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A modest effort to save a historic house has blossomed into the National Trust, a nationwide preservation group dedicated to maintaining the United Kingdom’s architectural and natural history. Writer Cat Allen takes us on a tour.
Text: Cat Allen
Country: United Kingdom

n 1895 the National Trust, the United Kingdom’s largest and most popular charitable organization, was founded by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, a social reformer, lawyer, and a priest.

Its purpose: “To look after places of historic interest or natural beauty for the benefit of the nation.”

The following year they bought their first property, Alfriston Clergy House in East Sussex, a dilapidated medieval house, for £10 (£600/US $850 in today’s money). The house was saved from ruin and sympathetically restored by an architect Hill specifically required to be someone “whose heart was in the matter and who could decide point by point on the spot what to do and see it being done, with knowledge of art and craft.”

The house, the National Trust’s first successful conservation project, is still frequented by visitors. Since then over 200 stately homes, manor houses and gardens have been purchased or inherited by the Trust, ensuring protection and maintenance of these properties which may otherwise have fallen into ruin. All are open to the public and offer insights into various eras in British history.

The National Trust now has over 5.1 million members as well as thousands of visitors a day to their various properties around the country.

TeaTime Magazine enjoyed a wonderful day out at one site, St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, an island home to a medieval church and castle dating back to the 12th century. Whilst there we chatted to Peter and Natasha from Devon, who were enjoying a day out at the property with their daughter Rose. As a young family they were motivated to buy memberships, as it enabled them to visit as many places as they wanted.

An annual membership costs around £65/$90 for an individual and £115/$160 for a family. Entrance costs for each property can be up to £20/$28 a person.

The couple have been members of the National Trust for the last 10 years and have visited an impressive 58 properties.

“We have visited the incredible Stourhead house and gardens the most times, but here at St. Michael’s Mount would have to be our favourite as it’s where we got engaged! We haven’t come across a property we haven’t enjoyed”.

So what makes a good property for visitors?

“We love somewhere where you can explore and find something unexpected. Oh, and a cosy tea room with a good cake selection and cream tea helps, too! We both have different reasons on what makes a good National Trust property”, Peter and Natasha explained. “One of us really enjoys a good garden and the other loves looking round a house full of history”.

For Rose, aged 18 months, running around the gardens is her favourite activity, especially those with flowers and wildlife. When she was learning to walk she would practise in the impressive stately homes and enjoys saying hello to the other visitors and children in the play parks at some of the properties.

Harry, aged 7, along with his sister Annie, aged 2, both from Cheshire, are also National Trust members. Harry, who has already visited seven of their properties, told us about his personal favourite that he’s visited with his family.

“It has to be Lyme Park — their adventure playground is epic! Once I was there in a thunder and lightning storm which was pretty cool. I also really love the cake.”

Harry’s mum, Lucy, decided to use inheritance money she received from her great grandfather to buy a lifetime membership. “He used to be a gardener for houses like the National Trust, so it felt really appropriate”, she told us. “We really enjoy being outside and seeing the seasons as a family. Also, sharing nature is so lovely and the children love going to the fantastic events held during the holidays. Last summer at Dunham Massey [a National Trust property in Cheshire], they had a circus- themed event which was amazing!”

When asked about the importance of The National Trust as a conservation organisation, both families were quick to praise the work the Trust does.

“We’re very lucky to have the Trust looking after these buildings”, Peter told us. “Many of them would have fallen into disrepair or would have been taken down completely during taxation changes in the 1950s,” referring to the increased taxes on large houses in Britain. “It is believed that during this time one stately home was demolished every five days.”

It wasn’t until the 1960s that people started to appreciate the historic loss this was to the nation; through the awareness that the Trust has raised, this would be unimaginable today.

Harry also enjoys visiting these historic properties so that he and other children can learn about them.

“The National Trust also helps them to stay the way they’ve always been. One time the house at Dunham Massey was turned into a wartime hospital. Lots of the rooms had the actual hospital beds in them that were used in the war”, Harry explained. “In one of the beds was a real man pretending to be a poorly soldier and there was a nurse sitting next to him singing. It was really sad, but I learnt lots about the war”.

The National Trust is the largest voluntary conservation organisation in Europe. The Trust has a workforce of 60,000 volunteers and 5,899 paid staff to look after their extensive portfolio of properties. The money required to maintain these comes from donations, admissions charges and membership dues. As a charity, all funds raised are used for the running and care of the houses, properties, and gardens.

By inheriting and purchasing so many properties the Trust is officially the UK’s largest private landowner and looks after 985 square miles (over 2,500 square kilometres). Additionally they take care of 775 miles (1,250 kms) of coastline, including some of the most beautiful beaches and coastal paths in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The National Trust describes itself as “a charity that works to preserve and protect historic places and spaces—forever, for everyone” and it is people just like young Rose, Harry, and Annie who are benefiting from the access to these incredible places. Both families already have the next properties lined up on their “to visit” lists; Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire and Speke Hall near Liverpool, respectively. They told us they look forward to visiting with friends and family and exploring more properties, and to see which other properties will be acquired in the future.


· Every year The National Trust serves over 3.5 million cups of tea in their tearooms.

· The most visited site is Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway. In 2017 the attraction received a record-breaking 1 million visitors.

· Beatrix Potter, the famous children’s author, was an early supporter–she bought and subsequently donated many farms and villages in the Lake District to the Trust.

· It’s common in the UK for people to leave their property to the Trust in their will, in lieu of death taxes.

· The National Trust owns 59 villages. They are not maintained as museums; rather the Trust simply acts as a landlord and encourages people to continue to live and work in them.

· The Harry Potter series was filmed at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire. The cloisters were transformed into Hogwarts classrooms. Poldark and Downton Abbey have also taken advantage of historic properties as locations.

· The National Trust is the nation’s largest farmer, with more than 965 square miles (2,500 square kms) of land with about 2,000 tenants.

· In 2014, the Trust had a turnover of £494 million/$685 million. This was invested back into the preservation of their properties.

· The National Trust has 120 volunteer firefighters, 15 volunteer pilots, two beekeepers, and two shepherds.

· There are individual, couple, family, and lifetime memberships available. More information about becoming a member or a volunteer can be found at: link


Saving the past for the future

The largest and most popular charitable organization. It was founded in 1895 by Octavia Hill, a social reformer; Sir Robert Hunter, a lawyer; and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, a priest.

The purpose of the Trust is "To look after places of historic interest or natural beauty for the benefit of the nation."

The first property they purchased and renovated was the Alfriston Clergy House in East Sussex. The house is still frequented by many visitors.

The National Trust now has over 5.1 million members as well as thousands of visitors a day to their various properties around the country. An annual membership costs about £65 for an individual and £115 for a family. Entrance costs for each property can be up to £20 a person.

Peter and Natasha from Devon became members 10 years ago and have been to 58 properties. Their favourite property is St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall, an island home to a medieval church and castle from the 12th century. It is their favourite because they got engaged there. Their daughter Rosie is 18 months old and loves to run around the gardens.

The Trust purchases many properties, but it can also inherit them. It currently owns over 200 stately homes, manor houses, and gardens. It is officially the UK's largest private landowner and looks after 985 square miles. To learn more about the National Trust or to volunteer you can visit their website: National Trust



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Saving the past for the future



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