As I drove past the gates of Plas Newydd this morning and saw that its gates were firmly closed (I now discover owing to the storms), although the signs indicated very clearly that it was open, I couldn’t help but think about the news this morning that in future it plans to keep only twenty properties open, which is presumably very unlikely to include Plas Newydd with its Rex Whistler murals or Penrhyn Castle, which have both been good wet weather destinations for us over the years, let alone a host of other important historic properties from Berrington Hall in Herfordshire to Felbrigg in Norfolk.
I am, of course, aware that the move to take on responsibility for country houses is mainly post-war, owing to punitive taxation, and that in recent years, from Fiona Reynolds onwards, the National Trust has, for good reasons, re-emphasised its responsibilities towards landscape, the countryside and environmentalism. But only 20 ? Where does this leave its charitable responsibilities, its duties towards the owners from whom they took ownership on, and indeed their status as the primary national body responsible for the care, preservation and, most especially, access to, country houses ? Has its governing body, one wonders, discussed and agreed to this radical change ? And what are its over five million members going to think when it finds the gates to so many country houses closed as in the eighteenth century ?