Sunday, March 25, 2012

The National Trust

In 1884 Octavia Hill, an English social reformer, tried to save the beautiful manor house Sayes Court. The owner wanted to give it to the nation, but no organisation existed to accept the gift. This laid the foundation of the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty.

The charity was founded with the aim to support and to maintain monuments and sites of public interest. It operates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but not in Scotland. The Trust’s symbol, a sprig of oak leaves and acorns, is supposed to have been inspired by an ornamental moulding of Alfriston Clergy House. This rare 14th-century house was the first building to be acquired by the National Trust in 1896. A century later the National Trust has become the biggest charity of this type in Europe and the second biggest landowner of the UK. Only the Crown possesses more land.

The National Trust is an independent charity, which raises 70% of its income from visitor’s income, lotteries, donations and legacies. The other 30% of the costs are financed by membership subscriptions. British people who are keen on gardens, old castles and cultural activities can become members of the National Trust. They will have to pay a fee – £53 for an annual membership. However, people can directly donate to the organisation or support a specific project; this is what they call ‘current appeals’. Last but not least, the only way to really get involved in the activities of the National Trust is to volunteer. There is a huge list of possible tasks: working as a gardener or as a visit guide for example. The UK has quite a lot of charities, which are present in each and every aspect of social life. This implies a lot of rivalry, which is the reason why the National Trust uses 11% of its annual budget for publicity and communication as well as for the recruitment of new members.

Thomas Hardy's Cottage, Dorset

The preservation and restoration of buildings – sometimes by using ancestral techniques – is definitely the main preoccupation of the Trust. A few examples are the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds which is the only surviving regency theatre in Britain; and the Fleece Inn in Evesham which is a traditional English pub, famous for its morris dancing. Finally, The Vyne in Hampshire is a well-known 16th-century-Tudor house. It is believed that the ring dating from the 4th or 5th century that was found there inspired J.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The National Trust possesses also a few houses where famous English writers lived and worked. Thomas Hardy’s, Rudyard Kipling’s and William Wordsworth’s houses are only a few of them.

Sissinghurst Castle garden

Although the charity takes care of many magnificent gardens the most beautiful garden is without any doubt Sissinghurst Castle garden. It was designed by Vita Sackville-West – poet, socialite and gardener-who once had a love affair with Virginia Woolf. Few gardens have acquired such a potent fame and to this day Sissinghurst is a prime example of romantic gardening at its most successful. Hundreds of houses that belong to the National Trust have been selected for people who want to spend holidays in picturesque English regions.

Today the Trust owns over 300 historic houses but also looks after gardens, mills, coastline, forests, farmland, moorland, islands, castles, nature reserves, villages… and pubs. Generation after generation people enjoy the brilliant work done by the National Trust in order to preserve historic material and natural wealth. That is why the Trust’s motto summarises so well what they are: “We’re a charity that works to preserve and protect historic places and spaces – for ever, for everyone” .

Myriam Carlier & Emmanuel Duquesne

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