Tributes paid to Lord Robert Walpole who has died aged 82
- Credit: Archant Norfolk 2015
A former politician and exceptional advocate for the arts, Lord Robert Walpole has died aged 82.
A descendant of England’s first prime minister, also Lord Robert Walpole, the 10th Baron Walpole of Walpole has lived at Mannington Hall, near Aylsham, since 1969.
Born Robert Horatio Walpole on December 8, 1938, he was the son of Robert Henry Montgomerie Walpole, 9th Baron Walpole of Walpole, and Nancy Louisa Jones.
Affectionately known as Robin, he arrived into the world on the cusp of the Second World War and into a family steeped in British history.
During his school days, he would embark on trips from his home at Wolterton Hall, between Aylsham and Holt, to Sheringham beach, which at the time had been littered with deadly mines to deter German invaders.
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He was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge, where he received a BA and an MA. At Eton, he sang in the house choir, and after studying agriculture and natural sciences at King’s, farming and politics became his career.
On June 30, 1962, he married Sybil Judith Schofield, daughter of Theodore Thomas Schofield. They had four children together, Alice (1963), Emma (1964), Jonathan (1967), and Benedict (1969) and divorced in 1979.
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He rose from parish to district councillor and then constituency chairman for the Conservatives in north Norfolk when Ralph Howell was MP.
He also served on Norfolk County Council from 1970 to 1981, during which time his roles included that of chairman of the museums committee.
One of his Conservative colleagues for part of that period was Baroness Shephard, later to become South West Norfolk MP.
Paying tribute, she said: "He was not obliged to take a role in public life, but he did so. I admired him greatly and we have lost someone who did a great deal for Norfolk.
"He was absolutely full of humour and fun and he always saw the comic side of local government and he was much-loved by me for that.
"And, as chairman of the museums committee, he brought a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to that role.
"He was a key part of setting up the Rural Life Museum at Gressenhall. That was not easy. There was a committee set up and he was a fabulous bridge between the expert group who wanted the museum and the powers-that-be in the museum service."
Lord Walpole married Laurel Celia Ball, daughter of Sidney Tom Ball, in 1980. Together they had three children, Roger (1980), Henry (1982), and Grace (1986).
Then, in 1989, following the death of his father, he became a cross-bencher in the House of Lords until his retirement in 2017. He was internally elected to continue serving after the House of Lords Act 1999 prevented most hereditary peers from sitting.
He was joined by Baroness Shephard in 2005 when she was made a Conservative life peer.
"In the House of Lords, he was a hugely popular colleague," she said. "He was a convenor within the cross-party group - a job to which he brought his customary good humour.
"Right up until the time he retired, he was someone you always wanted to sit next to when having a cup of tea."
His early love of the arts stayed with him and when a political colleague heard that Sheringham Little Theatre was seeking a president, they suggested he would be the ideal president – he agreed and took on the presidency in 1973.
Theatre director Debbie Thompson said: “Lord Walpole was an amazing president for us spanning almost 50 years, steering us through challenging times and happy times
“He was not just a once-a-year president chairing the annual meeting, but a regular supporter, an attendee of our events, lover of live theatre and genuinely interested in our work, particularly that of the young people.
“His loss leaves a large hole that will be difficult to fill. We will miss his great sense of humour and have very fond memories of the fun we shared with him.”
With his wife, they regularly brought some of their grandchildren to watch the summer drama season and the pantomime.
In 2018, when he marked his 80th birthday at the theatre, he described it as having given thousands “great pleasure over the years”.
Richard Ellis, chairman of The Little Theatre Society, added: "Lord Walpole was an incredible president who staunchly supported the theatre and will be greatly missed.”
Lord Walpole used his upper chamber connections to enlist former famous farce actor Brian, later Lord, Rix to stage a charity event in north Norfolk with part of the proceeds going towards an improvement appeal.
In April 2016, he sold Wolterton Hall, commissioned by his ancestor the 1st Baron Walpole in 1742, where he and his father had lived.
Lord Walpole held the office of Justice of the Peace for Norfolk from 1972.
He was also chairman for a number of different organisations including Area Museums Service for south-east England (1976-79), Norwich School of Art (1977-87), the Textile Conservation Centre (1981-88), and the East Anglian Tourist Board (1982-88).
He succeeded as the 10th Baron Walpole of Walpole in 1989, as well as the 8th Baron Walpole of Wolterton.
Lord Walpole died on May 8.
He leaves behind his wife, children, and grandchildren Hester, Beatrice, Isobel, Inigo, Ralph, Edmund, Josie, Milo, Hebe, Thomas, Albert, Dorothea, Florence and Harriet, and great-grandchild Violet.
There will be a private family funeral with a memorial service to follow later.