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Baronet faces life on the dole.

A bankrupt baronet whose dream of opening a Midland tourist attraction collapsed with debts of pounds 4.5million has been forced to sign on the dole.

Sir Charles Wolseley's efforts to open his Staffordshire estate to the public ended in spectacular failure and he is now claiming pounds 140 a fortnight in unemployment benefit.

And as he signs on for state benefits, the 54-year-old 11th baronet says the 1,300-acre Wolseley Estate is going to wrack and ruin and has been targeted by vandals.

Sir Charles, who once had plans to employ 70 fulime and 30 part-time staff at his sprawling ancestral home, revealed he is now looking for a job himself.

He said: "I am now on Jobseekers Allowance and one gets by the best one can. I am trying to get a job.

"I am a qualified chartered surveyor, but I am over-qualified and when you are 54, age is against you."

Sir Charles, who in the past has been forced to accept free potatoes from a tenant, has been claiming benefit for several months but has yet to be offered an interview despite making several applications for jobs as a surveyor.

Hand-outs from the taxpayer are now Sir Charles's only source of income apart from gifts from loyal friends who he said had "helped him get by financially".

Signing on for benefits marks a huge change in the personal fortunes of Sir Charles, whose estate is just a few hundred yards from Shugborough Hall, home of the Queen's cousin, the Earl of Lichfield.

The land on which the the estate is built dates back to Saxon times and it is believed to have been given by King Edgar to the Wolseleys in 975 for destroying wolves in Staffordshire.

The family's motto remains Homo Homini Lupus - Man is as a wolf to his fellow man.

Sir Charles fell on hard times after deciding to open up his family home to visitors in the late 1980s at a cost of pounds 1.73million. Wolseley Garden Park, which covers 45 acres, eventually opened in 1990 but it failed to bring in the number of visitor s hoped for and took only pounds 30,000 in gate receipts in its first year.

Sir Charles blamed the recession as the debts reached pounds 4.6million and at one point more than 100 creditors were owed money from the failed venture.

He put the estate on the market in December 1995 before being made bankrupt in May 1996 and then the bank stepped in to sell the property to pay off the debts. Woodland totalling 350 acres has already been sold and a garden centre on the estate has been leased.

Sir Charles now risks losing his home, Park House, which is on the estate and which he shares with his American wife Lady Jeannie. The property is up for sale and is mortgaged to the National Westminster Bank as security.

The baronet said: "I have no idea what we will do if it is sold. We can't really make plans because we just don't know when that will be and in what circumstances."

Sir Charles said he was saddened the Garden Park had been left to grow wild. It was once the centrepiece of his attraction but is no longer in his control since he was made bankrupt.

"Trees that are broken have fallen and have been left unrepaired. It's just a scene of devastation and dereliction," he said.

"It's also been vandalised. For instance, there was an obelisk in the garden which has been smashed to pieces and there were benches which have been thrown into the lake."

Sir Charles said he still believed the estate could have been a success and blamed his financial backers for pulling out of the deal before the business was established.

"I am very sad about it all now. There was a lot of hard effort that went into it but we were simply not allowed to finish it.

"The gift shop, for instance, that we were building, which was going to be a big draw, was never finished because the funding was withdrawn.

"I still think it was a good idea - what else can I say?"

Sir Charles has dined on trout and pheasant caught and shot on his land and said many local people still showed a lot of concern for the Wolseley Estate. "A lot of them still walk through the Garden Park and take a great interest in it," he said.

The family title dates from 1628 when Charles I rewarded Robert Wolseley, clerk of the King's letters-patent, for services to the Crown.

Despite his father's allegiance to the King, the second baronet, Charles, was a member of Cromwell's Council of State but after the Restoration he sensibly retired from the public spotlight.

The Park House was built when the title was passed to the 6th baronet, Sir William, who was also responsible for improving the gardens on the estate. The present baronet took over the estate in 1954 after the death of his father Sir Edric Wolseley.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 3, 1998
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