When the Government announced its £4.8billion Levelling Up Fund to support left-behind communities, few could have predicted quite how literally one claimant would take it.
They would never have imagined that an aristocrat could end up with money pot. For some £330,000 was spent making a bumpy driveway owned by the 8th Viscount Gage level once more.
The Virile Viscount was Lord Gage, an old friend of Prince Philip. After conceiving a child with Alexandra Templeton (his third wife), at age 75, he was given the nickname “The Virile Viscoscount”.
Now the Eton and Oxford-educated former Tory peer has questions to answer over why the vast sum of taxpayers’ money was spent filling in over half a mile of potholes on his land in East Sussex.
Lord Gage (87), was nicknamed the Virile Viscount because he had a child with Alexandra Templeton at age 75.
You will find Charleston Farmhouse on the property of Firle Estate. This is an independently operated museum and gallery. The millionaire aristocrat owns the drive, but the museum applied for funds.
Visitors to the former home of Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf’s sister, had complained for years about the potholes. One warned in a review: ‘You risk your car’s suspension – and you need to wear a sports bra.’
But despite the viscount’s wealth being estimated at £15million, his Firle Estate Management team helped the Charleston Trust secure the cash from the Getting Building Fund, part of the Levelling Up Fund specifically aimed at helping Covid-hit infrastructure.
The Trust blamed ‘poor drainage’ for corroding the driveway to obtain the grant.
The track is over a mile from Lord Gage’s £10million Tudor manor Firle Place, but it is not just museum tourists who drive on it.
Charleston Farmhouse is located on East Sussex’s Firle Estate. This single track road from the A27 looks like it was recently repaired. It had been damaged and filled with large cracks and potholes.
Agricultural vehicles serving one of the viscount’s seven farms use it, as well as locals living in some of the 114 houses he owns in five villages dotted across 7,500 acres of the Sussex Downs.
The walls of Lord Gage’s mansion, used to film Jonathan Creek, are adorned with paintings by Van Dyck and Gainsborough. In 1999 he sold a 16th century masterpiece by Fra Bartolomeo for £14.5million. In summer, the house is available for public inspection.
The estate, which also boasts two pubs and one of Britain’s oldest cricket greens, has been in the family since Sir John Gage, executor of Henry VIII’s will, built Firle Place in the late 15th century.
Critics suggested restoring country estate driveways was not what the public envisioned when Boris Johnson announced the Getting Building Fund to show his administration was ‘putting its arms around people at a time of crisis’.
‘Taxpayers will be outraged how their hard-earned cash is being spent,’ Harry Fone, grassroots campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said. ‘Ministers need to ensure the public get real value for money.’
Lord Gage is a household manager with a butler and housekeeper. Bob Baines, estate director at Firle Estate, said: ‘The Firle Estate sold Charleston to an independent charity formed in 1980.
‘The access track had remained functional for farm traffic and cottages but was unsuitable for Charleston’s visitors travelling in the average family car.
Despite the viscount’s wealth being estimated at £15million, his Firle Estate (pictured) Management team helped the Charleston Trust secure the cash from the Getting Building Fund, part of the Levelling Up Fund specifically aimed at helping Covid-hit infrastructure
‘Charleston successfully applied to the Getting Building Fund to rebuild the track to improve access for visitors, create job opportunities, and support the recovery and growth of the region’s visitor economy.
‘The southern extent of the new track beyond Charleston that services the dairy farm and Estate cottages was funded by Firle Estate.’
The Charleston Trust said: ‘Our charity is grateful to South East Local Enterprise Partnership and the Government’s Getting Building Fund for providing the funding needed to rebuild the severely damaged access track.
‘The new road provides safer, easier, and greener ways for visitors to reach Charleston and will help support the recovery and growth of the region’s creative and visitor economy.’
The South East Local Enterprise Partnership, through which the grant application was made, said the fund has created 11 new jobs and ‘helped to boost the local creative and cultural sector’.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: ‘Charleston is internationally recognised as a site of cultural importance and this funding will help open it up to more visitors and improve its contribution to the local economy.’