Lord Palmer

Born: October 8, 1951;

Died: July 10, 2023

Lord Palmer, who has died after a stroke aged 71, inherited the magnificent Manderston House near Duns in 1978 – said to be one of the grandest stately homes in Scotland.

It was in a sorry state in the 1970s but boasted a grand interior with some fine rooms and gardens plus a prized silver staircase. But much refurbishment had to be done and Palmer set about renovating Manderston and returning it to its magnificent best.

He modernised the farm and made the 1500-acre estate commercial. A major concern was to put the 100 rooms to good use by letting some out, then open the house to the public and, not least, making it available for some highly lucrative film locations.

Manderston dates from the 18th century but was rebuilt in 1906 for Sir James Miller and Palmer inherited it from his maternal grandfather, Major Hugh Baillie. The estate was owned for a short time by the Swinton family who now reside at nearby Kimmerghame House from whom the actress Tilda Swinton is descended.

Adrian Bailie Nottage Palmer was born in Berkshire, the eldest son of Colonel the Hon Sir Gordon Palmer KCVO and his wife, Lorna (née Bailie). His father was the last chairman of Huntley & Palmers before Associated Biscuits was sold to Nabisco in 1982.

Palmer attended Eton (and claimed he was invited to leave the school early as he was “incredibly stupid”). He worked at Huntley and Palmer’s Liverpool factory then as the firm’s representative in Belgium.

When in Brussels he met Cornelia Wadham, who was an official to the British ambassador in Paris, and they were married in 1977. When he inherited Manderston he studied farm management at Edinburgh University.

Manderston has large and spacious rooms with some superb Louis XIV furniture, a ballroom lit by crystal Italian chandeliers with 19th century Meissen porcelain on the dining table. Other attractions included the marble dairy, a hand-crafted boathouse, silk damask wall coverings, and the world’s only silverplated staircase.

The staircase is a huge attraction with visitors: Palmer said it had not been cleaned sine the First World War but it is a unique and historic item. The whirling scroll motifs were inspired by Madame de Pompadour’s staircase in the Petit Trianon in Versailles.

Film and television dramas that have been shot at Manderston include Belgravia, Outlander, The Awakening, Man to Man while the impressive stables were used in Mrs Brown with Judi Dench in a carriage as Queen Victoria attended by Billy Connolly’s John Brown.

This policy did not always win approval in Scotland. Palmer rented parts of Manderston’s interior to be used as Highgrove and Kensington Palace in an American CBS film about the marriage of the then Prince Charles and Princess Diana during her affair with Major James Hewitt. Such a display of Lèse-majesté resulted in 1966 Palmer being expelled from the Royal Company of Archers, the sovereign’s bodyguard in Scotland.

Palmer was particularly fond of the cricket ground set in a picturesque part of the estate. He was patron of the Manderston Cricket Club (“the real MCC” as he described it) which was founded in 1899. The pavilion dates from that era and Palmer always captained the annual Patron’s Xl v a Manderston Xl. He ensured there was a wonderful cream tea in the pavilion for players and visitors.

Palmer remained active in the Lords for many years where he sat as a crossbencher and was elected as one of the 90 hereditary peers to remain in the House in 1999. He spoke on a wide variety, if a touch eccentric, subjects but was an early champion of biofuels.

Palmer was the Scottish representative to the European Landowners’ Organisation from 1977 to 1986; a member of the executive council of the Historic Houses Association; secretary of the Royal Caledonian Hunt and chairman of the Historic Houses Association for Scotland. He also served on the All-Party Parliamentary Horticulture and Gardening Group.

In his youth Palmer was a keen countryman. He much enjoyed stalking and shooting on the nearby Lammermuir hills and rode (in an impressive top hat) to hounds with the Berwickshire Hunt. He kennelled the hunt’s hounds on the estate and his wife was Master.

Palmer, a delightfully eccentric and charismatic man, was a passionate gardener and took special pleasure in the four formal terraces on the south side of the house planted out in the Edwardian style.

In his last years he lived in a smaller house in Allanton.

His first marriage was dissolved in 2004. Two years later he married Loraine McMurrey, from Texas. That marriage ended in 2013.

He had two sons and a daughter from his first marriage; Hugo, a racehorse trainer who runs the former footballer Michael Owen’s stables in Cheshire now becomes the 5th Lord Palmer.

Alasdair Steven