Thinking allowed — 18 April 2017
Losing the Trust

The Victoria and Albert Museum once ran a promotion which read: ’An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached’. That, I suppose, is one way of describing one of the greatest repositories of humanity in the world.

The National Trust, which with over 4 million members is the largest heritage charity in Europe and is now becoming guilty of trivialising the aims of its Victorian founders in the same way as the V&A.

But first I have to declare an interest. I have been a member of the Trust for over 40 years and seen its decline as the guardian of the greatest collection of properties in the world to an aspiring follower of politically correct ideology.

In this post, we will only address the Trust properties in London, but the malaise is worse, much worse, in the shires.

I was once at Osterley Park in Hounslow, with its rare example of exquisite Adam interiors. It was a very hot summers day, we left the house after viewing the ornate plasterwork to see a young gardener stripped to the waist maintaining the property’s formal gardens. So, nothing unusual you might say, except upon his back was tattooed a perfect representation of those Georgian interiors, so impressed was he by their beauty.

Osterley-interior

Interior of Osterley Park replicated on gardener’s back

So what has the Trust in mind for this unique building on London’s doorstep?

They are spending £356,000 to build a child-friendly leisure centre. As the promotion asserts:

A new skills area for young families providing kids with a safe place to learn to cycle and grow confidence.

And there’s me assuming that local councils provided parks for that very purpose.

Patronising signs at Osterley inform you that the scullery maid’s job of emptying chamber pots was ‘A very smelly job’. Really!

Sutton House in Hackney has taken Black History Month to its bosom. During November the house is turned into a cultural workshop for black issues. Completely ignoring the fact that its original 1535 builder – Sir Ralph Sadleir – was a civil servant who worked in the court of Henry VIII. Sir Ralph might have died the richest commoner in England, but he had nothing to do with slavery and was himself white.

Sutton-House

Sutton House

A later owner, Captain Milward was a silk merchant and lost Sutton House as his business failed due to the advent if cotton produced cheaply by black slave labour. So again, the owner was the victim and not the oppressor.

Even more bizarrely at Sutton House this February, the National Trust shoehorned the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) agenda upon its visitors. An installation in the gardrobe ’celebrated the oldest toilet in Hackney to launch a gender-neutral toilet’.

Just how many National Trust visitors, whatever their sexuality, are interested in a gender neutral Tudor toilet?

Featured image: Osterley Park ©Ethan Doyle White (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Sutton House, 2 & 4 Homerton High Street, is an important historic building with fine interiors built for Ralph Sadleir, courtier to Henry VIII in 1535. With later Georgian alteration to a wing and open year round by the National Trust. ©Colin D Brooking (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Gibson

(4) Readers Comments

  1. Plus the National Trust’s ‘recently’ revised website is utterly awful. Individual NT property websites are so user unfriendly it is astonishing. In fact second from top in dreadfulness only to the Royal Collection website with it’s geeky ‘turnover pages’.

    • And there was me thinking that the problem was my inability to negotiate the National Trust website.

  2. Your post on the National Trust is interesting. From an American’s standpoint I always think they have the worst websites on the web. When I want to find out about the property I go to Wikipedia because NT posts almost no information concerning the history of the property. Their emphasis is heavily leaning toward family and children. Or to wedding and banquet facilities.

    Let me be clear, I have no issue with children going to historic properties. But wouldn’t it be more appropriate to educated them about why this property is valuable, than providing swing sets?

    I certainly understand the need to obtain as much money as possible for the conservation of these properties. I’m sure there is never enough for all the maintenance required. But, the websites representing these properties should provide at least as much information as Wikipedia. I would like a category on why I would want to visit the property. What am I going to learn?

    • The early guidebooks were all about the property, its history and its relationship with the surrounding area. Nowadays the purpose seems to be to pursue a political agenda and not as the BBC would say: inform, educate and entertain. Their appalling website seems just to thrust their politically correct agenda at you without thought about the building’s original story.

      Many years ago I worked with the National Trust’s typographical designer. Ah, those were the days, pages and pages of detail typeset in Baskerville.

What do you have to say for yourself?