Apr 19, 2012

WANTED
DEAD and ALIVE


Simon JENKINS
Chair of the
National Trust

of
England, Wales and Northern Ireland

RESURRECTING
the English Country House
Royal Oak Foundation
April 18, 2012 - Gracie Mansion



My playhouse was built in the colonial style.  With pitched roof, mullioned windows and a brass knob. I spent many happy hours imitating the life I thought I would live. 

Simon Jenkins wants us to play house in the 330 structures the National Trust owns. We've all seen that sign "PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH."  If Jenkins has anything to say about it, that graphic will change to PLEASE ENTER!  We will be invited to sit, cook, lounge, dance and even play the piano.  A game of billards at Upton House is within your reach.
The dining room at Kingston Lacey

Is this the disneyfication of historic houses?  Jenkins argues that houses are expressions of family dreams, vulnerabilities, marriages, aspirations and careers.  It's the difference between being a participant or a spectator. "We are taking the past and reinterpreting it for the present.  In a recent survey, National Trust members were asked how many times they returned to a great house.  The answer:  seen it once, seen it all.  Jenkins wants people to come back and back again. 

How is he going to accomplish this?  By making these great houses "talk" to us.  Inviting visitors to experience the life owners and servants once lived:  sitting at the dining table, reading the diary of Lady X at her dressing table, playing croquet on the great lawn or hitting a tennis ball with a vintage wood racquet.
Hardwick Hall

This philosophy is controversial, especially in a venerable old institution like the National Trust.  Jenkins says "it's the stick-in-the-muds vs. the progressives."  His vision is a post-twitter prophecy. But I suggest using twitter to accomplish his mission.

Changing things up is my speciality.  I live for reinvention.  I will try to embrace Jenkins ideas.  I see myself at Knole, the inspiration for Virginia's Woolf's novel, Orlando, pruning lemon trees in the orangery.