Town has a lord sitting on council

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RYE must be the only parish or town council in the county to have a lord sitting on it.

David Russell, who was recently re-elected to both Rye and Rother councils, inherited the title Lord Ampthill, the fifth Baron Ampthill, following the death of his father Geoffrey at the age of 89.

Geoffrey was known as the ‘the Russell baby’ after his paternity and conception were the cause of one of the most famous divorce cases of the last century.

Son of Christabel Hart and second Lord Ampthill John Russell, Geoffrey was not confirmed as the inheritor of the Ampthill barony until 1976.

After Geoffrey was born on October 15, 1921, John denied paternity and sued for divorce, naming two of Christabel’s male friends as possible fathers.

At the first divorce hearing the jury dismissed the possibility of adultery, but a second jury found her guilty of adultery ‘with a man unknown’ and granted John his divorce.

In 1924 she took the case to the House of Lords, where the divorce was rescinded and the couple remained married until John’s death in 1937.

The case was then given another public airing and Geoffrey’s petition to the Queen for a writ of summons to the House of Lords was upheld and despite contests from his younger half-brother he took his seat as a cross-bencher, becoming deputy speaker from 1983.

The current Lord Ampthill was quick to play down his title, commenting: “I stood and was elected simply as D Russell. I don’t want to make a big thing of this.”

Speaking of his father, he said: “We were a close family. I personally had nothing but a wonderful relationship with him.

“He was one of the last 92 hereditary peers who continued to sit in the House of Lords under interim arrangements. A long-serving deputy speaker, he sat as a crossbencher and attended almost every day for 34 years. He was made C.B.E. in 1986 and was Chairman of Committees in the early 1990s after which he was appointed a Privy Councillor.

“He was a revered figure in the family and loved by a host of friends and colleagues.

“I’m still a bit stunned about the peerage at the moment. In due course I’ll get used to it.

“Nowadays it doesn’t carry with it the responsibility to sit in parliament. I’ll just have to see how things develop.”

Geoffrey Russell joined the Irish Guards. He was commissioned in 1941, and embarked for France with the Guards Armoured Division in June 1944; he was wounded and returned to England for hospitalisation, but went on to serve with Allied land forces in Norway in the autumn of 1945.

He became a manager of Fortnum and Mason following the war.

He was involved in the theatre business but left that to join the board of United Newspapers.

After United bought the Express titles he was also deputy chairman both of Express Newspapers from 1989 and of United itself from 1991.

Geoffrey was regarded as conscientious and amiable. He was well liked by fellow peers.

He made his mark as chairman of the House catering committee, and in 1980 became a deputy chairman of committees.

In 1987 he became chairman of its Channel Tunnel Bill committee, which heard objections from Kent residents affected by the project.