Tag Archives: The National Trust

I’ve lost my Trust

Returning from a break in Dorset, surely the most quintessential of English counties, on the doormat was my annual subscription to the National Trust. I have been a member for at least 40 years and this year is the only time not one of the Trust’s properties has been visited by us.

The letter magnanimously informed me that due to COVID-19 the subscription had remained at last year’s rates (£126), but valued members were essential to ‘keep on caring for the places, collections and nature that unite and sustain us all’.

Over the years a trip to an NT property, with a scone for lunch, has been a regular day out. London alone has dozens worth a visit from the beautifully restored Ightham Mote to Churchill’s Chartwell.

But I’m seriously considering leaving my favourite charity, as far from being run, as in the past, by the Women’s Institue Countryside Diaspora, it is now been overtaken by the urban elite – all but one of its council members live in towns.

First, they spent our subscriptions on encouraging ‘ethnic minorities’ to visit the countryside owned by them. Patronising in the extreme. Not content they persued what historian Sir Roy Strong described as “being obsessed with ticking the boxes of the disabled, the aged, LGBT and ethnic communities”.

Now the Trust has inaugurated what they call ‘Re-Set’, a programme to offset the £200 million loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic and have made what they describe as a ‘Curation and Experience’. This has entailed the removal of all senior curatorial posts and their lead curators in the regions, thus dropping the Trust’s excellence in scholarship and conservation at a stroke. In total 1,200 staff are being made redundant, and how many volunteers have been told their services are no longer required has not been disclosed.

However, the Trust has found the resources to have a year-long audit on all its 300-odd properties to find which were built using the proceeds of slavery or colonialism. Incredibly they are also to examine the source of each of the Trust’s 1.5 million antiques, artworks and artefacts, a daunting and pointless exercise at the best of times.

They have form for moving away from the original motive of their founding fathers and the National Trust Act of 1937, which gave the explicit aims of ‘preservation of buildings of national interest along with their furniture and pictures, and the preservation of beautiful landscapes’. This Act has, in the past, given the Trust special privileges which now seem to be abandoned in favour of a ‘woke’ ethos.

Guides at Felbrigg Hall staged a revolt after being ordered to wear rainbow-coloured lanyards to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the legalization of homosexuality, in fact, I met with NT volunteers when holidaying in Jersey, who had resigned after a lifetime of service to the Trust due to a similar edict.

Avebury Manor decided that Christianity might be offensive to their ‘target’ audience and dropped the abbreviations BC and AD from their signage.

Cadbury’s Easter Egg Hunt has now been downplayed to become just an egg hunt, should the most important date on the Christian calendar be mentioned.

All this is what they call a repurposing to remove the outdated mansion experience and being British. It’s just a pity none of this relates to their core members, be they white middle-class or ethnic minorities wanting a pleasant day out with their children.

One of its senior curators announced that it should stop emphasizing the role of families in the history of stately homes because this: ‘privileges heterosexual lives’. So will many families now be discouraged from entering their sacred portals, whatever their religion, gender, sexuality or ethnicity?

Featured image: Detail of the South front of Southwell Workhouse owned by the National Trust by Richard Croft (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Built in 1824 as a union workhouse for the villages around Southwell, it was originally known as the Thurgarton Incorporation Workhouse. Southwell had its own smaller workhouse at that time (now the Baptist Chapel), but joined in 1834 when it became the Southwell Union Workhouse.

The design was based on the ideas of the Rv. J.T.Becher, a local man, with segregation of the various classes of inmates, and it became the model for the hundreds of workhouses erected as a result of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act.

In the latter part of the 19th century, many workhouses developed into Hospitals. At Southwell, a new infirmary wing was built in 1871 to house the sick and infirm, with the original building continuing to provide residential accommodation for the poor. This function continued in the modified form right up until the 1980s, and as a result, the interior remained remarkably little altered. As such it provides a remarkable example of an early 19th-century workhouse. It is currently run by the National Trust.

The main building is Listed Grade II*, and the range of outbuildings on the northern side is Listed Grade II. The gardens to the front of the building have been partly restored to their original use as a vegetable garden and are also Listed Grade II*.

Grumpy and dumpy

One hundred years ago on the 13th August 1912 Octavia Hill one of the most influential women of her generation died. Scorned by the liberal left which is probably the reason the Guardian or the BBC will not be recording this century of her death.

In her life she was a founder member in the formation of the National Trust, started the concept of London’s Green Belt, pioneered female activism and was the first to see the benefits of refurbishing Victorian slums to provide social housing for rent.

[M]any of her beliefs have fallen from favour; although never marrying herself she believed that a woman’s primary duty was with her family and a woman’s role should not encroach the nale sphere – this meant she did not speak publicly and performed much of her philanthropy ‘behind the scenes’.

In 1864 with a loan from John Ruskin she redevelopeda handful of run sown properties in Marlebone Place renting thrm to the poor at low rates.

So successful was this and other subsequent projects the Ecclesiastical Commission asked her to take over the management of a few properties in Southwark, which she did on the condition she could acquire a plot of land to turn into a garden dor local people.

This ‘Red Cross’ garden soon became a village in south London providing open-air festivals, a flower show, indoor entertainment, education and a library club.

More redevelopments followed in Lambeth and Walworth.

Tenants had to pay their rent on time or be evicted, this she argued fostered responsibility and respect for work turning the tenants into good citizens. To ensure they didn’t lose their home Octavia Hill organised employment opportunities.

Recognising her expertise the government of the day appointed her to the Roal Commission on the Poor Law.

In a refreshing change to today’s attitudes she became a founder member of the Charity Organisation Society which aimed to promote a rational approach to giving by distinguishing between the deserving and undeserving poor, and by stressing the significance of individual responsibility. Charity was to be a vehicle for encouraging self-help which would be given to the deserving poor only. For example, the COS would not endorse just giving out money but would give a sewing machine to enable someone to earn a living. Octavia stridently opposed relief to the able-bodied; she argued that giving money in this way would be of no long term benefit and, worse, would discourage the habit of thrift and saving for a ‘rainy day’. The poor needed to be taught self-control and foresight, not come to rely on handouts.

Octavia’s vision and work helped to open up a professional role for women at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuies. She recruited middle-class women as volunteer rent collectors, although they had a much wider role than that title suggests. Octavia trained them to assess the way tenants were living and to inspect their homes; in addition to this rent collecters were expected to set an example, these women were in effect prototype social workers who, through the act of rent collecting, gained access to the lives of the poor whom they met twice a week.

Although Octavia Hill was overweight and didn’t suffer fools gladly she was a pioneer of ‘cultural philanthropy’ and was convinced that exposure to art and beauty could improve the life of the poor. She founded the Kyrle Society in 1875 which planted trees and flowers in urban areas and promoted aesthetics in the decoration and building of houses. This led to the formation of the Green Belt after the Second World War.

Octavia Hill argued strongly against government involvement in rectifying social problems: she resisted any participation of the State in providing welfare services and objected to council housing, school dinners and free health care.

But probably her biggest achievement was the National Trust which in addition to saving 350 houses from the Nation has preserved woodland and open spaces and over recent years acquired 720 miles of coastline protecting it from development.