Orpen, Edward Richards Richards- (1884–1967), agriculturalist, conservationist and senator, was born Edward Richards Orpen on 20 October 1884 in London, the son of Goddard Henry Orpen (qv) and his wife Adela Elizabeth Orpen (qv) (née Richards). Growing up in London's Bedford Park, where his parents lived from 1880 to 1900, he imbibed aesthetic and intellectual values associated with that cultural enclave. He attended St Paul's School, Hammersmith, from where he went up in 1903 to Trinity College, Cambridge, to read mathematics. On 15 April 1914 he married Margaret Auguste Louise Tomalin, daughter of Lewis Tomalin, founder of the Jaeger clothing company, and his wife Klara (née Hessenberg). Just prior to his marriage he changed his surname to Richards-Orpen to satisfy his mother's wish for her family's name to be preserved once he inherited the family estate of Monksgrange in Killann, Co. Wexford.
Richards-Orpen enlisted in the Army Service Corps (December 1916) and was posted to the British expeditionary force in France, arriving there on 6 February 1917. He served behind the front with responsibility for maintaining the army's fleet of vehicles, training officers in their use, and supervising workers in maintaining and repairing them. He was so effective in this work that promotion came quickly and, on demobilisation in February 1919, he left the army with the rank of captain. In 1922 he and Margaret and their three children went to live at Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds, as it was thought that, given his British army past and his known support of the pro-treaty side, his absence would reduce the chance of Monksgrange being burnt down as part of the civil war reprisals by republican irregulars.
Chipping Campden was the centre of the English arts-and-crafts movement, and Edward's years there enabled him to build on early influences derived from Bedford Park. His new contacts, especially with the artist Alec Miller, led to his appointment to the recently established Rural Industries Bureau, where his job involved travelling through England and Wales identifying practising craftsmen and advising them on how they might improve their work and economic viability. On inheriting Monksgrange at his mother's death (1927), he established Grange Furniture Industry for the design, manufacture and promotion of furniture made by hand to arts-and-crafts principles. While this enterprise was important in giving currency to new ideas of design in Ireland, and led to his becoming secretary of the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland in 1928, it was not successful as a business enterprise and ceased operation in 1933.
Richards-Orpen was committed to making a contribution to the new state in Ireland, and this was principally in the areas of agriculture and related economic developments. He was involved in the establishment in 1932 of a new farmers' organisation, the National Farmers' and Ratepayers' League, and by 1935 was at the heart of discussions on economic and agricultural policy within the newly formed Fine Gael party. While initially James Dillon (qv) was hesitant about Edward's role in the new party – 'ex landlord, ex Army Captain, ex English public school & Cambridge would be about as bad as it could be!!' (Richards-Orpen papers, autobiographical notes, 'The Farmers & Ratepayers League', p. 3) – they became close colleagues and friends and, largely through Dillon, Edward achieved significant behind-the-scenes influence in the party, particularly, but not only, in the areas of agriculture and economics. This led eventually to his appointment as a taoiseach's nominee to Seanad Éireann (1948–51). By this time, however, he had established himself as a public commentator, researcher and writer of considerable significance, a role that continued in the years after he ceased being a senator. He was a regular columnist with the Irish Independent, then the best-selling Irish daily newspaper, writing mainly on agricultural and economic issues, and contributing over seventy major feature articles between 1947 and 1960.
Involved in a wide range of organisations in the new state, Richards-Orpen shared the interests of his father, the historian Goddard Orpen, in the historical and archaeological artefacts of Ireland, and in 1931 was appointed to the Co. Wexford local monuments advisory committee, set up under the National Monuments Act of the previous year. From 1944 until his death he was a member of the National Monuments Council, a body on which he was very active, as annotations on his copies of its circulated papers show. He was a member of the provisional committee that set up An Taisce (the National Trust for Ireland) in 1947, and a member and significant participant in the Irish Grassland Association, the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, and the County Wexford Beekeepers' Association. In addition, he was an active supporter of the Irish Red Cross, the Gate Theatre, the Royal Dublin Society, and the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.
Edward and Margaret Richards-Orpen had three children: John, who succeeded to the ownership of Monksgrange, Virginia and Charmian. Edward died on 14 November 1967 in Monksgrange and is buried in the family graveyard at Askinvillar. A large collection of his papers is held at Monksgrange.