MAURICE Egerton was a man of contradictions. On the one hand the IV Baron Egerton of Tatton was a motor enthusiast and an aviator who travelled the world.

But on and around his estate of Tatton Park many saw him as a recluse after enjoying only the briefest of encounters with him.

"I wouldn't say he shunned company, he just wasn't comfortable with large gatherings," said Caroline Schofield, who manages the mansion at Tatton Park.

"We believe he was possibly the way he was because his mother kept him at home or close by to her. The experience of losing her two other sons understandably made her very protective.

"He was not an outwardly showy person but when people spent time with him they found him to be a very interesting man."

The family was marred by tragedy when Maurice's eldest brother, William Alan de Tatton, died in infancy from Scarlet Fever. His other sibling, Cecil, died while away at school aged just 17.

An extract from the Memoir of the Life and Character of the late Maurice Baron Egerton, written by his cousin's son, the 9th Earl Abermarle shortly after his death, lamented the fact that many did not get to enjoy his true personality.

He wrote: "He was of a kind and generous bent, interested in fellow- beings, particularly the young, yet the whole appearance was marred by the desire of keeping himself to himself yet when he was amongst friends he gave many smiles and good fellowship, and wascapable of thoroughly enjoying himself".

But despite the personal tragedies, and his natural reservations, Maurice lived a full and fascinating life.

This year is the 50th anniversary of his death, which is being marked by exhibitions at Tatton of some of the aristocrat's most prized collections.

For behind his shy exterior lay an intriguing personality formed by an enduring passion for helping children, a fascination with technology and a modesty uncommon amongst such breeding.

A pioneer aviator, automobile enthusiast, collector, natural historian, traveller and ardent youth worker of sorts, Maurice was born the son of Alan de Tatton Egerton III Baron Egerton and Anna Louise Watson Taylor on August 4 1874.

Despite his lack of social skills, Maurice took a keen interest in helping local children and often invited schoolchildren from the poorer districts of Manchester to Tatton for the day.

He also founded Egerton Boys Club - now Egerton Youth Club - in Knutsford in 1946 with the aim of using outdoor activities to educate youngsters.

Caroline said: "It was a tradition for the ladies of gentille families to promote girls' activities and men to promote boys'. So while his aunt had founded a girls school giving needlework classes, he promoted sport and outdoor activity for young boys. He was very much of a Ray Mears-type character."

Others also benefited from his generosity.

In the Second World War he put up evacuees from Liverpool and Manchester in the estate cottages and hall and entertained them with canoeing expeditions, rabbit shooting and tea in the hall as a Sunday treat.

Miki Monnington, whose father was the Tatton estate blacksmith, said: "Everyone called him Lordy', even the children. He was a warm, lovely man. Very kind.

"During the war he had logs cut from the estate and put at the top of each street in Knutsford for people's fires. He was a wonderful lord and master.

"When he came to the farm he always wore an old greasy mac and flat cap. Nobody would know who he was unless they knew him personally. There was no side to him, no show."

He was the kind of man that thought nothing of stopping to help a broken-down motorist and even provided temporary housing in a camp on the estate for troops returning from Dunkirk.

Travelling was one of his main loves, as was gathering unique objects from across the globe.

Collecting was considered to be a worthy aristocratic passtime and it is thanks to wealthy collectors that our museums are so full.

Lord Egerton focused on collecting game trophies and objects of interest from the places he visited and took great delight in showing his collections to his visitors.

"He was meticulous in listing and labelling his collections and would show them to anyone who was interested," said Caroline.

"We might see hunting as being cruel nowadays but back then, before colour cameras and film, it was the best way to research wildlife."

Said to be fearless of his own safety, it was not unusual for Lord Egerton to disappear for long periods of time and then re-emerge having spent months living with natives in destinations like the Gobi Desert and the Tien Shan Mountains in central Asia.

"When he went to a country he completely immersed himself with the locals," said Caroline. "He would sit with them, eat with them and trade with them, he was fascinated by different cultures."

Items on display in the mansion at Tatton Park include everything from hippopotamus teeth and a bushman's arrows to a 365lb meteorite from South West Africa, the backbone of a shark, the backbone of a whale made into an ashtray from the Faeroe Islands in 1942, copper daggers given to him by Copper River Indians, an Ovambo woman's marriage anklet and a pair of Inuit shoes from British Columbia.

He spent a great deal of time in Kenya, overseeing the growing of tea, coffee and sisal and the working of his boot and blanket factory, and was remembered as being patriotic, philanthropic and generous to his workers.

Between 1930 and 1940 he built Egerton Castle in Kenya where he died in 1958 aged 84. Upon his death he bequeathed Tatton Park to the National Trust who leased the property and its 2,000 acres of parkland to Cheshire County Council in 1960. He had no successors and so the peerage died with him.

No one is sure why Lord Egerton never married.

"There are lots of theories and stories about him asking a woman and being refused," said Caroline. "There are also stories that he didn't like women but no historian has ever been able to prove either of these.

"I think he probably was a bit lonely. There are two photos taken on a trip to France and there is a lady in them, but whether she was special to him we'll never know." Another of Maurice's passions was aviation.

He was friends with Wilbur and Orville Wright and had his own planes and landing strip at Tatton.

Like most early aviators, he was virtually self-taught through a process of trial and error.

In 1910 he was set to fly in competitions but crushed two fingers in the engine gears. He had hardly recovered when he almost lost his left leg in a serious crash.

This ruined his competition chances and gave him a limp for the rest of his life.

Nonetheless, this did not stop him from reaching the rank of Major in the RAF.

He also indulged his love of cars and in 1901 bought a 24hp Darracq bearing Cheshire's first registration plate - M1.

He had a love of speed and is locally remembered for driving fast cars.

Despite being a private and complex man, he is remembered fondly for his achievements and good sense of fun.