Saturday 7 May 2016

Me and The National Trust by Adèle Geras

Recently, I visited Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire with Helen Craig (illustrator of the Angelina Ballerina books) and our friends, Anne and Philip Stott. The Stotts will be known to readers of my posts because ever since I began to write for The History Girls, they've taken me to wonderful stately homes and delightful parts of the country which  I've longed to visit and which would have been impossible for me to reach without a car of my own.

Wimpole Hall is a delightful place to visit.  It's the largest house in Cambridgshire. There's a farm and a garden  and very beautiful house to look round. The  Chichely family, the Harley family and the Bambridges have lived here. Captain George Bambridge was married to Elsie, the daughter of Rudyard Kipling. They were tenants to begin with, in 1922 but in 1938, they bought the house  with money Elsie inherited from her father. Royalties from Kipling's books paid for the refurbishment of the house. Over the centuries, other famous architects, such as Flitcroft and  Sir John Soane also added to the beauty of the house. 

When we visited in late April, the statues outside the front of the house were still shrouded for winter. The covers come off at the beginning of May, but I liked the look of them in their wrappings.

The entrance hall has a Latin greeting for  visitors, which would have pleased Caroline Lawrence and which pleased me, too. And it's this welcome which leads me to my real subject, which is the National Trust. 

The National Trust is an organisation I love. I enjoy going to visit their properties. I'm a fan of  their gift shops, and have bought lots of pretty postcards and fridge magnets and other assorted delights from them. At Greenway, in Devon, (Agatha Christie's house) I bought a straw sunhat. At Ickworth, I bought a metal duck made from old oil drums from Zimbabwe.  I am a student of their scones and I do a  'compare and contrast' exercise every time I order one: is it better than the last NT scone? I follow someone on Twitter called @NTScones, so I'm not alone in my interest.

(The View from one of the windows of Wimpole Hall)

But there's one thing I would like to moan about a little. It's not a serious moan...more of a niggle... and it's not enough to make me contact anyone at the National Trust. Also, before I begin moaning, I do know that the lovely people who welcome you to each place are instructed to go through the routine but nevertheless, it's wearing when they persist in trying to persuade you to become a member. 

(cushions provided for children to flop on. A very imaginative idea which is frowned upon by some  members of the NT, I believe. )

I explain that no, I do not belong to the NT because I don't drive. I have no car. I have never had a car,  and apart from visits with the Stotts or the Borsleys (friends  who are also kind enough to take me to splendid places) I never visit NT properties.

(I  love the colours of this room with its pink cupola)

And that ought to be the end of the matter, right? But it never is. They begin to produce more and more arguments in favour of joining: special discount prices, different benefits you get from membership etc.  I explain all over again that I'm quite happy to pay to get in to each house as I come to it ("But it's so much cheaper if you're a all adds up!") but that does not deter them. They try again. Sometimes you have to go through about five whole minutes of near-argument before they will take your money and give you a visitor's ticket. So what I'd like to say to the  National Trust is: Ask people ONCE and then leave it. Don't try and pressure anyone. And please don't persist when it's clear that someone has no intention of joining the organisation. 

Now that I've moaned, I can add photos of  some more treasures from Wimpole Hall. When we were there, the very  new lambs were gambolling about and we had a smashing time.  I have not posted photos of my scone,  but anyone who wants to can find it on my Twitter feed.  

(Raised silver embroidery on the Chancellor's Purse)

(A china tulip.)

(Staffordshire dogs of a spotty kind)

(Rudyard Kipling's daughter Elsie and Captain George Bambridge)  

And finally, the façade of Wimpole Hall.  Thank you,  National Trust, for looking after these beautiful properties in a way which lets us all enjoy them. 


Sally Prue said...

I always particularly appreciate the volunteer stewards, some as exquisite and nearly as old as the artefacts, who stand guard so patiently in the grand rooms and do their best to spread their enthusiasm, knowledge, and vintage gossip.

Sue Purkiss said...

Adele - I just had a word with my son, who is working in a National Trust information centre, and he said it was impressed on them during training that they must listen to people - eg it's no use going on to a family with small children about how many lovely properties there are to visit in Scotland. And they were told that once Simon Jenkins, who used to be the chair, was in a queue and heard someone behaving as you've described, and he intervened and told them off! I guess in some places the message just isn't getting through...

I remember when I joined feeling ridiculously excited, thinking that now I owned a tiny little bit of all these wonderful places. But we probably get our money's worth just from beach car parks, and a couple of visits to properties in a year.

Sally Zigmond said...

I, too, am a National Trust lover. I wander their houses both big and small and imagine the lives lived in them. love their gift shops and my kitchen always sports a tea-towel or two from somewhere I've enjoyed visiting. (nothing like the taste of the high-life when washing up!) and I love their silk scarves and other knick-knacks. And as for their plants in my garden, don't start me off.

As for demands for membership, we were so lucky. Way way back in the early seventies just before the great inflation surge, we bought life membership of the Scottish National Trust (which also allows us to visit English Trust Properties as well free and gratis - forever!) We flash our cards on entry and no-one bothers us.

In case you think we're taking advantage, it's all above-board and any guilty conscience is assuaged by going overboard in their shops!

Caroline Lawrence said...

Me, too! We don't have a car!! But yes, we love the National Trust and we love that Salve mosaic!