to preserve and celebrate the history of motoring than Edward, Third Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, who passed away aged 88 on August 31.
Custodian of his family’s 7,000-acre Beaulieu Estate in Hampshire, he championed the historic vehicle movement and founded the National Motor Museum, as well as playing major roles in the preservation of England’s historic houses and the development of the UK tourism industry.
Edward Montagu became a Lord at the age of just two when his father, John, died.
Having served in the army and studied at Oxford, he was determined to carve out his own career, first in advertising and PR. At 25 he took over the running of the Beaulieu Estate. When he found out that his inheritance would barely cover its running costs, he decided to open the house to the public.
But it wasn’t as grand as other stately homes and Lord Montagu decided he needed to offer something extra.
As he said: “What catapulted me permanently into the major league for the future was the idea of commemorating my father’s life…by exhibiting veteran cars. 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.”
At the time, in 1952, there were no other motor museums in the country. There was only one problem – he had only one veteran car, a 1903 6hp De Dion Bouton that had previously been used by the estate electrician.
A call-out to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders produced the additional exhibits he needed to start a small motor museum in the front hall of Palace House.
On opening day, Edward Montagu told his private house guests that if they received more than a hundred visitors by 6pm they would have champagne with dinner. The doors opened at 11am and by 12.30pm the hundredth visitor passed through: they had champagne with lunch.
By 1956 the vehicle collection, which now included several motorcycles, had outgrown the house and Lord Montagu established a separate home for them in some large sheds in the grounds - The Montagu Motor Museum was born.
By 1959 the vehicle collection had grown even further and a new building was constructed.
In 1962 he co-founded Vintage Tyre Supplies, which remains the world's largest supplier of original equipment tyres for veteran, vintage and classic cars.
In 1967, the now world-famous Beaulieu Autojumble was held for the first time. The inspiration came from the automobile swap meets Lord Montagu saw in the United States and he was proud that the name he devised, Autojumble, was later given a place in the Oxford English Dictionary.
By the mid-1960s Beaulieu was attracting more than half a million visitors a year and Lord Montagu decided that plans for a new Motor Museum needed to be drawn up.
They centred on the design of a new 40,000 square-foot museum with space for at least 200 vehicles. To achieve this, Lord Montagu founded the Beaulieu Museum Trust. As chairman of the charity, his enthusiasm and drive won the support of the motor industry and other sponsors and within a couple of years the necessary funds to start construction work had been raised.
The ambitious project, which Lord Montagu’s advisors had warned against, came to fruition on July 4, 1972, when The Duke of Kent came to Beaulieu to open what was to become Britain’s National Motor Museum.
The newly designed visitor complex separated the new motor museum buildings from the historic abbey ruins and Palace House.
The new buildings, which included a purpose-built admissions centre, cafeteria, motoring research library and offices, won several awards.
In 1989 the National Motor Museum Collections Centre opened to provide an administrative centre for the Trust and to house the ever-expanding motoring libraries and archives. The reference library is one of the largest of its kind and together with the photograph and film libraries is used by commercial and private researchers from all over the world.
Today Beaulieu continues to thrive, not only being home to the hugely popular World of Top Gear exhibit, but also playing host to motoring shows and autojumble events throughout the season for all types of vehicles.
Lord Montagu was also instrumental in setting up an advisory group that became the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs, of which he was President. In 2012 Lord Montagu received the accolade of a lifetime achievement award for his dedication to preserving automotive history over many decades.
His elder son, Ralph, succeeds to the barony.