My childhood was made up of entire county-loads of National Trust properties. In Devon, where we spent all our family holidays, there was always an annual combination of Castle Drogo, Saltram, Knightshayes, Killerton, Overbeck’s, and Buckland Abbey, where I was fascinated by Sir Francis Drake’s drum; and over the River Tamar, forays into Cornwall to Cotehele and Lanhydrock. In the South East, where my grandmother lived in West Sussex, she and I would set out day after day in her rusting old Volkswagen: to Bateman’s, Bodiam, Chartwell, Knole, Lamb House, Petworth, Standen. Visiting friends near Stoke brought Hardwick Hall, Shugborough and Lyme Park. And so on.
What a rich introduction that was to English architecture, and to a world of objects both grand and domestic. My father would always insist on reading aloud from the inventory that the guidebook provided for every room; grounds for a sort of guessing game, as we located each important chair, cabinet, andiron, tapestry, painting or mirror. To a child, things seemed more special for being untouchable: you wondered what would happen if you stepped over the ropes, or moved the dried thistle from an armchair and made yourself comfortable.
While the National Trust collections have a strong imaginary hold on many of their visitors, they are of course also of immeasurable historic and artistic value. These days, I am lucky to work with Trust curators and experts each year, publishing the National Trust Historic Houses and Collections Annual under the editorship of National Trust Head Curator David Adshead. It’s a publication that never fails to demonstrate just how much scope the collections continue to provide for research, discovery, and indeed recovery – a fact underlined this year, just days after the Annual went to press, by the positive attribution of a self-portrait as a genuine work by Rembrandt rather than as previously thought a copy. This year’s Annual features an array of engaging articles on subjects as diverse as Restoration court portraiture, Joshua Reynolds and Dante, 18th-century hunt tapestries, Stanley Spencer, Thomas Carlyle, and the Trevelyan library.
To celebrate the publication of the Annual, Apollo and the National Trust are also hosting an event at Chelsea Old Town Hall on the evening of 7 July. Entitled ‘Beyond the Ropes: A Closer Look at National Trust Collections’, it promises to be an illuminating evening of discussion about these outstanding collections, and insight into their formation and future. Speakers include David Adshead, Christopher Rowell (Furniture Curator and Chairman of the Furniture History Society), Mark Purcell (Libraries Curator), and Sir Nicholas Goodison, who will offer a unique perspective on philanthropy and the transfer of cultural property in the country. Do join us.
‘Beyond the Ropes: A Closer Look at National Trust Collections’ is at Chelsea Old Town Hall, 7 July (7–9pm). To book tickets, click here.
UK subscribers to Apollo will receive the National Trust Historic Houses and Collections Annual with the July/August issue of the magazine. If you are an overseas subscriber, and would like to receive a copy, please contact email@example.com
‘She changed how we encounter sculpture’ – remembering Phyllida Barlow (1944–2023)