Robin Compton, who died on November 14 aged 87, was for many years the presiding genius at Newby Hall, near Ripon in North Yorkshire, famous for its fine late 17th-century house and stunning gardens.
Published: 5:46PM GMT 08 Dec 2009
Newby Hall was built in 1696 for Sir Edward Blackett. In 1748 William Weddell, an ancestor of the Comptons, acquired it and later added two wings designed by Robert Adam. Weddell made the Grand Tour in 1765-66, returning to England with many artistic treasures, including superb classical sculptures and tapestries, which remain in the house today along with furniture by Chippendale and fine paintings and porcelain.
Equally well known are the gardens, developed in their present form by Major Edward Compton, who inherited Newby in 1921. For Robin Compton, his son, the gardens became the great passion of his life. Even throughout a demanding business career, he devoted all his spare time to them, and Newby Hall is now famous for its shrub collections – particularly dogwoods – and its herbaceous borders.
His influence in the gardening world extended wider, however: from 1988 to 1994 he served as chairman of the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (now Plant Heritage). The purpose of this body is to conserve and propagate cultivated plants, among them those that have for one reason or another gone out of cultivation. Compton had been president since 1994.
Robert Edward John Compton was born on July 11 1922 and was brought up at Newby Hall and at Torloisk on the Isle of Mull. At Eton he played the piano in Humphrey Lyttelton's jazz band and distinguished himself as a Classicist and sportsman – he captained the rugby XV and won his colours in the Field and Wall games. His studies in Classics at Magdalen College, Oxford, were interrupted by the war, and he served with the Coldstream Guards from 1941 to 1946, attaining the rank of major; in October 1944 he was wounded near Caen. At war's end he was posted to the British embassy in Vienna as military attaché.
On leaving the Army, Compton studied horticulture, then started a fruit farm before joining, in 1951, the WS Crawford advertising agency in London. In 1954 he began his long association with Time Life International, of which he served as chairman from 1979 to 1990. He was also on the board of several other companies, among them (1973–80) Extel, Chicago.
In 1960 he took over Newby Hall from his father, and his business experience was to prove useful as he sought to develop house and gardens as a tourist attraction. He was particularly alert to the importance of catering for families with children, adding a miniature railway in 1971 and an "adventure garden" in 1979, as well as a restaurant and shop. More than three million people visited Newby Hall during his time as its custodian.
In 1997 he handed over the property to his younger son, Richard. His elder son, the botanist Dr James Compton, had inherited the Invercauld Estate in Aberdeenshire from his uncle, Captain Alwyne Compton, who assumed the Farquharson name when he inherited his Scottish title in 1945.
Robin Compton moved from Newby Hall to the nearby village of Marton-le-Moor, but continued to come to the gardens daily to preside over their development. Among other roles, he served as president of the North of England Horticultural Society (now Harlow Carr) from 1984 to 1986; as vice-president of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1996; and as vice-chairman of the Yorkshire National Trust (1970-85). He was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour by the RHS in 1993 and the Harlow Carr Medal in 1996.
He was High Sheriff of North Yorkshire in 1978 and Deputy Lieutenant from 1981.
Robin Compton married, in 1951, Jane Kenyon-Slaney, who survives him with their two sons.