The National Trust (6)

In order to take a break from National Trust bashing which I can imagine is dispiriting for those involved, not least – let us not forget – the many experts who are in danger of losing their jobs, I thought I would draw up my list of top ten properties, which I hope will stay open, not least to remind myself of how precious the experience of these properties has been:-

1. Seaton Delaval Hall

Acquired relatively recently and most of it a ruin, so hard to let out for corporate entertainment, but an example of how the National Trust can intervene to save a house of extraordinary and slightly savage grandeur.

2. Waddesdon Manor

No problem here, I hope, since the management of the property has been sub-contracted to Jacob Rothschild, who has run a consistently innovative exhibitions programme, including Edmund de Waal and busts of Pope, as well as having an excellent shop.

3. Petworth

A great house, which, when I visited recently was exceptionally well displayed and I had forgotten how wonderful its collection of sculpture is. No possibility, I hope, of it being put in store.

4. Knole

I haven’t been for years – maybe this is a prompt – but I discover that only the park is currently open, no substitute for the experience of a great and important historic house.

5. Penrhyn Castle

I choose Penrhyn over Plas Newydd, because of its immense grandiosity and unusual neo-Norman design. We went recently. I can’t imagine that this would lend itself to anything other than low-key stewarding, not, please, guided tours.

6. Erddig

I have thought of this a lot recently in the light of the current controversy, since its acquisition in the 1970s demonstrates that the National Trust can be very pioneering in terms of social history when it chooses to be.

7. Beningbrough

Again, a good example of pioneering practice in the 1970s when very low visitor numbers – only 5,000 per annum (in those days the Trust revealed its annual visitor numbers) – encouraged the Trust to develop a pioneering partnership with the NPG.

8. Antony

Antony in Cornwall is probably one of the smaller properties which is at risk under the new policy, but is still lived in and cared for by the Carew Poles who have been admirable stewards/tenants, demonstrating the value of working closely with the donor families.

9. Upton House, Warwickshire

A reminder that the National Trust has so many houses with exceptionally important art collections. I would be surprised if the terms of tax exemption do not require regular opening.

10. Sutton House

They are not all relics of landowners, who we are now being encouraged to hate, but there are some more local properties, like Peckover in Wisbech, which probably do deserve a different approach, but not, surely, closure.

I could list another ten easily. The more I think of it, the odder it seems that the National Trust should regard the incredible wealth of its holdings as problematic, instead of the most wonderful rich resource, to be enjoyed and explored, not packed up into storage and given over to corporate hire. What happened to its spirit of innovation ?

But then, I’ve just remembered, I’m not their target market, being an enthusiast and worse, I could be regarded as a member of that odious species, the cognoscenti.

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2 thoughts on “The National Trust (6)

  1. joan says:

    I’m going to put my hand up here and immediately say that I do, of course, have no specialist knowledge about managing heritage attractions but as a member of both the National Trust and English Heritage I’m paying some attention to what is unfolding. I’ve been a member of the Trust for probably about 20 years. We took out membership when our children were small and we were doing lots of travelling around the country visiting relatives and needing places en route to stop off (anything to avoid a motorway service station). It fulfilled a similar function to our membership of the YHA. Sutton Hoo was a particular favourite and various places in Shropshire where the grandparents live. There are probably lots of other members like us who are likely to have seen more of the grounds of the buildings in the National Trust portfolio than inside the actual houses. And, of course, we have taken part in lots of family activities especially at Sutton House and Eltham Palace. I probably should cancel my membership now as I can’t remember the last time I actually used it. Despite having a degree in textile technology and an interest in historical textiles I’ve never given any thought to what specialists the Trust employ. What I’m trying to say is that I’m guessing that the National Trust are in a financial bind and hope that the changes they propose to make won’t have too big an impact on membership numbers as so many of the six million are people like me – people who are glad it exists and like to rubberneck at other, fancier, people’s lives but have no in depth knowledge.

    On a separate matter in connection with Waddesdon one of the saddest things in my part of the world is the poor state of the Rothschild Mausoleum in the West Ham Jewish cemetery ten minutes walk from my front door. The cemetery is closed because of anti semitic attacks but you can see the Mausoleum from the next door West Ham cemetery.

    • Dear Joan, That’s bad about the Rothschild Mausoleum. Victor Rothschild, I believe, was buried in the Brady Street Cemetery behind Sainsbury’s, but you have to peer over the wall. I suspect, as you say, your experience of the Trust is quite normal, visiting properties less than the full value of membership, but carrying on as long as it feels like a good cause, which is why goodwill must be so important to it. Charles

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