Updated 18th April 2020
Our very history is written in stone, masonry, bricks and mortar; as well as money.
From the fortified castles of the descendants of the Norman conquerors, onwards to the Plantagenets, Lancaster and York, through the divergence and Reformation turmoil of the Tudors. Then the Stuarts; and the Hanovers, giving rise finally to the Windsors, the House which rules, in the typical British in an understated manner as a Constitutional Monarch. All this over the complicated slices of real-estate and people which travel under the acronym of GB&NI: Great Britain & Northern Ireland
To place this story in perspective, we must look at the principal protagonists, the beginnings of the families who built Industrial Britain, and also their homes and estates. The first Elizabethan Age was funded mainly through legitimised piracy, with freebooters such as Drake, Frobisher, Hawkins and Raleigh. As the ages progressed, trade was established on a more regular footing, but the Home Nations were still based largely on agriculture.
From the very birth of the Industrial Revolution, there have only been two driving forces behind the vast spread of industrial processes, inventions, ideas and the literal revolution which altered GB&NI from a small trading, mainly arable and agricultural Nation-State: into the Behemoth which was Georgian and Victorian Britain.
The first force? PROFIT: Making money! Very, very few ideas, inventions or processes were developed on an altruistic basis. 99% of the ideology, the demands of the first engineers which powered that Revolution were made or born on the basis that, by use of this new technology; or that improved process, things could be made cheaper, better, more accessible to the masses. It was profit, or the possibility of profit, which gave the impetus which drove mine owners to employ the engines of Newcomen and James Watt, so as to pump away the water which threatened production. The owners of the mines made increasing profits powering factories, and the industries which had sprung from the minds of Arkwright, of Trevithick and of Corliss spread their tentacles of work, of ever-more efficiency; but mainly of profit into every corner of GB&NI.
With the profits came the second of those primeval forces; the idea of dynasty, of establishing a Family whose wealth and prestige, made possible solely by hard work, invention and commercial inspiration, would last for generations. The original castles and stately homes of the old aristocracy were now joined by the new aristocracy, made of families, who brought new to wealth and power. They were sufficiently astute to invest in new houses, new mansions and huge estates and land holdings; which advertised the fact that the new owners, the new families, were here, and here to stay.
The huge industries created by this ‘new’ aristocracy made money on a scale unheard of, and the families grew and prospered. From bridges to ships, from canals to armaments to cotton weaving, the new leaders of the noisy, dirty revolution which brought work to millions married and brought children into their worlds, hoping that their new dynasties would prove as long, if not longer, than the ‘old’ aristocratic families.
The driving term, the word which outlasts all others is Family. The idea that a man and woman’s joint wealth, position and estate can and will outlast them both has been the driving force behind just about all Emperors, Kings and Queens and even the humblest of citizens can hope to establish a tiny sense of immortality. With a strong son or a daughter to carry on their name, to establish themselves either in a new continent, or just further down the street in which they were themselves born.
An example of the ‘New Wealthy’ was Sir Richard Arkwright. The Arkwrights are notable because the scale of the fortune amassed by Sir Richard (1732-92) and his son being so great that it not only founded four landed dynasties but ensured the cash wealth of his numerous descendants into the third and even the fourth generation. Three branches of the family which were founded by sons of Richard Arkwright (1755-1843), all of whom were set up in landed estates by their father. The family fortune, held in Richard’s own seat at Willersley Castle in Derbyshire, which passed to his third son, Peter Arkwright (1784-1866), and the other properties owned by Peter’s descendants. At his death, each of his surviving sons received a large cash legacy as well as the estate on which they were established, and four of them – Robert, John, Peter and Joseph – passed on their property to their descendants. Peter Arkwright (1784-1866), the third son, who was a partner in the Arkwright bank, inherited the core Willersley Castle estate, and also much of his father’s remaining cotton-spinning interests.
But as the ages passed, so did the virility, wealth and power of those ‘New’ Aristocrats, and a further decline was brought about by the imposition of ‘death duties’ upon estates great and small, where estates held together for centuries were sold off piecemeal to satisfy the taxman. As well as that, it was discovered that the vast palaces, the mansions of many rooms, were hard to heat, hard to repair and keep watertight, and so was born the idea of the National Trust. Three people, all of whom had well-developed social consciences, decided that a single charity be set up devoted to heritage preservation of both buildings and gardens, and to allow them to be visited by all who desired. Robert Hunter, one of the original people behind the idea of preservation, gave a speech at the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, in Birmingham, in which he talked about the formation of a society to protect land.
He said The central idea is that of a Land Company, formed not for the promotion of thrift or the spread of political principles, and not primarily for profit, but with a view to the protection of the public interest in open spaces in the country. The functions should include, the acquisition and holding of properties to which common rights are attached; the acquisition of manors … and the maintenance and management of gardens in towns as such, and the maintenance and management of any buildings connected with them as places of resort for recreation and instruction.
On 12th January 1895, Hill, Hunter and Rawnsley founded The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest and Natural Beauty in England and Wales to set aside the best and most beautiful parts of Britain for the public and posterity, and to provide sitting rooms for the poor in the countryside. It is a registered company under the Companies Act. The Trust went from strength to strength, occasionally making bad investments, but mainly good. The Trust’s history can be viewed in the links, and, in this writer’s opinion, over the decades it has been active; has performed a useful and worthwhile purpose.
But strained times have come to the National Trust, care of certain of those who have been appointed to run this vast operation, so dependent as it is on the goodwill of the thousands of volunteers who give of their time, so that the Trust’s properties be maintained, and shown to the paying public.
Consider Cragside the former home of Lord Armstrong, the armaments industry magnate which was acquired by the Trust in 1977 and has been open to the public since 1979. It was the first private residence in the world to be lit by electric light, and it still features many of the ideas and inventions which helped build the Armstrong’s huge fortune. The Trust decided to give over £100,000.00 for an exhibition. Visitors to Cragside were disappointed to find that a large proportion of the significant art collection at the Northumberland property and former home of Lord William Armstrong had been hidden behind white sheets while sculptures of men had bags placed over their heads. The Great Cragside Cover-up was intended to shine a spotlight on the life of the Victorian engineer and industrialist’s wife, Lady Margaret Armstrong, as well as other women who lived at the country house It was one of a number of events at National Trust properties marking 100 years of women’s suffrage in Britain.
Consider also the reign of Dame Helen Ghosh, a typical QUANGO Queen Bee, who stated that the National Trust’s biggest threat was from ‘Climate Change’, stating that wind-turbines were rather beautiful things; but also ordered all volunteers at a ‘stately home’ to wear multi-coloured ‘Gay Pride’ lanyard tags in support of LGBTQ+. Under Dame Helen in particular, the laudable original aims appear to have been abandoned. Forget beautiful buildings and landscapes; what now matters is imposing modern political correctness on our greatest country houses. It is symptomatic of an organisation that no longer cares for history. But fortunately, Dame Helen got the hint, and walked away to another spell of ‘easy life’, picking up yet another huge salary as the titular head of an Oxford College.
We now have yet another poking her nose up out of the uncut grass, as we read that Rachel Lennon, public programmes curator for the National Trust, and also incidentally the face behind the Great Cragside Cover Up, has mourned the emphasising of the importance of families in stately homes as it “privileges heterosexual lives”.
“The past exclusion and misrepresentation of LGBTQ+ lives is a reality inherited by today’s historians and curators, as well as audiences” she stated.
Seems as though this person wishes to wipe out all reference to the ‘Family’ ideal, as represented in the homes and lives of both the Old and the New Aristocracies. Where Father, Mother and Children are remembered and indeed defined as the Ideal of a Life to be remembered and emulated.
The National Trust is losing it’s way.