What we know about Hugh Lowther - Lord Lonsdale, the fifth Earl of Lonsdale, widely known as the Yellow Earl - is largely second hand. Biographers have searched for the truth about one of the most extravagant and influential members of the English aristocracy, a man who in the first half of the last century managed to burn through his family’s incredible wealth.

Hugh had the means to indulge his passions and eccentricities. His favourite colour was yellow. Hence the colour of his carriages, his Rolls-Royces, his servants’ uniforms, and the gardenia in his buttonhole which were grown in a hothouse on his Lowther estate near Penrith.

He was the first president of the Automobile Association, hence its yellow insignia.

He instigated the Lonsdale Belt for boxing, was the first president of the London International Horse Show at Olympia, and in later life was honorary president of Arsenal Football Club.

Interviews with Hugh were rare. But one has just been discovered and republished by a Penrith bookshop owner, 114 years on.

It’s a fascinating read, even if Hugh’s words often appear at odds with his actions. Maybe that’s one truth about the Yellow Earl: do as I say, not as I do. If many others had done as he did the country would have been bankrupt within days.

Hugh was born in 1857. His older brother - who was blessed with the name St George - inherited the family’s wealth. Where possible, Hugh followed his own path. In his youth he had been ordered to study under a tutor. He recruited Jem Mace, the bare knuckle champion of England, to teach him to box. Hugh joined a travelling circus, then went buffalo-hunting in America.

In 1882 St George died through illness. Hugh, aged 25, unexpectedly inherited the Earl of Lonsdale title and the Lowther family’s money. Overnight he became one of the richest men in England.

He owned tens of thousands of acres of Cumberland, Westmorland and elsewhere. He owned Whitehaven, and its coalfields, which stretched under the Irish Sea. Income from coalfields, iron mines and agricultural land was £4,000 a week: equivalent today to about £18m a year.

His homes included a huge London townhouse near The Mall, and Lowther Castle, five miles south of Penrith. One of the largest houses in England with hundreds of staff, Lowther became renowned for entertaining distinguished guests. Parties and sporting weekends were attended by royalty and heads of state.

Hugh cut a swathe through high society. After affairs with the actresses Lily Langtry and Violet Cameron, it was said that Queen Victoria “let it be known she expected Lord Lonsdale to leave the country”.

Hugh did so in spectacular style, with an expedition which reached Alaska. He later claimed to have made it to the North Pole.

His high life lasted several decades. Then his extravagance and a slump in income during the Depression led to him selling the family assets one by one.

Lowther Castle was abandoned in 1935. The Earl moved to nearby Askham Hall. When he died in 1944, aged 87, the family fortune had gone.

In the early 20th century there was widespread resentment towards wealthy Edwardians who were spending a fortune at a time of immense poverty. The people supporting their lifestyles were often working in appalling conditions such as down coal mines.

And yet the Yellow Earl was hugely popular with the public. He was known as ‘Lordy’ by the working classes and widely admired for his showmanship, love of fast-living and enthusiasm for sport.

The aristocracy was less enthusiastic. Perhaps Hugh’s lifestyle risked shining a spotlight on the excesses of those who lacked his charismatic ability to shrug off criticism. He was described by Lord Ancaster[CORR] as “almost an emperor, but not quite a gentleman.”

While much of his life was dedicated to frivolity, Hugh also made a serious impression on world sport. He helped to create modern boxing by legalising prizefighting, insisting on the Marquess of Queensberry rules and inaugurating timed rounds.

In 1909 he donated the original Lonsdale Belts, which are still awarded to British boxing champions. His name was given to the Lonsdale clothing brand, worn by sporting legends including Muhammad Ali.

A keen football fan (sadly for Cumbrians his team was Arsenal), he was a club director, chairman - in 1936, and later honorary president. He enjoyed foxhunting and after World War One became more involved with horseracing.

The newly discovered interview, originally published in 1905 in CB Fry’s Magazine Of Action and Outdoor Life, focuses heavily on hunting and the great outdoors.

It was found by Adam Newell, the owner of Penrith second hand bookshop Withnail Books. He is publishing the interview as a 16-page pamphlet called The Yellow Earl: In His Own Words. It features rare photographs and is limited to 100 hand-numbered copies.

“I keep an eye out for anything with the words ‘Yellow Earl’, ‘Hugh Lowther’, ‘Fifth Earl of Lonsdale’,” says Adam. “There’s definitely a market for it.

“The book about him by Douglas Sutherland [The Yellow Earl: Almost an Emperor, Not Quite a Gentleman] was always in demand. It came out in the 1960s and was reprinted in 2015.

“I couldn’t claim to be an expert on the Yellow Earl. I’d never heard of him before I started living in Cumbria about six years ago. I grew up in Devon. When I opened this shop, straight away I had people saying ‘Have you got anything about the Yellow Earl?’

“He’s a larger than life character. I get the impression he was pretty much a household name. He had his finger in a lot of pies. In Penrith he was the local lord, known as ‘Lordy’. Then there’s the AA yellow, the Lonsdale Belt, horseracing.”

The interview was titled The Caesar of Cumberland. It was conduced by author and journalist Harold Begbie.

Begbie wrote of his subject: “There is something in the closeclipped mutton-chop whiskers, which he wears in defiance of fashion, which gives one an indication of his mind. He loves the period of his boyhood, the days when a pipe smoked in the harness room, or a day with the ferrets, was more to the youth of England than all the smaller pleasures of aestheticism; and it is to this period he belongs, and to this period he clings, with all the tenacity of a conservative nature.”

The article makes much of Hugh’s love of the outdoors: “When he is at Lowther it is a frequent habit with him to saddle a pony soon after midnight and to ride alone into the surrounding hills to see the sun rise.”

Hugh is quoted saying: “I always think that a man is never quite so happy as when he is entirely alone with nature, trusting entirely to his own wit for getting into close contact with the shy and beautiful things of woodland and field.”

One element of his behaviour which seems contradictory is that much of his close contact with shy and beautiful things involved shooting them.

The interview describes an encounter with an angry elephant in an unnamed country. While “the natives” fled, Hugh shot the creature and “brought it crashing down to the earth”.

But he said of hunting: “The killing is, perhaps, the worst part. I don’t like the killing of anything, although I fear I have killed a good many creatures in my time! But one doesn’t think of the killing.”

He claimed his chief pleasure came from stalking his quarry until he was near enough to pull the trigger, without necessarily doing so. “There’s many a fine stag at Lowther which has been covered by my rifle, but which is still sniffing the dawn in the woods!”

His other thoughts included the belief that betting on horseracing should not be allowed. “Something will have to be done... or horse-racing will become an impossible sport for gentlemen.”

The article also refers to his secret visits to London slums and his concern for their occupants. His solution was for them to leave London for “roomy cottages with good gardens”, to exercise more, and drink “the healthy old beverages of beer and cider” rather than whisky and gin.

He issued this advice to the nation while squandering his own family’s vast resources.

Adam says: “There are a few quotes you wouldn’t necessarily put together with him. His thoughts about hunting: obviously he’s not anti-hunting. But he’s not a fan of killing for the sake of it. It’s more about being at one with nature.

“And being anti-gambling is not consistent with what we know about him. He struck me as the kind of guy who wouldn’t care what people thought about him. He wouldn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

The article paints its subject as down to earth and approachable. “I think it was probably genuine that the locals liked him,” says Adam. “He was somebody they could talk to. He wasn’t stuck in his ivory tower.”

The Yellow Earl left behind some legendary tales. For his family, his legacy included the crumbling Lowther Castle.

In recent years Jim Lowther, the seventh earl’s son, has spearheaded its transformation. The main part of the house has been left as a spectacular ruin. The gardens have been revitalised. The stables are now a gallery, cafe and shops.

When renovation began, a reminder of the wealth which once resided in this quiet corner of Cumberland was found. On a wall above a long-removed artifact were the words “From the palace of Caesar’s Rome”.

n The Yellow Earl: In His Own Words costs £8 and is available only from Withnail Books, Brunswick Yard, Penrith.