Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire James Puxley on escorting the Queen round Windsor and traffic on the M4
PUBLISHED: 11:15 23 June 2017
Maureen McLean. All Rights Reserved
A few centuries ago our Lord Lieutenants might have to fight invaders, but the present one’s battles tend to involve the M4 jams, Angela Knight discovers
James Puxley of Welford Park, Newbury was born and bred in the county and appointed Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire two years ago. He will hold the post for nine years until his 75th birthday in seven years’ time.
“It’s an honour to be selected and appointed as the Queen’s representative in Berkshire,” says James, “and one steeped in history.” The appointment was first created by Henry VIII in 1545, to muster the county militias to defend the realm against a possible invasion from France or Spain.
The Lord Lieutenant would stand in for the King on the battlefield, play a major part in keeping law and order and inform the King what was going on. The first Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire was Henry’s brother-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk. By 1588, with the arrival of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I had appointed Lord Lieutenants in almost every county in the country.
Fortunately, James does not have to fight or take part in any battles. The last high point of militia activity was in 1815 when the Lord Lieutenant helped defend the South Coast of England against Napoleon. By 1921 the position no longer involved raising local forces but links with the military remain strong and important to this day.
The historical connection is appropriate as James Puxley has a love of history, having studied for a BA in History at Bristol University, then qualified in estate management and as a chartered surveyor at the Royal Agriculture College, Cirencester. He has been managing the family estate, Welford Park, since the 1980s which has been owned by his family for 400 years. Ancestors include a Governor of the Bank of England, an MP and a former Lord Mayor of London.
James is still doing the job he was doing before his appointment as well as attending Lord Lieutenant engagements: “Which come along like London buses!” he says. “My workload has increased, but I rely more on my employees than I used to and I’ve cut down on my leisure time and social life, but I’m thriving on it. Berkshire is unique in that it is divided into six unitary authorities and is the only non metropolitan county that does not have a county council, so I have to spread myself over these six authorities.”
He is a former President of the Royal Berkshire Show; an Honorary Commander of RAF Welford; a former Vice Chairman of his local parish council; a member of his local Parochial Church Council and he is a past Chairman of the West Berkshire Anglo-American Association. James supports a range of charities and voluntary organisations in Berkshire such as The Community Foundation, the Police Rehabilitation Trust, The Watermill Theatre, The County Land and Business Association and local Young Farmers’ Clubs. As Lord-Lieutenant he is also patron of a large number of Berkshire-based charities and organisations.
The duties are extremely varied, sometimes attending events and ceremonies three days a week. With 30-40 Royal visits a year, James has to receive Royal visitors as they arrive, and be the last to say goodbye. He supports the cadet forces and major military bases in the county, chairs the Magistrates’ Advisory Committee in Berkshire, which appoints and disciplines magistrates, attends county services of thanksgiving; presides over medals and awards ceremonies and often attends Citizenship ceremonies.
Every summer the Queen hosts at least three garden parties at Buckingham Palace for as many as 12,000 people. James has to recommend people from Berkshire to attend them as every county has a quota.
He says it helps if it’s a sunny day for the garden parties: “You go through the Palace to the gardens, down steps to the lawns and a huge marquee with areas for tea, coffee and cakes. It is a good opportunity to walk around the gardens. Courtiers decide who will be presented to the Queen and they are strategically placed, but sometimes she talks to random people, too.”
James has to write and deliver speeches as well, which take up a lot of time preparing and he has recently attended the Reading Holocaust Memorial Day where he gave a speech.
His most memorable occasion was “by far and away the Queen’s 90th Birthday last year and my wife and I had to stay in Windsor for three nights over this period because I am very lucky that Windsor happens to be in Berkshire.
“On the actual birthday, I had to greet the Queen at the gates of Windsor Castle. When she came out in her Rolls Royce with the Duke of Edinburgh, I wished her a happy birthday and introduced her to my wife, Deborah, and the Mayor and her husband. I then escorted the Queen round the streets of Windsor.
“It was a sunny day and there was a huge amount of affection for her; she was so busy accepting flowers. I had to make sure she was on the right side of the road to receive endless bouquets. I had a certain amount of difficulty persuading her to move across to the other side of the road so that everyone got their fair share. There were thousands of well wishers, which was really overwhelming, I was flabbergasted. After which, she thanked me and I escorted her to her car.”
I ask him whether he has ever had any disasters and he says his main worry is being held up in traffic on the M4.
“I was meeting Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex in Bracknell for the opening of an Arts Centre when we got stuck and were delayed by 45 minutes. Fortunately I planned on getting there half an hour early so it was all right, but it was nerve wracking and could have been embarrassing.”
James was High Sheriff of Berkshire in 2000 and says: “There’s no doubt that this set me off on the road of representing Berkshire”. In 2005 he was invited to be a Deputy Lieutenant, which also helped him prepare for the appointment of Vice Lord Lieutenant in 2010. James says his cousin, Sir Philip Wroughton, had been Lord Lieutenant previously, so he was familiar with the demands of the role.
In the past he has enjoyed travelling on long distance expeditions to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, nowadays he seldom has a day off, unless he is away on holiday. Being a devoted family man, he loves nothing more than going away with Deborah, son William and daughter, Felicia, to their holiday home in Wales or somewhere warm.
As Lord Lieutenant James Puxley may be getting used to being in the spotlight but so is his home, Welford Park, which has become a TV star thanks to ‘Great British Bake Off.’ It was the elegant backdrop for Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood’s baking competition which had millions of viewers.
The house is set in the beautiful Lambourn Valley, with a chalk stream weaving its way through the beech woods and grounds. It has a spectacular park and woodland and over the years many rare trees, magnolia and tulip trees have been planted.
The house was built on the site of a Norman monastery where snowdrops were cultivated to decorate the church for Candlemas and for their medicinal properties. Consequently, there are millions of wild snowdrops and aconites in the woods and parkland and in February thousands of visitors flock to see the spectacular carpets of white flowers.
James has another link to Henry VIII, who destroyed the monastery at Welford in the Dissolution. Henry then chose to build a deer hunting lodge for himself at Welford. This was knocked down and the present house was built.
In the First World War it was used as a convalescent home under the care of Lady Wantage. After the Second World War the garden had to be simplified.
James says: “We are very lucky to have a massive display of snowdrops in our beechwood and are very glad to show them and give a substantial amount to charity. The tradition of charitable giving was started by my mother, Aline Puxley. who was active in the Berkshire Branch of the Red Cross. In the old days Red Cross ladies would rattle a tin at the entrance asking for contributions, we now charge an entrance fee and support five Berkshire-based charities every year.”
Deborah and James are passionate supporters of the Watermill Theatre, near Newbury; this summer, the house and gardens will be open to the public when the house is transformed into a 1920’s ocean liner for the ‘Boxford Masques’ and the audience will become passengers in an open-air musical romp. Visitors can bring a picnic and enjoy a summer evening of musical theatre in a sensational setting.
“Being Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire has given me huge insight into the extent of deprivation, in areas you wouldn’t think of as being deprived, such as areas within sight of Windsor Castle or pockets of Lambourn. I feel very lucky to be able to help. Through my job I get to hear about charities trying to help the deprived and I can meet someone at an event who has a problem and put them together. It is very rewarding.”
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