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.

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Do you trust the National Trust?

Once upon a time - and not so very long ago - the National Trust was an institution held in high regard, an organisation with a unique call on national affection. That is - to whatever extent may be debated - no longer the case.

I recall reading how families who had transferred their historic properties to the Trust increasingly felt they were being marginalised by the administration and other families were ever more inclined to establish private trusts to preserve and administer their inheritance. Over many years of visiting stately homes my experience was that those run by the families were more attractive to the visitor, more interesting to the scholar than those run by the National Trust - although those NT properties where the family did still have a serious role were significantly more interesting than what was becoming the rather bland and sterile quality of those that were entirely the Trust’s concern.

Add to that the ever increasing cost of joining and then being bombarded with mailing for specific appeals and initiatives, and the attraction of the National Trust began to fade.

That was before the organisation appeared to begin to capitulate so often to what might be termed Trust fundamentalists who were keener on the original intention of safeguarding the landscape than the stately home side of the portfolio as developed from the 1930s.

This has been followed by the widely reported adoption of politically correct and ‘woke’ ideas about the past - notably the legacy of the slave trade - and the feeling that the leadership of the Trust is far removed from the typical member and what they seek in joining.

Last weekend the Daily Telegraph had two articles on this continuing sense of malaise in and around the National Trust. One looked at the general sense of disillusionment and can be seen at Dusty houses and no volunteers: How the National Trust lost its way

The second piece was about the Trust’s controversial plans for what to do with Clandon Park in Surrey following the tragic fire there. Given that the house was insured and £66million available for restoration they seem very strange. The article is by a member of the Onslow family and can be read at National Trust accused of failing to preserve historic mansion

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