JOHN Baring owned the Grange Estate at Northington, Alresford, and helped set up an annual opera festival there in 1998. He earned two knighthoods but inherited the title Ashburton from his Lord-Lieutenant father.

He was at heart a countryman, whose favourite time for a walk was at dusk, alone, in order to catch the wildlife busy at their work. He was incredibly knowledgeable about trees, which he could identify if you brought him even a single leaf, and he knew not just about birds but their habits and their seasons. He had a curious and special empathy with amphibians and reptiles. His eyes lit up with delight in the company of newts, frogs, toads and snakes. He gave academic and conservation organisations open access to the estate and was delighted to study their researches: from looking at silt in the lakes to determine the rate of nutrient deposition of historic farming practices, to mapping 18th- and 19th-century water-meadow systems and a comprehensive survey of rare aquatic invertebrates found only in winterbournes. The estate was found to be one of the last breeding grounds in the south of England of the threatened white-clawed crayfish and provided the brood-stock for the establishment of ark sites elsewhere. He shared these passions with his sons, who remembered his delight in the technical issues behind scientific enquiry.

Hampshire Chronicle:

John worked for Baring Brothers for most of his working life, helping to transfer ownership of the bank to the charitable Baring Foundation in 1969. He was chairman of the bank from 1974–89, during which time the business grew its balance sheet from £30 million to £3 billion. By 1995 the Baring Foundation had grown into the 10th largest grant-giving charity in the UK. The sudden collapse of the bank that year, due to a trader in Singapore trying to hide his losses in the toxic financial futures market was therefore a double tragedy.

After retiring as chairman, John had an extraordinary second career as chairman of BP. It fell to him, as senior director, to mount the boardroom coup of 1992 which sacked the ambitious Bob Horton, a brilliant but by then chaotic chairman. John confessed that it was ‘the most frightening thing that I have ever done’. Although he preferred a properly organized briefing paper to a live debate, he knew how to control a meeting. He allowed the opposition the conversational rope with which to hang themselves, while he kept his silence. When pressed to give his opinion, it was invariably short, sharp and to the point, and would be accepted as the chairman’s summary.

When the Grange Estate came back on the market in 1964, having been sold by his profligate grandfather in 1934, John and his father were keen to buy it back. They asked an agent to bid at the public auction in Winchester, while they stood at the back, pretending to be innocent bystanders. When the hammer fell, the entire room rose and turned to applaud them. After a forty-year interregnum, the Barings had regained their Hampshire seat.

Hampshire Chronicle:

In 1972, John won the nickname of ‘Basher’ Baring from vocal conservationists in the press. He was threatening to knock down The Grange, having already done the same to nearby Stratton Park a decade or so earlier. But the story is more complicated. He and his father had privately offered The Grange to the nation, but had been turned down. Ironically the press furore against ‘Basher’ Baring served its purpose, giving politicians the excuse to step forward and save The Grange for the nation.

To his own family, John was not so much a ‘basher’ as a builder. He may well be the only man of his generation to have commissioned and built two contemporary country houses. Behind the preserved 19th-century portico of Stratton Park rose a visionary modernist house of glass, brick and fishponds created by Stephen Gardiner and Christopher Knight. When the M3 was extended through the garden, John decided to build again on the other side of the water from The Grange. Francis Pollen’s Lake House is almost Japanese in the purity of its lines and texture, but filleted with pared down classical details, and imaginatively placed beside the old walled garden. His final building project was to aid, encourage and assist Wasfi Kani and Michael Moody in turning the old orangery of The Grange into a state-of-the-art theatre for their summer opera festival. This dream team worked well for 18 years, before falling out and going their separate ways. Fortunately, a new company was created by Michael Moody and Michael Chance and the Grange Festival continues to rave reviews to this day

John died at home at the age of 91. He is survived by his wife Sally and his four children by his first wife.