by Will Lloyd
Monday, 1
November 2021
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17:19

Nobody can reform the National Trust

The charity has become the most conservative force in England
by Will Lloyd
An England where nothing ever changes. Credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Watching the National Trust’s Annual General Meeting is not my usual idea of fun. But last Saturday’s AGM was supposed to be different.

Ever since the Trust released a report in September 2020 tracing its properties’ connections to colonialism and slavery, the mood music around the place had been Wagnerian, apocalyptic.


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Two sides emerged: the ‘woke’ establishment that ran one of the country’s largest charities, and Restore Trust, a rebel group dredged from the Telegraph‘s comment desk (and comment section), that wanted to put all that nasty politicisation back in its box.

A recent feature all but promised blood in the cream teas at this year’s meeting. I expected to see flying dentures and passionate speeches, walking sticks brandishingly revealed to be swords, and maybe a disgusted Simon Heffer launching a bust of Thomas Carlyle at the Trust’s council.

Sadly the reality was much more prosaic. Restore Trust put forward three resolutions and won one of them: a proposal to disclose the full of pay of the National Trust’s senior staff. It lost the other two, largely because the Trust had 20,000 or so discretionary votes at its disposal. Two Restore candidates were elected to the council. There was no violence on the floor of the hall.

The AGM was, nevertheless, revealing — because the Trust itself is revealing. Of England, and the way we think about ourselves here. The Trust was set up during a levitating moment in our national history when England ruled the world. High Victorian reformers with names like Canon Hardwick Drummond Rawnsley established it with the wonderfully patronising notion of gifting the working classes some fresh air.

England’s power soon melted away. But the Trust’s remained — and it’s become something like an imperial power within England’s borders. It’s mission is grander, greater, and more expansive than ever. “For ever, for everyone” goes its motto. It owns more land than the Ministry of Defence, the Crown, and the Church.

Far more telling than its report about colonialism and slavery (every institution in the country has been busily doing this for 18 months now) was the way the Trust condemned the Government’s plans for new permitted development rules earlier this year. No building please, we’re English!

In 2005 A.A. Gill said the Trust was part of a “nostalgia industry of heritage”. The only message it had for us was that the “best is all behind us, we will never be able to make or live as marvellously as our ancestors”. The only role we had left in the world was insular: be the museum curators, droning tour guides and assiduous embalmers of a past where all the sharp objects have been removed.

On Saturday both sides fell into this pattern, even as they thought they were in combat with each other. The Trust’s current rulers want feel-bad nostalgia. Restore want feel-good nostalgia. Cringe under a marble statue of your betters, or hate those figures so irrationally you want to chuck them into a river.

The battle around the Trust, far from revealing “the boiling emotions of a nation in flux” as the Guardian put it, shows a country with its head screwed tightly into the sand.

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V Solar
V Solar
1 year ago

I haven’t visited a National Trust property for a few years now but when I did enjoyed my visits because I love looking at beautiful houses, beautiful furniture and beautiful landscaped gardens full of magnificent mature trees. I never heard any droning tour guides, they were usually quite well informed and interesting as well as enthusiastic. It was a simple pleasure. How I miss the days of such simple pleasures.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago
Reply to  V Solar

I was going to say the same. Most of the guides from my experience were enthusiatic volunteers quite distinct from the functionaries one finds at English heritage sites.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago

Those volunteers are precisely the ones being targeted by the Trust campaign of vilification and slander.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

“Nobody Can Reform The National Trust’
The charity has become a the most conservative force in England”
“Cringe under a marble statue of your betters, or hate those figures so irrationally you want to chuck them into a river.”

CONSERVATIVE?????????????????

The National Trust is to the Left of Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ “The revolution aimed to destroy the “Four Olds” (i.e., old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas)” But different in that the NT leadership also hate Britain wile the Chinese were very Nationalist.

That this Amazing Organization is run by those who hate Great Britain, its people, its past, its culture, its world contributions, is one of the most obscene things in all the Post-Modernist West.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Galeti – it’s Will Lloyd. Check out your perception of reality before reading.

Last edited 1 year ago by Dustin Needle
V Solar
V Solar
1 year ago

Also, I never cringed under any statue of my ‘betters’ because I knew that the house those aristocrats once occupied is owned by the National Trust. And I was always well aware that my ancestors would likely only have entered such a house as servants but why should that have stopped me taking aesthetic pleasure in the building and its content and grounds? You can own objects but you can’t own the experience of beauty – the National Trust once offered that.
Is it no longer possible to get lost in the experience of gazing at an equisite piece of marquetry without having to simultaniously hold in mind hundreds of miserable facts about the social conditions of the eighteenth century? Apparently not. We are the are the ‘left behind’, us limping old droners and droolers who still feel uplifted by beauty and who are prepared to empty our minds just for an hour or two wandering around a lovely garden.

Dr Stephen Nightingale
Dr Stephen Nightingale
1 year ago
Reply to  V Solar

But you can still wander around some great stately home appreciating the beauty of the place if you so choose, unsoiled by the back story of how it came to be. There are however layers of historical fact to be uncovered, and some of that is troubling. Some of us feel better for knowing about the dirt. Didn’t stop me getting married in a re-purposed stately home.
Personally I’m more of an English Heritage man, and they tend a lot more to ruined Abbeys than pristine stately homes. You cannot look round a ruined abbey without wondering how it came to be that way, who did it and who benefited. And to be sure you can also imagine and piece together the lives the monks and lay brothers led, what it took to run the estate, including the thousands of surrounding and far-flung agricultural acres, and how the abbey functioned in the regional economy ( in many places, functioned *as* the regional economy). A lifetime of visits won[‘t give you the whole story, there is always more to learn.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 year ago

“There are however layers of historical fact to be uncovered, and some of that is troubling.”
Why is it troubling? It’s not like finding an on-going scandal. Slavery was abolished. Britain played a leading role in that. The truth about the past should be interesting, hopefully it is gripping. But, what then?

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
1 year ago

I come here to read original content not readily available in the mainstream media. If I want to read The Guardian I will buy The Guardian.
I suggest that Will Lloyd reads his Mission Statement.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

So all the old buildings have been funded by slavery and colonial exploitation. We should definitely remove them because our children will be corrupted. It would be expensive to knock them down but we could converts them to flats to house immigrants from Africa.
When this has been done, our children can be taken on trips to the houses to show that the evil British have tried to change for the better.

Julia H
Julia H
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Don’t give them ideas…

William Cameron
William Cameron
1 year ago

On that basis the Pyramids need to go – and the hanging gardens of Babylon, and The Colossus, all built with slaves.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 year ago

IN the USA, The Left would have the White House in Washington burned to the ground. These people are not only unreasonable, they are insane. It’s virtue signaling of the highest order and repulsive as can be.

Charles Lewis
Charles Lewis
1 year ago

The NT went disgustingly woke some months ago. There was no way then, nor is there now, that I would any longer support an organiasation run by these critical race theorists, these half-witted England-hating politicised lummocks

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Lewis

Wrong ‘theory'(read ‘speculation’). The driving force behind the curation methodology is Post Colonial ‘Theory’/’Speculation’.

Diana Durham
Diana Durham
1 year ago

This article is juvenile.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago
Reply to  Diana Durham

This writer likewise.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 year ago

Okay, so you’ve written a screed, but nothing constructive about any ‘reforms’. That said, liberals / The Left tend to dominate every cultural sphere today. Methinks if in fact the Nat’l Trust is so ‘conservative’, one could look at its role as a ‘balancing act’. However, it does what it set out to do, to conserve buildings and countryside for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

Last edited 1 year ago by Cathy Carron
Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
1 year ago

Would I be a lesser person if I had a slave trader or plantation owner as an ancestor? Or a better person because they were successful? Or would I be a better person if they went bankrupt so I was not corrupted by their ill-gotten gains? Or a better or worse person because an ancestor was an illiterate journey man. I think it is more likely that I am what I am because of those alive in my lifetime and how I have responded to them. If you think otherwise I suggest you do not research your ancestors, it is full of surprises. Not least because if you go back far enough there are an awful lot of them.

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

A reasoned reply. I would be interested to read an article on how the pressures of immigration lead to the necessity of paving over Paradises for parking lots.

R S Foster
R S Foster
1 year ago

…I think young Master Lloyd must have been required to visit NT Houses at the weekend, when he wanted to spend his time in a black and purple painted bedroom with the blinds down, on his play-station…