Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

The National Distrust

I recently posted about the actions of the National Trust in respect of the colonial and slave owning links of not a few of their properties and the reaction of members to this concern in Do you trust The National Trust? and More Rumblings at the National Trust 

The Trust has now completed its survey of which of those houses do have such links. Concern about the way it was being compiled are discussed in National Trust launches a national witch-hunt from a fortnight ago. Another piece from BBC NewsThe National Trust homes where colonial links are 'umbilical'suggests a rather obsessive quest for such evidence, a determination to find it and to emphasise it at all costs. The cultural Inquisitor - or Commissar - or the Witch Finder General comes to call? 

In some cases, as with Lord Curzon at Kedledton, his links as Viceroy to India are blindingly obvious. Being Viceroy of India is about much more than some schoolbook definition of colonialism - it is about governance, about cultural contact and interchange, about the world as it was in 1898-1905, and how Britons, Indians and everyone else of the time saw themselves.

The report has drawn criticism as can be seen in these reports from the Mailonline at How dare National Trust link Wordsworth to slavery? and Culture Secretary tells National Trust to focus on protecting heritage

I do not doubt but that many country houses built since the sixteenth century and the families which built and owned them, whether now owned by the National Trust, by the descendants of the original owners or by others do indeed represent links and profits from colonial investments, including the ownership of slaves. That is simply a fact of history. It is part of the context of the times when the houses were created. We today may find slavery abhorrent, but that is a phenomenon of the last two hundred and fifty years or so. For most of human history enslaving others - be they defeated opponents in war, other ethnic groups or rebels from one’s own community - has been commonplace. That does not make it good but it does remind us of the fallen nature of Man. The past, in the well known phrase, is another country - they do things differently there.

In respect of historic houses it can be acknowledged in histories of the property - indeed it may explain the affluence that could create such abodes. However to hunt after it to satisfy the troubled modern liberal conscience, to virtue-signal, to show how woke one is, is to go far beyond the needs of historical accuracy and honesty. What we risk, as with wishing to remove statues - be it the blackamoor symbolising Africa at Dunham Massey, or Cecil Rhodes at Oriel, or Edward Colston in Bristol or anybody else - is a new version of the zealous cultural puritanism that seeks to abolish or annihilate the past. What this country suffered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, or France from 1792, or Russia after 1917 and eastern Europe after 1945 was far more drastic, but the principle is regrettably similar. Be honest about the past, which you cannot undo. Learn from it and learn to treat everyone with decency today. To be woke is so often revoltingly patronising, and imbued with smug self righteousness.

It is a great pity that a significant part of the higher echelons of the National Trust appears to have been captured by these anguished liberals and their neo-Fabianism. It will serve them right if they find the troops of ordinary members not merely grumbling but deserting.

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