Lord Hastings

(from a booklet "Lord Hastings and some notable Astleys", by Martin Green)

Edward Delaval Henry Astley was born in 1912 at Melton Constable. His family owned a large House, and several thousand acres of land in Norfolk. The barony goes back to the 1290s, when Sir John Hastings was summoned to Parliament as Lord Hastings. The title became dormant in 1389, and eventually fell into abeyance. During the nineteenth century, several branches of the family tried to claim the title but, after careful deliberation, the House of Lords Privileges Committee ruled in favour of Sir Jacob Astley. So, in 1841, the title was called out of abeyance, and Sir Jacob became the 16th Baron Hastings. Edward became the 22nd Baron Hastings on the death of his father in 1956.

Young Edward was educated at Eton. His domineering father did not believe that he was capable of going to university, so he travelled in Europe to improve his language skills. When he returned to London, he tried the City, working for the Gold Coast Selection Trust, and he also found time to join the supplementary reserve of the Coldstream Guards. He then went to America, where he travelled 22,000 miles, in 14 months, in a Ford V8 at a cost of 3 cents a mile. While he was in America, the Second World War was declared, but it wasn’t until 1940 that he was able to get a passage home, where he rejoined his regiment.

After a year with the guards, Edward was transferred to the Intelligence Corps, which sent him to North Africa, and then to Italy. In Milan, he took over the local radio station and, speaking fluent Italian, he was able to announce that the war had ended. At Trieste, he ran both the theatre and local radio services. He ended the war with the rank of Major.

After the war, he returned to the City, and joined The London and Eastern Trade Bank. When this got into difficulties, he went to Southern Rhodesia, where he bought a 5,000 acre farm near Salisbury. Here he grew tobacco, peanuts, and also some maize to feed the 100 workers and their families. It was while he was in Salisbury that he met the former model Katie Hilton, known as Nicki. Edward and Nicki married in 1954, and had three children. Nicki had two other children from her previous first marriage.

In 1956 his father died, and he returned to Britain to take his seat in the House of Lords. After four years, he was appointed a government whip, and made parliamentary private secretary to Sir Keith Joseph, then the housing minister. As a government minister, under MacMillan, he steered the Clean Air and Water Resources Act through the upper house and the way that he did this earned him a reputation as a safe pair of hands. He was also noted for his views on the situation in Rhodesia, and was a stern critic of the Wilson government’s handling of the situation. Lord Hastings served under several Tory governments, and continued to attend The House of Lords until excluded by the Blair reforms of 1999.

Along with the title of 22nd Lord Hastings, Edward inherited Seaton Delaval Hall and about 6,000 acres of land. He also inherited the Norfolk estate, but his father had sold off the house at Melton Constable to pay off debts. However, he still owned over 12,000 acres of land, and he still had his property in Rhodesia. Delaval Hall was in a poor state of repair when he inherited it. The building had suffered years of neglect, and during the last war it had housed some German prisoners. Many windows had no glass in them, and the centre block was too dangerous to visit. Edward set to work to repair and reroof the house, while Lady Hastings attended to the gardens. It took four years, with the help of a grant from the Historic Building Council, before the Hall was made safe for the public to visit. In the gardens, dense shrubbery was cleared, opening up the view to the old church, lawns were laid, and flowering shrubs, such as rhododendrons and azaleas, were planted.

Lord and Lady Hastings furnished a flat in the West wing, and they lived here for prt of the year. Their first child, Harriet, was born in 1958, and their second child, Delaval, was born in 1960. In 1968 they had a third child, Justin, who has Downs Syndrome. This led Lord Hastings to become involved with the Camphill Village Trust, an organisation for people with learning difficulties. Eventually, he gave them Thornage Hall in Norfolk, and about 50 acres of land. Justin lives in the village, and will be looked after, by the Trust, for the rest of his life.

In his long life, Lord Hastings helped many charitable organisations. He was the President of the British Epilepsy Association (1965-1993), and Honorary president (1993-2007), and also of the Epilepsy Research Foundation, and the Joint Epilepsy Council. His wartime experience left him with a love of all things Italian and, for more than forty years, he was a governor, and vice chairman, of the British – Italian Society. After Venice was flooded, he launched the Italian Peoples Food Appeal, and was appointed a Grand Officer of the Italian Order of merit for his efforts. He developed a passion for ballet and dance, after visiting Covent Garden during the 1930s, and became friends with the leading ballerinas such as Margot Fonteyn and Beryl Grey. He became a governor of the Royal Ballet and, for more than twenty years, he was chairman of the Dance Teachers Benevolent Fund. Lord Hastings also supported local organisations and charities, and he allowed the scouts and guides to camp on his grounds without charge. The local churches held their annual Garden Fate in the grounds of the Hall, again without charge. He was very fond of The Church of Our Lady, and was Patron of the Parish of Delaval, and a founder member of The Friends of Our Lady. He made generous donations to the church. On the 900th anniversary of the church, in 2002, he erected a large marquee in the grounds of the Hall and, after the memorial service, he entertained all the parishioners to a buffet lunch.

Lord and Lady Hastings spent a lot of time and money in restoring the Hall and gardens at Seaton. They sold their African properties in 1982, and spent less time in Norfolk. In the 1970s, Medieval banquets, held in the old kitchen, became very popular for a time. By 1990, the Medieval banquets had finished, the Hall was redecorated, and then Lord and Lady Hastings made Seaton Delaval their permanent home. Lord Hastings opened the Hall to the public, and it soon became a popular venue on the tourist route. In an old guide book, written by Lord Hastings, he acknowledged “the deep debt that I owe to Mr. F. Hetherington, sub agent of the Delaval Estates since 1946, whose initiative, careful supervision, and practical assistance throughout the whole period, which has seen the derelict home of the Delavals rise again almost like a phoenix from the ashes, have been of great comfort to me”. Among other things, Fred designed the new entrance gates, and flanking walls, which lead off the main road. He died in 1999, after being Lord Hastings trusted agent for over 50 years.

In the latter years, both Lord and Lady Hastings suffered from poor health, and Lady Hastings suffered a stroke, and was confined to a wheelchair for the last two or three years of her life. Lord Hastings devoted himself to her welfare but, sadly, he died suddenly in April 2007, and Lady Hastings died the following December. They are both buried in the small graveyard in the garden next to the Church of Our Lady. They left, between them, five children and, as noted earlier, Justin is in care. Their daughter Harriet has property in South Africa, and she spends part of the year there, and part of the year in this country.

The Astley property and titles passed to their eldest son Delaval Astley, who has his own farming business in Norfolk. For the sake of the public’s enjoyment, and to keep the house and contents together, in recognition of his father’s lifelong commitment to the Hall, Delaval, Lord Hastings, commenced negotiations with the National Trust almost immediately after his father’s death. After two years, agreement was reached for the transfer of the Hall and some land. The Hall and contents were offered in Lieu of tax, and about 400 acres of land was bought by the National Trust. Contracts were signed in December 2009. Lord Hastings still owns some items in the Hall, and he has the use of a flat in the West wing. The National Trust opened the Hall to the public in May 2010.