From saving Knebworth House to all-time great rock concerts – celebrating the life of Lord Cobbold
- Credit: Archant
The 2nd Baron Cobbold, who has died from Parkinson’s disease at the age of 84, was a landowner and banker who saved his ancestral home of Knebworth House, opened it to the public and put on some of music all-time great concerts.
Born David Antony Fromanteel Cobbold on July 14, 1937, he was the eldest son of Cameron and Lady Hermione Cobbold, who had unexpectedly inherited Knebworth House after the deaths of her brothers, Antony, in an air crash, and John at El-Alamein.
Lord Cobbold grew up at the gothic style manor before being educated at Eton, reading Moral Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge, and joining the Canadian Air Force for his national service, where his unconventional manner made him a popular figure.
He then went into banking, working in London and New York, combining his demanding finance career with putting on events at his beloved Knebworth House.
In 1960, he changed his name by deed poll to Lytton Cobbold as a mark of respect to his mother’s family, and he married Christine Stucley the following year after they had met at a dance in 1958.
1960 also saw Lord Cobbold’s father elevated to the peerage as the first Baron Cobbold, and in 1963 became Lord Chamberlain to the Queen, but his busy schedule left him little time to take care of the increasingly dilapidated Knebworth House.
He offered it to the council who rejected on the grounds of expense, but the Lytton Cobbolds took it over in 1969 – despite parental reservation - and it was opened to the public.
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Tourist attractions including lion cubs and adventure playgrounds were introduced to the expansive grounds, while jousting tournaments were put on, with Lord Cobbold often taking part. He would joust well into his 70s until his debilitating Parkinson’s forced him to stop.
Among Lord Cobbold’s greatest achievements was the Knebworth Festival. Starting in 1974, stars such as Queen, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Elton John and Oasis performed in front of huge crowds, with many concerts going down as all-time classics.
The festival wasn’t without its problems, with the Lytton Cobbolds earning fines for late running gigs, while on one occasion they desperately tried to keep partying members of Pink Floyd and The Who away from the drug squad just next door.
Lytton Cobbold inherited the title on the death of his father in 1987, but remained lively and informal as he endeavoured to share Knebworth with everyone.
Lord Cobbold and his wife loved a party too, putting on plenty of celebrations including an ‘Underground’ fancy-dress event that saw an entire tube train carriage towed into the courtyard to act as the dance floor.
The couple were renowned for their generosity and selflessness, most notably in the 1980s when Ugandan brothers Danny and Harry Matovu, friends of their eldest son Harry at Eton, suffered family problems. The Cobbolds virtually adopted them as their own, relishing their later successes as both barristers and an accomplished jazz duo.
After retiring, Lord Cobbold turned his focus to running Knebworth House and became involved in a number of charities and projects across Hertfordshire.
He secured the future of the house and park by setting it up as a trust and building houses and a hotel in the park. In 2002, the Cobbolds handed over the house to their son Henry and his wife Martha, moving to a nearby gatehouse.
Lord Cobbold dealt stoically with Parkinson’s after being diagnosed in 2008. He is survived by his wife, their three sons, their daughter, the Matovu brothers and two children from other relationships.
His eldest son, Henry Fromanteel Lytton Cobbold, inherits the barony.
Knebworth House paid tribute to Lord Cobbold, with a statement reading: “David died peacefully at home on Monday, May 9, 2022, surrounded by his family. He had suffered from Lewy Bodies Parkinson’s for some years.
“David’s life and work will be remembered and cherished through the generations at the Hertfordshire home that he and his wife Chryssie worked tirelessly to preserve, Knebworth House.
“Ever the showman, David was Britain’s oldest active jouster in his 70s and a driving force behind Knebworth Park’s world-renowned rock concerts.”
Lord Cobbold, born July 14 1937, died May 9 2022
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