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A welcome Russian immigrant

The other day, flicking through one of those glossy property magazines that get shoved through my letterbox, I came across this article about the Russian emigre, Leon Max, who fled the Soviet Union in the 1970s, went to the States and founded a now very successful fashion business, Max Studio. He has recently bought a beautiful stately home in Northamptonshire – Paul Marks’ stamping ground – and I sympathise with most of the sentiment behind this paragraph in the magazine, Country House: “Max admits that England’s favourable tax regime was a factor (in buying the house). He is not apologetic about this. He is an enthusiastic free marketeer and libertarian. In his own self mocking words, he says, “Considering I was brought up under Communism, I am a little to the right of Pinochet.” (There is no web link to the article).

Not sure I like the Pinochet argument – he was a torturer although no worse than most Latin American regimes and better in many ways – but I get the general idea of what Leon Max means. Frankly, if more people like him want to live in Britain, bring them on. It may partially counter a trend of emigration among smart young Britons as noted by Fraser Nelson, the journalist, in a recent article.

Perhaps Britain’s newest classical liberal think tank, Progressive Vision, should ask Leon Max for a donation.

20 comments to A welcome Russian immigrant

  • Not sure I like the Pinochet argument – he was a torturer although no worse than most Latin American regimes and better in many ways – but I get the general idea of what Leon Max means.

    The torture was the little bit of leftist left in Pinochet … so by saying he’s to the right of him, I guess Max is saying he doesn’t support torture.

    Now all we need is a president a bit to the right of Bush.

  • Jonathan, look what you did! You sent me window shopping at Max Studio. I got so absorbed, I have not noticed that my laptop battery ran out! I had no idea the guy is from the same city I am, and left around the time I did.

  • Nick M

    My angle on this is the stately home thing. I’ve been to many and my favourite is Chatsworth. But there’s always something a little sad about these places becoming museums*. A few years ago Kylie the Callipyginous thought of buying a 20m pile near Bristol (forget the place – any ideas?) and there were howls of protest about it being “lost to the nation”. I thought I’d much rather Ms Minogue lived there than it became the haunt of the dessicated old trouts of the National Trust. So hats off to Mr Max for keeping one of these places as a home.

    St Petersberg! My wife has been there a couple of times. She has a picture of herself stood on the frozen Gulf of Finland.

    *I know the Duke of Devonshire** still lives there but some of these places are just frozen museums of a more gracious past.

    **I saw him on the telly and he said the most amusing entry he ever read in the visitor book was, “Saw the Duke in the Garden, looked quite normal”.

  • I bet the Duke said to himself: “I sure fooled that sucker, didn’t I!”

  • RAB

    I know what you mean Nick.
    I blame the National Trust myself.
    Places like Laycock of Fox Talbot fame or Stourhead all look and feel exactly the same, sterile and frozen in time but no trace of the original inahabitants ever being there.

  • Paul Marks

    The grandest of all the country houses was once “Wentworth Woodhouse” the home of the Fitzwilliams. A very honouable family (perhaps not clever – but they kept their word whatever the cost to themselves, and tended to be at the best when things were at their worst) and related to the Watsons (such as the Watson’s of little Rockingham castle a few miles from here) and Wentworths and, of course, to the great 2nd Marquess of Rockingham (Chales Watson-Wentworth) patron of Edmund Burke.

    Many years ago I noticed the complete works of Edmund Burke at Rockingham Castle (the 1829 Rivington edition – the first, and in some ways, the best edition). I would guess that the late Commander Watson knew of the family connection.

    Sadly a young Earl Firtzwilliam died in an aircrash in, I believe, 1947 and no provision had been made for the death tax.

    So the contents of the house went and things went into decline.

    I lived in Yorkshire for some years but I never went to see the house – I have no desire to see decline and decay.

    Chatsworth has indeed had a kinder fate – the Cavandish family were either better planners or more fortunate.

    As for the National Trust – it was created in the mid 1890’s as some people understood (even then) that the death tax (introduced by Sir William “we are all socialists now” Harcourt) would grow and grow and help ruin the great familes of this land.

    Yes the National Trust does turn these houses and estates into museums, which is unfortunate – but that is better than leaving them to destucution. Most of the great houses of England fell into decay and destruction long ago.

  • Paul Marks

    Rich Paul – I think we can agree that more than a little to the right (if by “right” we mean right headed, as in free market) than Bush would be a good thing.

    Alisa – I have heard that St Petersburg has many fine buildings and museums. Pity about its rulers.

  • Nick M

    Decay happens. Depending upon both luck and judgement it can happen to the Leeds back-to-back or to the finest home. I shall leave out discussion of the death tax because I believe no one who reads this believes it to be in any way shape or form justified.

    Anyway, back to the meat, not the vegetables, I once had an extremely pleasant afternoon rambling around This place. It doesn’t have the spectacle of Castle Howard but it is extremely attractive and it is set in a remarkably beautiful part of Northumberland*. But… It was a wreck until the current owner took over. Because it was a wreck (and in a National Park) he was lucky enough to pay very little in death duties. I have seen the pictures and it was in an appalling state. The current Lord had rebuilt the place, creating both a spectacular family home, a well-worth it tourist attraction and into the bargain had preserved the unusual breed of cattle tradional to this locale. He had also displayed the assorted “stuff” (sometimes wonderful, sometimes just odd) he’d bought through a whole lifetime of traveling the world. Could the likes of the National Trust or (Saints preserve us!) English Heritage have done better? I doubt it. I doubt it because I had lunch there (during tourist season you can buy a sandwich and a Coke in the Great Hall) and guess who sat down opposite me! We talked at length about his travels and his home (obviously) and he was a fascinating bloke. And the sandwiches weren’t awesome but they were certainly suitable for a Lord or indeed even for Nick M.

    And that, fundamentally, is my point.

    *It is near enough my home county (I’m from Gateshead) for me to comment. Some of Northumberland is a bit scrubby and some has a bleak majesty but Chillingham is lush in the way that only the much further south Tyne Valley has. “Much further” is meant in the UK sense.

  • Paul: it is gorgeous.

  • V Samuel

    If you fancy an interesting but small stately home, then the Tudor Kentwell House in Suffolk takes some beating. It is in private hands because the family dislikes state interference and has a highly individual way of going about using history as a way of paying the bills. The house retained enough of its estate to do some proper livestock and a little arable farming too.

    They basically encourage anyone who is a serious recreationist to joint them in time travel and revert the house to various periods, then invite the paying public in.

    I’ve been to Tudor and WWII recreations there; you do not know what a hogroast is until you’ve had one of their rare-breed hot pork rolls.

    The most famous event is the time tunnel in the summer, where visitors go through a time-gate and everything on the far side is reverted as faithfully as possible to around 1430. It is always a little worrying; if you fell over and broke your ankle the barber-chiurgeons and the apothecary would be all over you if the 21st century paramedics didn’t get you out sharpish.

    It is a reflection of the times that people are increasingly anxious to escape to another period. I asked a lute player if he would choose to go back, knowing that he could not take anaesthetic, antiseptics or vaccinations with him. He said his head told him no, but his heart said go.

  • RAB

    Nice one V samuel, if I am in that neck of the woods, I will definately drop in.
    If anyone is in my neck of the woods, try this:-


    This is a castle that has been lived in by the same family for 900 years.
    Where Edward the Second got the red hot Barrymores, Sir Francis Drake used to park his boat offshore and my grandfather bought timber from the estate to make into pit props for bedwas Colliery.
    No it is definately not National Trust!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    V Samuel, as a Suffolk lad, I heard about this place and I will definitely give it a visit. Thanks for the comment.

  • Paul Marks

    The only time I have ever been to Suffolk was a trip to Bury St. Edmunds.

    A very nice town – with fine buildings, a town hall still in the town and even factories (I know it sound a bit insane, but I like to see a few factories in a town – in this case it was sugar beat factory and brewery). I even liked the ruins of the abbey (although I would prefer it if the abbey was still standing).

    Indeed I was so taken by the town that I got lightheaded and bought a very expensive game pie (a foolish thing for a man as poor as me to do).

    “So you can accept decay” Nick M. might say – yes fair enough you have got me there (although most of the town was not decayed – indeed it was full of life).

    But I much prefer someone like the third Marquis of Bute – i.e. rebuilding ruins (even if such a person gets it “wrong”).

    It may have been a drunk who wrote “do not go gentle into that good night, but rage rage against the dying of the light” but he had a point.

    Of course Guy Herbert might say my default mode is rage (sometimes unjust rage) – and he might well be right.


    I am sure you speak the truth.

    It is good that such places still exist.

    As for Northamptonshire:

    Once this county was known as the county of “squires and spires”.

    Even in these evil latter days it is not all bad – at least once one has got out into the villages.

    Of the towns only a few (such as Oundle) have not mutated.

  • RAB

    Two questions.
    Can you do deadpan, talk and eat a sandwich?
    Does the name E.L Wisty ring any bells with you?
    If your answer to both is yes, boy is your income gonna improve! 🙂

  • Nick M

    You are a very naughty boy! We’re just lucky we don’t have Derek or Clive. The worst job I ever had…

    The “red hot Barrymores”! (aka – the broom-handleus colonica). Actually the whole sordid tale is even worse. Although to be fair to the horn and molten lead mob they at least didn’t summon Max Clifford first. That must’ve been an interesting call for Max to take. I know Mr Clifford can do wonderful things but is there any possible way to spin that? At least it got the lanky, talentless, loon off the telly. Now we’ve got Ant & Dec instead which is only a small mercy.

    At least our children’s entertainers disgrace themselves better than their US counterparts. Peewee Herman has nothing on Michael B.

  • Paul Marks

    Well RAB – whether I can do deadpan is for others to judge.

    I can indeed talk over a meal (again how well is for others to judge), but I only talk in the periods of time when there is no food in my mouth.

    As for E.L. Wisty.

    I remember (if the bell is the correct one) seeing a once great entertainer walking the streets of Hampstead – blank expression, dead eyes and a bottle of booze in his hand.

    It was an unfortunate sight.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way I really do like Bury St. Edmunds – I was not being ironic.

    Although my use of language and habits of mind may give that impression – whatever I am talking about.

  • In 1964, Wisty and Spotty formed the World Domination League, with aspirations to dominate the world by 1958. “We shall move about in people’s rooms and say, ‘Excuse me, we are the World Domination League. May we dominate you?’ Then, if they say ‘Get out,’ of course we give up.”

    Their list of demands were:

    1. Total domination of the world by 1958.
    2. Domination of the astral spheres quite soon too.
    3. The finding of lovely ladies for Spotty Muldoon within the foreseeable future.
    4. Getting a nuclear arm to deter with.
    5. The bodily removal from this planet of C. P. Snow and Alan Freeman and their replacement with fine trees.
    6. Stopping the government from crawling up our pipes and listening to all we say.
    7. Training bees for uses against foreign powers, and so on.
    8. Elimination of spindly insects and encouragement of lovely little newts who dance about and are happy.
    9. E.L. Wisty for God.

  • RAB

    I do beg your pardon Paul.
    I was a teensy bit Petered when I posted.

  • Nick M

    I would have said you were totally cooked