Earl of Verulam pockets £17 million from sale of Woodrising Norfolk estate
It's safe to say most Brits were not well prepared for the successive economic crises that have battered the country since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The same cannot be said for one John Duncan Grimston, sometimes known as the 7th Earl of Verulam, who sold his 2,200 acre Woodrising Estate for just over GBP £17 million shortly before these crises in 2018. With recent statistics indicating the average UK citizen will earn just GBP 566,000 over their entire life time, this priveleged aristocrat has, in just one year, earnt 30 times what a normal person can expect over a life time of work.
Note: sales details were confirmed by purchasing the land registry title for Woodrising Estate.
Woodrising Estate highlighted white on the Who Owns Norfolk map (along with Saham Grove Estate, which is also owned by Woodrising's new owner)
Despite this sale, the 7th Earl still has land to spare. It appears Woodrising was likely more of an economic afterthought for the Grimstons - their primary affair is the Gorhambury Estate in Hertfordshire, centred on the stately Gorhambury House. The size of this estate has not been disclosed, but it is presumably very large, with the website stating that it inlcudes at least 21 properties in addition to the country house.
Source: Srlee at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
This is an example of extreme inherited wealth and inequality that has persisted for hundreds of years. The 7th Earl inherited both these estates - Gorhambury has been in the family since 1652 (source), while Woodrising was inherited by the Grimstons in 1937 from the Woodrising branch of the Weyland family (the 4th Earl's grandmother was a Weyland) (source). The Weylands had owned Woodrising since the mid-1700s (source).
The Weylands of Woodrising are purportedly a branch of a much more ancient aristocratic lineage, with the De Weylands holding a monorial lordship near Cromer as early as 1275 (source). The 7th Earl's family has therefore been a part of Norfolk's landowning aristocracy for almost 800 years.
This massive land-wealth windfall for the Grimstons comes at a time when the country is in desperate need of money to secure its natural capital. For example, a farmer near Norwich was recently paid GBP 1 million to stop pig farming in order to reduce water pollution, offset pollution impacts from housing construction and allow for more houses to be built.
A windfall tax on inherited property sales or a land tax on large landowners could provide a fund to buy critical areas of land, such as river banks and "buffer zones", and restore these areas to protect and enhance the green infrastructure that we all depend on.
Who bought Woodrising Estate?
What calibre of individual is able to front up GBP 17 million to buy a sizeable rural estate? The answer is in this case is another aristocrat, though one of a slightly more exotic origin. Francesco Baggi Sisini is the nephew of a Sardinian count - Giorgio Sisini, Count of Sant'Andrea, who set up the popular weekly Italian word puzzle and word search magazine La Settimana Enigmistica in 1932 (source). Francesco took over this magazine and has clearly become very rich, spinning out other publications and becoming involved in real estate investing and insurance (source).
Francesco Sisini, via his companies Tharros Ltd and Bithia Ltd, already owned the nearby 2,000 acre Saham Grove Hall Estate / Farm (bought in 2010 for GBP 15 million) and the 2,300 acre Wormegay Estate (date of purchase unknown). The purchase of Woodrising Estate takes him to over 6,000 Norfolk acres and makes him one of the county's largest landowners.
Who Owns Norfolk's West Norfolk map can be seen below: