Sir Nigel Strutt
(Filed: 21/02/2004)
 

Sir Nigel Strutt, who has died aged 88, was responsible for the farming of 22,500 acres in Essex and Suffolk; he did this through Lord Rayleigh's Farms, and through Strutt & Parker (Farms).

Between them, under Strutt's management, the two family firms produced vast quantities of wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, peas and sugar beet, while the Terling and Lavenham herds of British Friesians produced annual combined milk yields of some two million gallons.

Beyond the estate boundaries, Strutt was an influential figure in farming nationally. He was chairman of the Agricultural Advisory Council, and for many years a member of the National Economic Development Council for Agriculture. He was also president of the Country Landowners' Association from 1967 to 1969.

Nigel Edward Strutt was born on January 18 1916, the younger son of Edward Jolliffe Strutt and his wife Amelie (nee Devas).

The Strutts trace their descent from John Strutt, an Essex miller, who died in 1694. His great-grandson, John Strutt, of Terling Place, near Chelmsford, sat as MP for Maldon, as did the latter's son, Joseph Strutt, who in 1789 married Lady Charlotte FitzGerald, a daughter of the 1st Duke of Leinster.

Joseph Strutt was colonel of various Essex militia regiments and sat in the Commons for Essex constituencies - Maldon and Okehampton - for more than 40 years. When offered a peerage by George III, he declined it, suggesting that the honour be conferred on his wife instead. So in 1821, in consideration of her husband's public service, Lady Charlotte was created a peer as Baroness Rayleigh.

Their eldest son, John James Strutt, became the 2nd Lord Rayleigh on his mother's death in 1836. He led the life of a country squire in Essex, though as a young man had shown great promise as a mathematician, becoming Senior Wrangler at Cambridge University. Nigel was a great-nephew of Professor the 3rd Lord Rayleigh, the Cambridge physicist who discovered argon in 1894, was appointed a founding member of the Order of Merit in 1902, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1904 and became President of the Royal Society. He was also Lord Lieutenant of Essex.

Lord Rayleigh's younger brother Edward Gerald Strutt, Nigel's grandfather, was a prominent figure in agriculture and one of the first Companions of Honour. Nigel showed a keen interest in farming from an early age and so became, it seemed to him, the favourite grandson. He remembered his grandfather as an extremely fierce man, but fair and likeable, too.

Like his father and grandfather before him, Nigel spent his schooldays at Winchester, where he fished the Itchen and remained an enthusiast for farming. Exeats during term-time were seldom granted to pupils in those days, but after an interview with the headmaster, the Rev Dr A T P Williams, Nigel obtained leave to attend an agricultural show.

After Winchester, Strutt attended Wye Agricultural College in Kent. He joined the Essex Yeomanry in 1937, and went out to Africa as an honorary ADC to the governor of Northern Rhodesia. He was struck by the governor's successful technique in dealing with some local trouble. "The King," the governor said severely to the tribesmen seated on the ground around him in the bush, "will be very cross with you if he ever comes to hear about this."

With the outbreak of war in 1939, Strutt was called up. In 1941, serving as a forward observation officer in the Essex Yeomanry Royal Horse Artillery during the battle for Bardia, in Libya, Strutt was severely wounded when his vehicle was hit by a German shell. His injuries included the loss of his right eye.

On recovery after a spell in hospital in Cairo, Strutt, a captain, was offered a staff posting in Palestine; but he demurred, asking to rejoin his regiment. His request was granted, but before he could return he was captured and sent to a PoW camp in northern Italy.

When Strutt arrived at Camp 41, near Parma, he was allotted a bed next to Edward Tomkins - later, as Sir Edward, Ambassador to France. Among his other room-mates was Pat (now Lord) Gibson. Strutt was to remain firm friends with both men for the rest of his life.

Tomkins, a first-rate linguist, was put in charge of compiling weekly news reports for his fellow prisoners. Having picked up what he could from newspapers, the wireless and anything he overheard, he would sit down with Strutt - an intelligent, thorough person - and write the report, which Strutt then read out to the camp's inmates.

When Strutt was repatriated to England on medical grounds (having pledged to remain non-combattant) in 1943, two armed guards were detailed to escort him from the camp to the railway station. As Strutt had two pieces of luggage to take home with him, he told his guards to make themselves useful and carry one bag each - which they did.

After the war, Strutt settled into a farmhouse at Terling, where he was to live for the rest of his life. In due course, he became president of the British Friesian Cattle Society (1974-75), and of the Royal Agricultural Society of England (1982-83). He was elected a fellow of Wye Agricultural College in 1970, and was Master of the Farmers' Company in 1976-77.

Although farming occupied such a large part of his life, he never imposed on his friends with farming talk. The subject, though, was never far from his mind. Driving Edward Tomkins to the latter's wedding in 1955, Strutt - the best man - stopped to transact some business at a farmhouse en route.

He enjoyed foreign travel, and remained fit and active until well into his eighties. When staying in London, he would race up the stairs to his third-floor rooms in Albany; and he continued to enjoy trekking, especially in Nepal, game shooting and skiing. For many years he organised a well-run shoot at Terling, and he went regularly to ski at Meribel.

Never a good skier, he once ploughed into a whole party of Germans. "I've only got one eye, you see," he explained as they struggled to their feet. "You could see the Germans thinking," an English onlooker recalled, " 'What would he have done to us if he'd had two?' "

Strutt was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Essex in 1954, and was High Sheriff of Essex in 1966. He held the Territorial Decoration, and in 1972 he was knighted. He declined the offer of a peerage; he felt, he said, that one peer was enough on the same family estate.

For many years he was a familiar sight at Brooks's Club, St James's, breakfasting, dining or reading the newspapers in the morning room - eye patch over one eye, eye glass in the other.

He died, unmarried, on January 28.