Sunday, February 05, 2012

One of the creators of the National Trust

Above:  have just finished reading this volume of the diaries of James Lee-Milne, one of the creators of the National Trust (as we know it today).  James Lees-Milne, as revealed by these diaries, was not a particularly nice person (selfish, snobbish, two-faced) but his diaries are important because of the details he records.  Especially interesting are his comments about lesser country houses (manor houses) - I made notes as I read and later looked the places up on Google.

The diaries demonstrate how a relatively small clique of people, mostly intermarried, controlled society in the first half of the twentieth-century.  This still goes on today - look at the media, Parliament (all parties), the institutions etc all are controlled by public school Oxbridge people.  And on the rare occasions when the elite responds to criticism of nepotism they recruit someone right out of the ordinary to act as a token (for instance how does Bonnie Greer get to be a trustee of the British Museum?). 

Ordinary working class people don't get a look in, no matter how talented and qualified they might be. 

Anyway, to get back to James Lees-Milne, it is clear from the diaries that the National Trust effectively operates through artifice.  A few of the properties are preserved exactly as they were at the moment of acquisition, but most are a Lees-Milne vision of how a historic house ought to look.  Particularly shocking is the way furnishings and objects are taken from one property to help furnish another.

Above:  Lees-Milne often refers to Charlecote, a National Trust property in Warwickshire.  Last year I read this history of Charlecote by Alice Fairfax-Lucy, and I visited the house twice.  Although the house is interesting it illustrates the enigmatic nature of the country house myth (the tenuous Shakespeare connection, the Victorian re-imagining of the architecture, the Lees-Milne recreation etc).

Above:  on my second visit I took this photograph of the the front of Charlecote.  The man in the doorway is one of the guides.  I waited for ages for him to go inside but he wouldn't budge.

Entrance hall - paintings familiar from the Alice Fairfax-Lucy history; heraldic glass with many impalings; beautiful intaglio table.

Dining room - silver table centre of palms and turbaned characters; beautiful Sevres dessert service; hideous large black French clock.

Library - two globes of the world that I coveted; portraits of royalty interspersed with portraits of the Lucy family; inlaid faux Tudor chairs (made in India).

Billiard room - Chinese porcelain pagoda; portraits of unpleasant-looking Edwardian people; scintillating blue and gold vases (Chinese 1800).

Drawing room - gold-orange satin wall coverings; a pair of marble and gold candelabras (acquired 1843); Indian dress sword captured at Lucknow.

Above:  in a display in the gatehouse was this model of the house, obviously a children's toy.  The house with its accretions of various myths (or fakery if you prefer) is now mediated as a toy presumably for the education of children.  How did they play with this toy I wonder? (Gentry and peasants as opposed to Cowboys and Indians?).

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