From Parliament to prison: The man who rebuilt Herstmonceux Castle and died a ruined man

  • ITV News Meridian's Tony Green explores the history behind Herstmonceux Castle and the man who restored it from ruin

Herstmonceux Castle has been a feature of the Sussex skyline since the 15th century.

But for all its fame the man who restored it from ruin is largely forgotten.

Few clues remain to the life of Paul Latham who bought the castle in 1932, when he was the Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby, hundreds of miles away.

Herstmonceux Castle Credit: ITV News Meridian

He inherited his wealth from his father who made a fortune working for Courtaulds - money that was spent rebuilding the rest of the castle.

He married and had a son, but his marriage was one of convenience, says historian Steven Bednarski, who is writing a book about him.

"In those days in order to lead a 'respectable life' he needed to have a wife and an heir was important to him as well," he said.

"So the marriage was one of convenience and it all falls apart when he is outed."

That happened during World War Two.

Latham didn't have to fight as he was both an MP and an amputee - either would have exempted him from service, but he signed up anyway.

A letter to Latham, from one of the men he had been sleeping with, was intercepted, leading to court marital where the MP faced 13 charges.

After his arrest the MP rode his motorbike into a tree, leading to a further charge of attempted suicide.

HMP Maidstone where Latham served his sentence - he said it had better food and was more comfortable than Eton and he didn't get beaten Credit: PA

Latham was convicted on most of the charges and sentenced to two years in Maidstone Prison, an experience he apparently quipped was better than Eton, as it was more comfortable, the food was better and he didn't get beaten.

Nonetheless, his political career ended in disgrace - his wife divorced him for cruelty and took his son to America to live.

He sold Herstmonceux to the Admiralty and died in 1955, aged 50.

So why should Latham be remembered?

"Well I think for two reasons," says Dr Bednarski.

"I think it's a great injustice.

"You know, what was done and the fact that he has been largely erased, I think it's important to know these stories if we want to know where we came from and how attitudes have changed and how fragile this progress really is in many ways.

The castle restored by Paul Latham Credit: ITV News Meridian

"And secondly, he left this amazing monument to posterity, which is one of the great homes of England, one of the most beautiful gardens.

"And all of this was done in a very short amount of time with his own money."

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