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Heroes: Lord Montagu (1926-2015)

Published 02 September 2015

The recent death of Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, was greeted with genuine sorrow by classic vehicle enthusiasts around the world. The 88-year-old was a tireless supporter of the old-car movement, and did a great deal to support the scene both privately and through his creation of the National Motor Museum, based at the ancestral family home of Palace House, Beaulieu.

Lord Montagu’s passion for cars was inspired by his father, John Scott Montagu MP, who campaigned for motorists in Parliament, was the first member of the Road Board and was instrumental in the introduction of vehicle registration plates. His aim was to promote early motoring, and in 1899 drove the first car to enter the yard of the House of Commons. September that year also saw him competing in the Paris-Ostend race (finishing third in the touring car class), and by 1902 he was launching his own weekly motoring journal, The Car Illustrated.

Tragically, John Scott Montagu died in 1929, when his son was just three years old. It wasn’t until his 25th birthday in 1951, however, that Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu – the ‘new’ Lord Montagu – took over the running of the family estate, which by then was facing financial challenges. Lord Montagu later described Palace House as a 'white elephant', with his £1500-a-year inheritance barely covering its running costs: 'The wise solution was to get rid of it. For me, however – neither entirely sensible nor rational – that was unthinkable.'

To bring extra funds to Beaulieu, the house was opened to the public. But it was his late father’s love of motoring that encouraged Lord Montagu to discover a unique extra source of revenue: '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.'

The opening of Palace House saw five early motor cars placed on display in the entrance hall as a tribute to his father. So popular did the small collection prove, the decision was made to add extra cars and to move the display to converted wooden outbuildings, at which point the Montagu Motor Museum was officially created in 1956 – the same year that Lord Montagu followed in his father’s footsteps by launching The Veteran & Vintage Magazine.

The Montagu Motor Museum was a major hit, and within three years was being moved to a larger specially-made building in the grounds of Palace House. The early 1960s saw smaller satellite museums being opened in Brighton and Birmingham (neither of which now exists), while in 1972 the Beaulieu-based Montagu Motor Museum was replaced by the National Motor Museum.

Now run as a charitable organisation, the National Motor Museum continues to thrive to this day, featuring around 250 individual vehicles as well as the World of Top Gear collection and other on-screen automotive favourites. The grounds of Palace House continue to host the Beaulieu International Autojumble, which has been attracting visitors from around the world since the mid-1960s.

When Lord Montagu passed away on 31 August, 2015, he left behind a motoring legacy like no other – and for which he will always be remembered.

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