Charles Cornwall-Legh was Chair of the Trust from the time of Tudor Pole’s death in 1968 until he retired from the post in 1993. Here is an article from The Independent newspaper, 30th October 1989, telling how his claim to the title Baron Grey of Codnor was resolved after 493 years! (Subsequently republished in The Chalice Well News, Issue 13, Spring 1990.)
With full pomp and ceremony the House of Lords will today welcome the Fifth Baron of Codnor (pronounced Cudna) into its midst, and a small, elegant man of 86 will take his seat in Britain’s most hallowed chamber of affairs. It will be a fitting climax to a uniquely English business that has taken 493 years to resolve.
“I suppose you could say I’m damn lucky still to be alive to see it,” said the man who until now has been Mr Charles Cornwall-Legh CBE, OBE,” and at my age I don’t suppose there will be too many visits to the Lords. Still, it’s now done. It’s over and I’m content.”
He said it calmly, as befits a man who has conducted a long and complicated battle to prove that he is the true and sole inheritor of one of the most ancient baronial titles in Christendom. His seat in the Lords is, for him, only the icing on the cake. And he smiles fondly as he mentions the name of his paternal aunt Lucy, many times removed, who managed to produce three sons before she died at the end of the fifteenth century. “It’s thanks to her line that I am now the baron,” he said. “I expect she’ll be pleased.”
The original Barony of Codnor ended in 1496 and went into technical abeyance with the death of the fourth Baron, leaving only aunt Lucy and her sons. It was not until about 20 generations later that the only direct descendant, Mr. Cornwall-Legh’s father, was told by the College of Arms that if he wanted to claim the title he should do so quickly. New legislation would mean that all baronies in ‘abeyance’ for more than 100 years could no longer be claimed. The Grey family home in Derbyshire still stands, but for generations the Cornwall-Leghs have lived as commoners at High Legh House, Knutsford, in Cheshire.
Mr Cornwall-Legh said: “My father began the claim about 60 years ago when the Heralds approached him. Then he went and died in 1934. We all knew about the family history and the barony, of course, but it had never seemed all that important, but it was left up to me to continue the claim. I had been working happily in Ceylon in estate management and on my father’s death I returned home to a mountain of trouble – two lots of death duties in 10 years, and a world war, followed by a socialist government who weren’t awfully keen on hereditary peerages. So, all in all, the process has taken 60 years, and the expense has been unbelievable. If I had known how expensive it was going to be I’d probably never have started.
“The rules meant that I had to trace the co-heirs of the title, and in five hundred years they had, of course, spread out all over the world…hundreds and hundreds of them. We had to track them down in America and all over the damn place. Hellishly expensive detective work, and all a load of nonsense, really, because I was the only claimant.
“But those were the rules, and on and on it all went. There were times when cash was scarce, and I had to pull down our old hall, a lovely Georgian house, and move in here. And, of course, when cash was tight, work on the claim had to stop. I was also somewhat busy in local affairs and with my great passion, bee-keeping, so it had to take a back seat for many years. It never really dominated my life, nor did I regard it as a crusade or anything like that. It was just something that had to be done on principle.”
As High Sheriff of Cheshire, chairman of the New Cheshire County Council, Chairman of the Cheshire Police Authority, he is one of the best-known political figures in the county. He is still a member of the High Legh council, but the bees have gone.
He successfully completed his task in July. “Before five Law Lords and the Solicitor General at a rectification hearing, my proofs were found to be in order and the Queen was advised to revive the title, which she has done. The hearing lasted two days, and I’m so damn deaf that I couldn’t hear half of it, but we finally got there.” However he does not intend to become a regular in the Lords. “I’m far too old. If something comes up – like the scandalous fluoridisation issue – then I’ll make the trip up. Ermine robes? No need for all that fancy stuff. If I go it will be in a suit and tie.”