Lady Anne Tree

LADY Anne Tree, daughter of the 10th Duke of Devonshire and aunt of the present Duke who, as Marquess of Hartington lived at Bolton Abbey, has died aged 82 at her home near Shaftesbury.

A campaigning philanthropist of the old school – privileged and therefore influential, but also tireless – she founded the charity Fine Cell Work.

It teaches needlework to prison inmates, mostly males as it happens, and sells their products.

They do the work when they are locked in their cells, and a proportion of what it earns is theirs to keep.

Starting in 1950 when she was 22, and for many years afterwards, Lady Anne was a prison visitor, one of the prisoners she regularly saw being the Moors murderer Myra Hindley.

Unlike Lord Longford, to whom she introduced Hindley and who controversially supported her efforts to be paroled, Lady Anne considered prison the best place for her.

A year ago she told an interviewer: "She wasn't fit to come out. I don't believe she was safe.

"She didn't feel sorry and if you don't feel sorry, you can do something again."

Her idea of giving prisoners work in their cells from which they could earn money was completely against the rules, and Fine Cell Work only came into existence because of her persistence over a period of 40 years.

In that time she pestered Government Ministers – Tory and Labour – but only in 1991 did she wear down the resistance and get the permission she needed from the Home Office.

Her charity now operates in some 26 prisons, some of the work being commissioned and some being sold through prestige outlets such as the shop at Prince Charles's Highgrove Estate.

Her experience as a prison visitor convinced her of the benefits of giving inmates something absorbing and creative to do when they were locked in their cells, as a contrast to their pointless prison jobs.

She settled on needlework as something for prisoners to do because she did it herself, and she knew that men liked it because she had seen them doing embroidery when she had worked in an Army canteen in Eastbourne during the war.

When Lady Anne – her parents' fifth and youngest child – was born, her father had not yet acceded to the dukedom. He did so 11 years later, inheriting Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, the Bolton Abbey estate and Compton Place at Eastbourne.

In 1950 he died suddenly at 55, while chopping wood, reports at the time remarking that it was the most expensive wood ever chopped, because of the death duties that followed.

Lady Anne married Michael Lambert Tree in 1949. They had two adopted daughters.