Duke of Northumberland who is worth £315m and owns Harry Potter’s castle ‘demanded £600,000 rent from new train line intended to serve deprived cut-off community’
- The Duke of Northumberland, 65, has reportedly ‘demanded’ £600,000 rent
- The alleged rent claim is for the new Northumberland Line to pass through land
- New £166million line will reconnect Ashington and Newcastle through Blyth
- Representatives for the Duke say that he is ‘supportive’ of the new rail line
A row has broken out between one of Britain’s richest aristocrats and transport chiefs over plans to build a new train line through his land.
The Duke of Northumberland, who is worth £315million and who owns stunning Alnwick Castle, used in the filming of the Harry Potter franchise, is reportedly demanding £600,000-a-year in rent for the use of his land for the new Northumberland Line.
The £166million tax-payer funded scheme aims to bring passenger trains back into service between Ashington and Newcastle.
And it has been described by rail chiefs as a ‘transformational project aiming to stimulate and support economic growth and regeneration’ to deprived and cut-off communities in the north-east.
But bosses behind the project have accused the Duke, Ralph Percy, of ‘demanding’ £600,000-a-year in rent to allow the line through his land.
Business leaders in the towns of Ashington and Blyth – which will be served by the new passenger line – have reportedly accused the 65-year-old aristocrat of ‘money-grabbing’.
They are also said to have dubbed him ‘Scrooge McDuke’ – a reference to the mega-rich but miserly Disney cartoon character Scrooge McDuck.
However representatives insist the Duke is actually ‘supportive’ of the line and that the row is instead related to a separate long running dispute with Network Rail.
The Duke of Northumberland (pictured with the Duchess of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle), who is worth £315million, is reportedly demanding £600,000-a-year in rent for the use of his land for the new Northumberland Line
Representatives insist the Duke (pictured here with Prince Charles in 2018) is actually ‘supportive’ of the line and that the row is instead related to a seperate long running dispute with Network Rail
The £166million tax-payer funded scheme aims to bring passenger trains back into service between Ashington and Newcastle
Hung, drawn and quartered: The history of the Percy family
By Jane Fryer for the Daily Mail
The Percy family, which also owns 10,000 acres of land and several properties including Albury Estate in Surrey and Warkworth and Prudhoe Castles in Northumberland, has played a succession of prominent roles in British history.
Over the past thousand years, the Barons, Earls and Dukes of Northumberland have rebelled against monarchs, battled relentlessly with Scots and shuttled in and out of the Tower of London on various charges of treason.
Some have been shot, others hung, drawn and quartered, and a few had their heads displayed on spikes in cities around the country after a disastrous uprising against Henry IV in 1403.
Time and again, Percys have popped up throughout history.
The great Sir Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, who led endless rebellions against Henry IV of England and was slain at the Battle of Shrewsbury, was immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I.
The 6th Earl was secretly engaged to Anne Boleyn before she became Henry VIII’s second wife, the 7th was beheaded, the 8th was shot dead in the Tower and the 9th was thought to be involved in the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot and was incarcerated for 16 years.
Ralph was an accidental duke himself, plugging a difficult gap in the Percy family history. He was a second son, a passionate tennis player, a trained surveyor and was once known as the best shot in England.
He was happily married to Jane, a stockbroker’s daughter from Edinburgh, whom he’d met at a party when she was 16, and lived happily in a pretty Georgian farmhouse on the family estate with their four children and dogs.
Meanwhile, his brother Harry (Henry), the 11th Duke and the Queen’s godson, lived a racier — and ultimately tragic — London life of parties, girlfriends (he dated Naomi Campbell’s mother Valerie, American actress Barbara Carrera and model Jackie St Clair) and ambitions in the film world.
In 1995, Harry died of an accidental amphetamine overdose and Ralph, who had been working on the Northumberland estate for two years, inherited the lot: title, Alnwick, Syon House in London, vast swathes of land in the north and south of the country, plus a £350 million fortune.
He, Jane, the kids and their dogs moved into the castle keep, and that was the end of their old life.
The dispute was revealed during a public inquiry into the Northumberland Line.
The East Coast Main Line runs past Newcastle, Morpeth and Alnwick, running several miles west of towns such as Blyth and Ashington.
The two towns used to be connected to the network through the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne Line, but it was shut to passenger services in the 1960s as part of the Beeching cuts.
But under the Northumberland Line plans the towns will be reconnected to Newcastle via a new line linked to the East Coast Mainline.
However, the line needs to pass through the Duke’s land.
Richard Turney, a lawyer representing Northumberland county council, the authority leading the project, told a public inquiry last week that special ‘wayleave’ leases are used in such cases.
The ancient rules, dating back to the feudal system established by William the Conqueror, are contracts between a landowner and a third party that allows building or access in exchange for money.
But, according to the BBC’s Local Democracy Service, he told a public inquiry: ‘The wayleave leases contain rent provisions which are archaic and predicated on the original primary purpose of the railway, to serve coal mines.
‘This has culminated in the Duke of Northumberland twice threatening to terminate the wayleaves in a dispute over rent, including after this application was made, with an extraordinary demand for more than £600,000 in rent.
He added: ‘Provisions which give an individual such a stranglehold over public resources are inappropriate.’
The news has sparked anger from those in the towns of Ashington and Blyth.
Stephen Rowe, 45, a business manager, told The Times: ‘Ashington and Blyth are both less than 20 miles away from Newcastle but the only way to get there is by car or an hour on the bus.
‘The towns are two of the poorest in the region and many people just cannot afford a car.
‘For the duke to be holding out for more than half a million in rent every year is an absolute disgrace.’
Meanwhile, Angela Whyte, 30, who lives in Blyth, said that Percy had been nicknamed ‘Scrooge McDuke’ by local residents.
However representatives for the Northumberland Estates told MailOnline they ‘strong refute’ the allegations.
A spokesperson said: We are and always have been fully supportive of this County Council project, and have already agreed the access and land requirements for the rail line and new facilities with the County Council.
‘Unfortunately we have a separate and a long running dispute with Network Rail who are attempting to claim private property rights without appropriate consultation and compensation.
‘This disagreement is with Network Rail alone, who have been intransigent for decades, and is the only element of dispute for us.
The Duke of Northumberland’s Alnwick Castle, which was used as a background in some of the Harry Potter scenes
The Duke has four children and lives with his wife in Alnwick Castle, where the couple have welcomed Prince Charles. The castle was famously used in the Harry Potter films in background scenes for the Philosopher’s Stone and the Chamber of Secrets (pictured)
‘We wish wholeheartedly that the scheme will succeed and have been supportive of the County Council from day one.’
MailOnline has contacted Network Rail for a comment.
Percy, whose brother was a godson of the Queen, is the beneficial owner of Northumberland Estates.
He has four children and lives with his wife in Alnwick Castle, where the couple have welcomed Prince Charles.
The castle was famously used in the Harry Potter films in background scenes for the Philosopher’s Stone and the Chamber of Secrets.
In scenes filmed at the castle, Harry and his classmates learned to fly broomsticks on the Outer Bailey.
It was here where they filmed the scene where Harry learned to play Quidditch.
From Robin Hood and Capability Brown to Harry Potter: The life, art and history of Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle, a 150-room, heavily crenellated, many-towered magnificence perched on a rocky outcrop above the River Aln in Northumberland, is the second-largest privately inhabited castle after Windsor — and it bears the scars of centuries.
There are musket pockmarks, made by Oliver Cromwell’s army, in the yellow sandstone.
In the main entrance, a maroon board offers Broomstick Training sessions on the very spot where Daniel Radcliffe had his first flying lesson in Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone.
Ralph Percy, the 12th Duke, with the help of his energetic Duchess, Jane, transformed Alnwick into one of Britain’s most visited attractions.
The castle is exquisite — an assault of gilded ceilings, gold leaf, polished floors, gleaming swords and exquisite views over the Capability Brown-designed parkland.
There is an art collection, described as one of the finest outside the Royal Collection, which includes works by Turner, Titian, Canaletto, Van Dyck and William Dobson.
Alnwick Castle, home to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, reflected in the River Aln
Maintenance of the castle costs more than £1.5 million a year. Ralph and Jane had to make the castle work in the 21st century, as a home, a tourist spot and historical treasure, fighting against convention with a raft of visitor attractions, jousting sessions, gift shops and tearoom, and a few controversial decisions.
Over the years, the castle has featured as a backdrop for Blackadder, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Elizabeth, Mary Queen Of Scots, Transformers and the Christmas special of Downton Abbey.
But it was Harry Potter — and, in particular, the broomstick lessons and Quidditch matches — that really changed things.
‘There’s been a huge Harry Potter effect and we’re very grateful for it,’ says Ralph. ‘We do as much Harry Potter stuff as possible and it just doesn’t seem to die out.’
Over the centuries, Alnwick has had so many incarnations, lurching from good fortune to bad and back again with every new monarch.
During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Percys abandoned Alnwick as the north was considered too dangerous.
By the 18th century they were back, and the place was abuzz. There was a staff of more than 200 maids, cooks, valets, butlers, grooms, ten priests and, at one point, even a resident executioner.
Now the staff seems to consist mostly of guides, shop assistants, cafe workers and gardeners. The Percys themselves have a daily as well as a chef.
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