Profile of Lord Lieutenant Algernon Heber-Percy
15:13 22 March 2011
On Her Majestys Service
Algernon Heber-Percys family has a county connection stretching back nine centuries. This month, The Lord Lieutenant will represent Shropshire at the Royal Wedding. Rachel Crow was with him when the invitation arrived.
As the Queens personal representative, the Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire is called upon to attend many formal and civic occasions, not least escorting Royal visitors to the county.
The role brings with it the opportunity to take part in the great Royal celebrations and so Algernon Heber-Percy is the envy of many this month, as one of the 2,000 to have received a coveted invite to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton on April 29. Well of course it is an immense honour to be asked to be amongst the guests. With my fellow Lord Lieutenants we shall feel ourselves representing our counties and it is going to be a hugely happy and special day, he says with a smile. Im looking forward to just being in the Abbey, and being able to soak up the marvellous atmosphere; it is a great thrill, great thrill.
The Lord Lieutenant is, of course, keen for the Prince and his new bride to visit the county once the nuptials are over and recalls how all who had the pleasure of meeting the Prince when he was training at RAF Shawbury in North Shropshire (where in January 2010, Prince William successfully completed advanced helicopter flying training), have the highest regard for him.
With a family county connection stretching back more than 900 years, Algy, as he is known to many, is as well placed as any to sing Shropshires praises to any visitor, royal and commoner alike.
His ancestral home, Hodnet Hall in North Shropshire, has remained in family ownership since the 11th century. Schooled at Harrow, he was brought up in London, Hertfordshire and Shropshire and served a short commission with the Grenadier Guards before returning to Hodnet Hall in 1966. My father sadly died from a heart attack at the age of 56 when I was only 17. The house hadnt been lived in for a while because my father was a professional soldier, so there was a lot of work that needed to be done to it, he says. We totally remodelled the house, made it smaller and possible for a family to live in it.
The father of four underwent heart surgery earlier this year, but he looks the vision of health as we sit talking in his office that overlooks part of the halls beautiful 60-acre gardens. His father, Brigadier A.G.W. Heber-Percy, a keen gardener, remodelled and redesigned the gardens in the 1920s and Algernon and his wife Jane, with their loyal and trusted team of gardeners, have continued to improve on the legacy that he left.
There have always been endless gardens we can look to for inspiration. We are fortunate in Shropshire, you only need to look in the (National Garden Schemes) Yellow Book and its full of enthusiastic owners who have often designed and made the gardens themselves, which can be truly remarkable, he explains.
Ours, we would like to think, is almost a garden for all seasons and all weather, extending the flowering season for as long as we can. We have the great benefit and joy of having this daisy chain of pools, which are probably what the garden is most known for. Both Jane and I and the gardening team hugely enjoy sharing the garden with others. Thats what really makes it all worthwhile, he adds.
When he returned to Shropshire, Algernon enrolled at what is now Walford and North Shropshire College in preparation for a career in farming, so is well placed to recognise the important part agriculture plays in the county. Shropshire agriculture is key to the countys prosperity and so many people, even if they dont get their livelihood from it, are somehow connected to it machinery works, corn dealers, fencers, wood men a great deal of the economy of the countryside is wound up with how well agriculture is doing, he explains. We are particularly fortunate that we have both Harper Adams University College and Walford, which lead by example, and are able to give career structure to hundreds of young people in the county each year. That is a real success story.
The Heber-Percys are involved with many local charities and causes, including Severn Hospice, of which Algernon is president, and the Lingen Davies Cancer Relief Fund that has Jane as patron. Conservation is also a subject close to his heart and he was formerly chairman for the Mercia Regional Committee for the National Trust, during what he describes as a very exciting period, in which the trust extended its ownership of parts of Wenlock Edge, giving broader access to walkers, as well as improving properties such as Attingham Park near Shrewsbury. These places are huge attractions and the vast majority of projects have come into fruition in the last 50 years, he says. Looking around there is wonderful work going on at Hopton Castle in South Shropshire, Whittington Castle near Oswestry and the Ditherington flax mill in Shrewsbury. These historical places would have just been a tumbled down pile of bricks if it hadnt been for local enthusiasts. If one is lucky enough to live in such a beautiful county, I think everybody, if they can, should play a part in making sure the beauty continues and wherever possible it is made accessible. To be able to share is important.
In 1996, Algernon was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire, extending his involvement in the best interests and social life of the county. Tasked with upholding the dignity of The Crown, he describes his role as, here to encourage, perhaps advise all sorts of voluntary sector activities; to open doors, if possible and most importantly to remember to say thank you. This includes presenting medals and awards on behalf of The Sovereign to the voluntary sector, industry and innovation, as well as attendance at civic and social activities, leading the local magistracy, and liaising with local units of the Army and Royal Air Force, which historically have been an important part of the economy and pride of the county.
He says: Its a lovely job to have because you touch so many different facets of life. The whole time Im going to somewhere new and seeing something I wouldnt have known about and how marvellous to have an excuse to meet so many different people. This enthusiasm for meeting people is one he and Jane share for, as he explains, the role of Lord Lieutenant is in many ways a joint appointment. You have to be prepared to give up your time for people, as indeed they give up their time to you.
He has witnessed many changes within the county in his 15 years as Lord Lieutenant and he will experience more to come, as, other than in the event of ill health, he will not retire from the role until he is 75 years old. And if, in fact, your principal is 84, it doesnt look good for you to bow out at the age of 67, he adds with a smile.
With budgetary restrictions, many services provided by local councils will be under review, and plans for conservation, health and regeneration put on hold, but Algernon hopes the willingness of the people of the county to give their time to causes voluntarily will make life easier for all. The level of voluntary giving, in a multitude of ways, is quite extraordinary and basically the county is run off it. There has never been a shortage of people wanting to come forward, he says.
Shropshire, I always thought, was as well placed as any to see this recession through, because it is such an amazing county, combining the whole range of aspects of wonderful countryside, great history, and also the innovation of the firms. Im always astounded by the range of what is produced within the county. There is very little that one cant get in Shropshire.
Hodnet Hall Gardens are open on various dates from April to September. Tel: 01630 685786. www.hodnethallgardens.org