WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND – Lord March’s stately, historic Goodwood House has become a vibrant mecca for gearheads.
Grand as it is, guests at Goodwood House, a Grade 1-listed home in West Sussex, know they need not stand on ceremony. Recently, for instance, the Italian nine-time Grand Prix World Champion Valentino Rossi roared into the Guernsey Granite-columned entrance hall on his Yamaha bike, screeching to a halt under three very important George Stubbs scenes – the artist’s first major commission, which were painted in situ from 1759 to 1760.
A 12,000-acre estate, Goodwood has been the imposing seat of the Dukes of Richmond since 1697, when Charles Lennox, the 1st Duke – a son of King Charles II – and his French mistress Louise de Kérouaille purchased the property, but it has always been a happening place, sports-wise certainly.
ABOVE: THE BUCOLIC GROUNDS OF GOODWOOD HOUSE. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF GOODWOOD HOUSE.
Though the 1st Duke’s descendant, Charles Henry Gordon Lennox, the 10th Duke, still flourishes here today at age 86, for the last two decades the estate’s reins have been held firmly by his son, Charles, the Earl of March and Kinrara, now age 60. (By family tradition, all Gordon Lennox heirs are named Charles.) That early succession at a ducal estate was unusual. “Most fathers hang on to the bitter end and only go out feet first; the sons can be in their seventies when they take over,” Lord March explains. “My father had taken over Goodwood when he was about 40, and he was determined that I should do the same. So we have had an unusually well-organised succession here.”
Arguably, Goodwood is England’s greatest sporting estate. From the 1600s onward, it was home to the country’s premier fox hunt; it was also the first estate on which cricket was played regularly. Horse racing, shooting, golf and flying subsequently thrived here. In 1948, the Earl’s grandfather, the 9th Duke, who was passionate about cars, transformed an airfield that had been built during the Second World War into a motor-racing track, the estate’s second. (The first, now a hill-climb course, opened in 1936.) It remained active until circumstances led the family to close it in 1966, an event that “horrified” the ten-year-old Charles, he recalls today.
And so it seemed appropriate that “the car bug,” which Lord March says he inherited from his grandfather, turned out to be the thing that animated his grand plan for the estate. “I’ve always loved cars, as vehicles and as objects. I love that they are design-focused and very sculptural. As I was looking for things we could draw revenue from, I realised this was something that was part of our story,” he says.
After a seven-year dispute with local authorities to reopen the racetrack, he eventually established the events that have become two of the most popular automotive races in the world: the Festival of Speed, founded in 1993 and held in June, and the Goodwood Revival, founded in 1998 and held in September. Between them, the two races now attract more than 350,000 highly enthusiastic visitors each year. Among them are Lord March’s large and eclectic group of friends, which this summer included such luminaries as Apple Chief Design Officer Sir Jonathan Paul Ive, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, designer Marc Newson, Viscount and Viscountess Astor, Lord and Lady Bamford, as well as Gene Simmons of Kiss, who performed for the crowd.
It must be noted that being a mecca for gearheads of all stripes has not kept Goodwood from maintaining aristocratic standards of connoisseurship. Among the house’s numerous treasures are a Sèvres dessert service commissioned by the 3rd Duke in 1765 – on which, at His Grace’s request, Sèvres artists depicted birds for the first time – as well as two magnificent views of the Thames from Richmond House in London, painted by Canaletto in 1746–47, a commission from the 2nd Duke. Goodwood, in other words, is Downton Abbey meets NASCAR. “One of the best things about this experience has been the tremendous enthusiasm we have received,” says Lord March. “The whole motor industry has gotten behind it, along with so much of the public.” Indeed, just about every car manufacturer in the world has become involved, from Aston Martin, Maserati and Ferrari to Ford, Mercedes and GM.
Altogether, the various activities of the estate – midsummer horse races under the banner of the Qatar Goodwood Festival, two golf courses, sport hunting, a flying school, a hotel and a members’ club – have attracted a universe of high-end sponsors, including Cartier, Rolex and Veuve Clicquot, as well as financial firms such as UBS and Credit Suisse. “It’s a massive list of partners. I can’t think of anybody else who’s got all these brands in one place,” Lord March says. “But then I don’t think anyone else has got the associations with as many glamorous activities as we do.”
There is also an organic farm on the estate – the largest in southern England – that feeds the 1.5 millions visitors who come annually (for weddings and conferences, for instance), along with the beef, lamb and pork raised there, and cheese from the dairy. In all, 650 employees work on the estate.
On-site auctions of vintage and modern automobiles have also become major events. “In the 20 years since we’ve been doing it, we’ve seen unbelievable price increases. I guess we’ve played a part in that increase,” says Lord March, whose one regret is that he did not get in on the collecting field personally. “I don’t really own that many cars. I definitely should have been buying cars over the years,” he says, adding, “though I do have some good ones, including a Lancia Aurelia 1950s coupe and some very nice American hot rods. I love American iron.”
Meanwhile, Lord March has found time to pursue his photography. In 2014, a highly acclaimed show of his pictures, Nature Translated, was exhibited at the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg. Earlier this year, he had well-received shows at Hamiltons gallery in London and Venus over Manhattan in New York. In this frenzy of activity, the miraculous thing is that Goodwood House’s raison d’être has remained intact: It is a convivial family home for Charles, his wife, Janet – a daughter of the 3rd Viscount Astor – and their five children. “Everything we do is centred around the house and ensures that the family can remain here for generations to come,” Lord March stresses. A fact the 10th Duke surely appreciates.
James Reginato is writer-at-large for Vanity Fair.