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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The English Country House

A colleague lent me a book called the Destruction of the Country House by Roy, now Sir Roy, Strong et al.

The book looked at the houses (if you prefer Stately Homes) that have disappeared in the past 100 years (1875-1974). This means destroyed by act of god (eg fire) or pulled down. The number was staggering (we're talking hundreds) and I guess that the fact we have so much heritage makes us a bit blase.

Strong was not overly optimistic for the future and I'd be interested how he'd view it now. Certainly some of the gardens that were lost have either been restored Biddulph Grange staffs or are being restored, if only slowly, Easton Lodge Essex and the proposed sewage work near Audley End in Essex isn't there.

The Heritage industry is big business and if you visit a Historic property you will find lots of people with you. Many properties are in the hands of the National Trust or English Heritage and have a secure future, even if the Trust are overly conservative.

You have the big private properties Chatsworth, Blenheim etc which I'd imagine are very secure, these have big assets (land) and art collections of national importance and have a reputation to draw the punter in. Its the smaller private properties that are, I imagine most at risk.

These properties are having to compete with the big boys and the National Trust for attendance on a Sunday afternoon and this money is vital. Repairs are expensive and though there is an air of oppluence (ooh look at him living in that big house) the money that was once there has long gone, these properties are struggling.

I think that many of the "house visiting types" join the National Trust and think that our heritage is secure. They of course will visit a Castle Howard (because of its promince) but I wonder how many of them otherwise just look at there National Trust handbook when deciding where to visit (I ought to stress I can sympathise with that view it saves a fortune!)

If you visit a number of smaller properties you will see places that really are struggling to generate income. There was a TV programme about Lullingstone Castle in Kent for instance and its struggles, there is often conflict between generations. The younger generation recognizing the need for change whilst older generations want to maintain the status quo.

So if you are a member of the National Trust may I recommend the Historic Houses Assocation

Stolen shamelessly from the title page,

The HHA represents 1,500 privately owned historic houses, castles and gardens, of which approximately 350 open regularly to the public on a commercial basis, attracting between them some 15 million visitors each year.

Many others open occasionally and many provide unique venues for weddings, civil partnerships, dinners, conferences, concerts, accommodation and other special or charitable events.

There are more privately owned houses open to the public than those in the care of the National Trust, English Heritage and their equivalents in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together.

Single Membership is £36 a year and for those of us who do this sort of thing its an investment.

Some of the properties in the HHA are small with limited opening hours, some are of national importance Woburn, Longleat (not the safari parks), Castle Howard, Holkham Hall & Blenheim for instance (and let me add if you just visit those 5 you save on the membership!! (I ought to stress that the HHA scheme is not for frequent visits to the same property, they get a bit sniffy if you want to visit weekly).

To me though its often the smaller properties that are fun to visit, there is a laissez faire attitude and you don't have the corporateness of the National Trust. Properties go in and out of the scheme.

I ought to state I am in a believer in private property, I am quite happy for the owners of houses not to be open, however! I saw a TV programme once where the owner was not happy that to get English Heritage money he had to open his house for a certain number of days per year. Well DUH!! If you the public to help you have to give up something.

To be honest there are very few great houses not open to the public (Badminton springs to mind), today you can even visit Buckingham Palace!!

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