Re The Estate of Brocklehurst, deceased

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date30 June 1977
Judgment citation (vLex)[1977] EWCA Civ J0630-1
Docket Number1975 H. No. 387
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Date30 June 1977

[1977] EWCA Civ J0630-1

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

On Appeal from the High Court of Justice

Chancery Division

Manchester District Registry

Group B

(The Vice-Chancellor)


The Master of the Rolls

(Lord Denning)

Lord Justice Lawton and

Lord Justice Bridge

1975 H. No. 387

In the Matter of the Estate of Sir

Philip Lee Brocklehurst BT. deceased

Derek Povah Morris Hall and Philip Thornley Bowcock
John Roberts

MR. H.E. FRANCIS, Q.C. and MR.L.J. PORTER (instructed by Messrs. Bowcock & Pursaill, Solicitors, Leek) appeared on behalf of the Plaintiffs (Respondents).

MR. P. BAKER Q.C. and MR. P.W. WATKINS (instructed by Messrs. Walls, Johnston & Co., Solicitors, Bramhall) appeared on behalf of the Defendant (Appellant).


The judge described our leading character as "aged and eccentric". He was Sir Philip Lee Brocklehurst, the second baronet. He lived at his home, Swythamley Hall, near Macclesfield in Cheshire. He died on the 28th January, 1975. In the last six months of his life, at the age of 87, he gave away the shooting rights over his estate. He gave them to the owner of a garage about 10 miles away. His executors have challenged the gift. The judge, after a hearing of many days, has held that the gift was invalid. The garage owner appeals to this court. Our story concerns the last three years of his life. But his background should be known. He was born on the 7th March, 1887 with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was the heir to the title and to the great estate of Swythamley Hall. He had a conventional upbringing at Eton and Trinity Hall, but he was the most unconventional of men. He got his blue at Cambridge for boxing. He went with Ernest Shackleton to the Antarctic, where he lost his toes with frost-bite. In the first World War he served with the 1st Life Awards and rose to command them. In the second World War he was with the Arab Legion in the desert, commanding a mechanised brigade. Then in his late fifties, he returned to Swythamley Hall, where he did all the things which befit the country gentleman. He was Chairman of the Macclesfield Bench. He had his horses, his shooting, and his fast motor-cars. He was strong-minded, too, used to getting his own way, and brooking no interference. An autocrat, if ever there was one.


Then in June 1972, when he was aged 85, Lady Brocklehurst left and never returned. She was his second wife, much younger than he, and they had never got on well together. But in a way he was very fond of her: and her going left a blank in his life. There was no one near at hand for him to talk to except a kind widowed lady, Mrs. Dorothy Knight, who lived in a house in thepark. Most days the old man walked across to see her: but otherwise there he was by himself in the big rambling house. For a time there was his old batman who had been with him for forty years: But he died on 29th October, 1972, and then the old man was alone in the house. The daily woman came in to clean in the mornings. She left him his sparse lunch and went off.


All the time his mind was much on the estate. He had no one to follow him. He had no son. This was a big disappointment. He had two daughters by his first marriage, but they had no children. He had two sisters. One of them, Lady Ley, had a grandson, but the old man did not think him very suitable. Yet here was the great estate of Swythamley. He had succeeded to it in 1904 when his father died. It was left to him in tail, but he had barred the entail. The mansion house was Georgian with Victorian additions. It was surrounded by parkland and farms and open moorlands. There were 4,000 acres in all with some of the finest shooting in the country. It included a grouse moor called The Roaches of 1,400 acres. Besides grouse, there were 200 red deer there. There was also a smaller moor called Gun Moor of 200 acres. He had shot over it all until he was nearly 80. But he had had to give up shooting. He had let The Roaches to Lord Derby for five years. He had allowed friends to shoot over Gun Moor. The value of the estate was enhanced greatly by the shooting rights. What was to happen to it all when he died? Here he was at 85 with only a year or two to go.


Alone as he was, he became very eccentric. Take some instances. On one occasion he had all the files about the farms brought up from the tenant's hall and burnt. He said they were rubbish. They included the tenancy agreements. On another occasion he discharged all the employees on the estate. He said they were not earning their keep. But he changed his mind and kept them. His attitude to insurance was unusual to say the least. He took the line that the insurance company never paidhim anything, so why should he go on paying them? With the result that when he died the buildings and farms on the estate were grossly underinsured. In the management of the estate he was the sort of landlord who on the one hand would not raise rent but on the other hand would not do any improvements. His eccentricity showed itself most in the making of wills. He was obsessed with it. A fresh will every few months. Nine wills and three codicils. Before his wife's departure, they had been conventional. He had left the estate equally to his two daughters and his wife. But after she left, he virtually cut all three of them out of his wills. They had done nothing for him, he said, and were well provided for already. As will followed will, he changed his mind constantly. In the very month that his wife left, he decided that, on his death, everything was to be sold and the money used to make gifts all round. He started at once. In June 1972, without telling his lawyers, he handed out cheques to the tune of £33,000. One to the nice widowed lady, Mrs. Knight. He gave her a cheque for £15,000. She was absolutely astounded. Then a cheque for £5,000 to the bank manager. He was gratified. So were all the lucky recipients. It meant a big overdraft at the bank. But that did not worry him. In the same month he instructed his solicitor to make a will for him leaving large legacies amounting in all to £246,000. This would pretty well exhaust all his estate. The solicitor told him so. But he said it did not matter. These legacies included £10,000 to his solicitor, £10,000 to his doctor, £10,000 to his estate agent, £10,000 to Mrs. Dorothy Knight, and many others. The solicitor pressed Sir Philip to leave him out. He did not want the £10,000. But Sir Philip would not leave him out. He executed the will with all those legacies in it. Obviously he had made up his mind that, as he had no heir, the estate was to be broken up and sold.


Three months later he decided, to altar it all. A remote relative, Mr. Pane Murray, and his wife had visited him at Swythamley Hall. Not a relative by blood. Only a nephew of his first wife from whom he was divorced. Sir Philip had not seen him for years. But he took to Mr. Pane Murray. He thought he would be a suitable man to inherit the estate. He told him so. He said that he would make him his heir, and wanted him to run the estate as it always had been. So Sir Philip went to his solicitor and got him to make a fresh will. This time there were no vast legacies. The estate was to go to Mr. Pane Murray. He executed this will on 1st November, 1973.


That intention.was not long lived. His sister, Lady Ley, went to visit him at Swythamley. He still took some notice of her. She told him quite plainly that "the estate ought not to be left to that man Pane Murray", who was no blood relation at all. It ought to go to her grandson John Henry Van Haeften, who was, after all, the only male descendant of the family. Besides by this time Mrs. Pane Murray had shown that she was not at all keen to move to Swythamley Hall. So Sir Philip changed his will again. On 1st June, 1973, he executed a will cutting out Mr. Fane Murray altogether and leaving the estate to his sister's grandson. But he accompanied it with a further bout of eccentricity. He never told Mr. Pane Murray anything about it. He led him to believe that he was still his heir, and accepted all the attention usual from expectant heirs. Mr. Pane Murray believed he was the heir all the time right until after the old man's death. Sir Philip told no one of the change except his solicitor and Mrs. Knight. He told her to keep it secret and tell no one. When she said "That is not fair. You ought to tell him". The old man just laughed. He said, "When the time comes, I shall be like a fox. I shall have gone to ground".


Some months later he changed, his mind again. His sister's influence had waned. Perhaps she had not been up to see him. This time he cut out her grandson. He used to speak disparagingly of him. He called him "that schoolboy" - without any justification at all. He is a young man of about 24 of excellent character. He cut him out and left the estate to the National Trust. He executed a will to this effect on 12th March, 1974. Lady Ley soon got to hear of it. She went up and told him how it would be. "This is the family home", she said, "Imagine what will happen. Awful people will be tramping round our father's house. There will be ice-cream stalls. It will be absolutely ghastly". She wrote to him almost every day about it. This had its effect on the old man. A month later, on 24th April, 1974, he changed his will for the last time. He cut out the National Trust and left it to his sister's grandson: John Henry Van Haeften. The legacies were comparatively, small. The one person whom he never forgot was the kind Mrs. Dorothy Knight. In all his wills he had said that she was to have her house rent free for her life: and left her a substantial legacy.


If things had been left like that - as they appeared in his last will - the estate could have been continued after his death and kept together as the family home.


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