The nation’s Ode to the Coast

Over the summer we asked you, the nation, to share your memories of what makes the coast so special and 11,500 of you answered our call. Today we can unveil the Nation’s Ode to the Coast – a poem written by Dr John Cooper Clarke, with verses inspired by your memories.  

NATIONAL TRUST - LOVE THE COAST HERO V13 MASTER 4KDr John Cooper Clarke at Dunwich Heath

The poem, launched in time for the annual National Poetry Day on 8th October, follows in Betjeman’s footsteps as he wrote the first poem for the National Trust in 1965 to mark the launch of the Neptune Coastline campaign.

To celebrate 50 years of the Trust’s coastline campaign, we asked you to help one of Britain’s most celebrated poets, Dr. John Cooper Clarke, complete the Nation’s Ode to the Coast.

Using #lovethecoast, over 11,500 members of the public submitted social media posts that summed up their love of the coast taking the form of words, pictures and even sounds. The contributions celebrated the beauty of the nation’s coastline and highlighted the wonderfully intimate moments that happen there.


Popular memories featured stormy seas, happy family seaside picnics and holidays from years ago. Fitting well with National Poetry Day’s theme of ‘light’ this year, this same theme was the most prominent throughout the contributions, with an overwhelming amount of people sharing memories of coastal sunrises, sunsets and beautiful pictures of day and evening light.

Dr John Cooper Clarke used the submissions as inspiration to pen the final poem on the public’s behalf and to thank the nation for their continued help and support over the last few months. The charity invited 17 of the contributors to appear in a short film alongside Dr. John Cooper Clarke himself to announce the final poem, each having the chance to read out a line. The end result is an incredibly emotive and compelling film which celebrates people’s love for the British coastline.

The collaboration between the charity, the poet and the public has resulted in inspiring and real-life lines which bring to life the sheer variety of coastal experiences this country has to offer. The release of the final poem aims to thank the nation for their support in helping the charity raise awareness for its conservation work on the coast.

Dr. John Cooper Clarke, who appears in the final celebration video, commented:

“I wasn’t surprised by the strong reaction this poem has triggered from the British public as poetry is such a brilliantly reflective and inspiring way to motivate humanity to act. The contributions I received were very inspiring, with some of my favourites being the actual lines of poetry that the public had written themselves. It’s great to see people using poetry to tell their story.

“It’s vitally​ important that the coast remains protected for generations to enjoy, and I only hope that the work I have been doing with the National Trust will encourage people to support the charity to protect these beautiful coastal places for another 50 years.”


So, here’s the final poem, we hope you like it and thank you for helping inspire it…

Nation’s Ode to the Coast – Dr. John Cooper Clarke

A big fat sky and a thousand shrieks
The tide arrives and the timber creaks
A world away from the working week
Où est la vie nautique?
That’s where the sea comes in…

Dishevelled shells and shovelled sands,
Architecture all unplanned
A spade ‘n’ bucket wonderland
A golden space, a Frisbee and
The kids and dogs can run and run
And not run in to anyone
Way out! Real gone!
That’s where the sea comes in…

Impervious to human speech, idle time and tidal reach
Some memories you can’t impeach
That’s where the sea comes in
A nice cuppa splosh and a round of toast
A cursory glance at the morning post
A pointless walk along the coast
That’s what floats my boat the most
That’s where the sea comes in…

Now, voyager – once resigned
Go forth to seek and find
The hazy days you left behind
Right there in the back of your mind
Where lucid dreams begin
With rolling dunes and rattling shale
The shoreline then a swollen sail
Picked out by a shimmering halo
That’s where the sea comes in…

Could this be luck by chance?
Eternity in a second glance
A universe beyond romance
That’s where the sea comes in…
Yeah, that’s where the sea comes in…

Oxburgh’s moat is more important than you think

Did you know that the moat at Oxburgh should never run dry, as the Hall’s stability is dependent on the moat being full of water? So last week, work started to re-point the brickwork in the moat to ensure it stays in tip-top condition.

Morgan Creed, from Oxburgh Hall filled us in…

The moat surrounding Oxburgh reflects the house and creates an attractive setting that leaves quite the impression when you get your first glimpse of the Hall. Although moats are often built as a line of defence, here at Oxburgh it’s more for aesthetic benefit. Rather less romantically it was also the place into which the latrines were discharged!

Here at Oxburgh, the moat is filled from a channel diverted from the River Gadder and has an overflow sluice which drains back into the river.  Last week we lowered the water level in the moat (which takes a few days) which enabled us to begin repointing the brickwork. The bottom of the moat is sloped, so all the fish move to the deeper half whilst the shallower half is being repointed.

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Repointing has to be carried out every so often, as the continual lapping of the waves coupled with attrition gradually removes the mortar.

Lime mortar is used as it the traditional mortar that would have been used in the period when the Hall was built. As well as this, lime mortar is better over Portland cement, as lime mortar flows and moves with the building in different environmental conditions. It has the ability to both take in and evaporate moisture, so essentially it ‘breathes’. This is very important when it comes to Oxburgh, as it’s situated in a moat, so the relative humidity will obviously be quite high and will fluctuate vigorously.

The work is a two man job and should take around two weeks to complete.

As of yet, there’s been no interesting discoveries object wise (no shopping trolleys) but the shallower water makes it great for spotting the fish. We have lots of carp, a few clams and quite a few pike. Including one very large monster pike; he’s about two foot long and I’ve named him Jaws!

25 years of Fen Cottage

This September marks 25 years since we opened Fen Cottage at Wicken Fen, which might be one of the smaller properties cared for by the National Trust, but it provides an intriguing insight into the social history of life in the Cambridgeshire Fens. 

Fen Cottage with its carefully tended cottage garden sits on the edge of Wicken’s ancient Sedge Fen. Acres of golden sedge gently sway in the breeze as far as the eye can see, a view that has barely changed over hundreds of years.

Howard Cooper from Wicken Fen reveals a little more about this building’s history…

All but the smallest visitors to Fen Cottage are advised to ‘duck’ when they enter, to avoid bumping their head on the low ceilings and door frames. Stepping over the threshold is like stepping back in time. Many older visitors remember artifacts that their parents or grandparents once owned. For children, it’s an Aladdin’s cave of intriguing objects, the crystal wireless set, the stone hot water bottle, hand bellows to breath life into the fire. You can watch the disbelief on their faces when they learn the cottage did not have electricity and computers were not invented when it was last inhabited!

Fen Cottage is a fine example of a vernacular building, built from the late 18th to early 20th century. It was constructed from local materials including peat, wood, sedge, reed and clay, much of which would have been harvested or gathered from the Fen.

Originally it would have been two separate cottages, which were eventually joined into one. The thatched cottage was built in the late 18th century, comprising of a single storey with two rooms divided by a single inglenook chimney stack with a loft above. In the main room there was a large open hearth which was used for cooking. The second room was a sleeping place for adults and children alike, with additional sleeping and storage space in the loft above. The two-roomed layout was unusual for dwellings of the labouring classes in the 17th and 18th centuries, which were normally built as a single room with attic space above, showing that the builder or owner was relatively well to do.

The tilled cottage was built as an extra dwelling abutting the older thatched cottage. The inhabitants of the older cottage may have built this, (as was the custom) to house their married child and spouse.

The cottage is one of the last surviving dwellings from a tiny hamlet, known simply as The Lode. By the 1850s there were 15 dwellings whose inhabitants considered themselves entirely separate from Wicken village, a short distance up the road. The residents typically earned their living from the fen, harvesting sedge and reed for roofing, alder buckthorn for use in explosives, cutting peat for fuel, digging clay for brick making, wildfowling, fishing and eel catching. They also used the local waterways to transport their products to the larger markets of Cambridge and Ely.

Records from 1841 show that the thatched cottage was home to Charles and Jane Butcher, with four generations of the family eventually living in the cottage. Towards the end of the 19th century it became more and more difficult to make a living from the fen and the hamlet fell into decline.

Around 1900, the Butchers unable to make a living from the fen moved to Upware, taking a tenancy on a farm. In 1925 George Butcher, his daughter-in-law Alice, and disabled grandson, Reggie returned, at which point the two cottages were converted into one dwelling. Alice and Reggie Butcher went onto live in Fen Cottage until 1972, when Alice died, aged 93.

Reggie Butcher suffered from rheumatic fever which left him unfit for work on either fen or farm. He was however something of an entrepreneur. He sold everyday household items  such as paraffin and candles from a shop in his tool shed, hatched duck, geese and turkey eggs, collected dead animals and sold their maggots as fishing bait, issued fishing licences, and even sold ice skates and guns. Good with his hands, he hand carved and sold delicate fretwork. By all accounts he died a relatively wealthy man in 1985.

The National Trust acquired Fen Cottage in 1974, to ensure in-appropriate development did not mare the approach to the world famous nature reserve. Restoration then began in 1988 and was completed two years later, when the cottage opened to visitors. During restoration, every effort was made to match local materials and techniques, to enable unobtrusive patching rather than replacement. Inside it is furnished as it might have been at the start of the 20th century – it certainly feels homely and you are left with the overriding impression that the residents have just popped out for a short while.

So next time you’re at Wicken Fen, call into Fen Cottage which is open until Sunday 1 November this year (and remember to duck your head). Alternatively, join us for a celebration to mark the 25th anniversary of its opening on Sunday 27 September, with guided tours of the cottage, displays of traditional fen crafts and more.

Loyd Grossman on ‘The Death of General Wolfe’

Last week, Loyd Grossman came to Ickworth, to give a talk about one of the paintings in the Library: Benjamin West’s ‘The Death of General Wolfe’. A passionate advocate for many heritage and arts causes, Loyd has recently written a book about West, who was one of the most famous artists of the late 18th century.

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Here’s what Graham Parker, a volunteer at Ickworth had to say about Loyd’s talk…

I’ve only known of Loyd Grossman as a television presenter, cookery writer, and sauce producer, so I was surprised to be asked as a member of the Ickworth Research Group to help out with hosting a presentation he was to give on Benjamin West and the painting, ‘The Death of General Wolfe’. What I didn’t know was that he is a well-known art historian.

His talk was to a selected audience linked to arts and heritage, and was in advance of the publication of his book on the painting. The talk was fascinating, insightful, and full of lightly worn erudition, that I’ll try to give you a flavour of it here.

Loyd started out by highlighting the life of West, who in his day was a major artistic figure, but whose reputation began to fade as soon as he died in 1820. This was partly because he was so prolific producing over 400 paintings, but also because his career seemed such an effortless and inevitable rise to the top that many of his artistic contemporary artists were jealous.

West was born in Pennsylvania, the son of an unsuccessful Quaker businessman. As a child his artistic talents were noted and he was sponsored by his hometown and then home state, and eventually sent as the first American to do the Grand Tour. In Italy the leading cardinal at the Vatican, spotted and befriended him. He also met the German-born Anton Rafael Mengs, Scottish Gavin Hamilton, and Austrian Angelica Kauffman. After three years he decided to drop into London on his way home. There he came to notice of King George III who took a shine to him, and he never went home. He was so successful that when Joshua Reynolds died in 1792, he was the natural choice to succeed him. No wonder his British-born contemporaries were jealous.

P1000269Benjamin West’s ‘The Death of General Wolfe’.

Loyd then took us through the painting. The first version was painted at the request of Lord Grosvenor, and as soon as he saw it George III wanted a copy. All together, according to Loyd, West produced six copies.

Loyd then explained why the painting has become iconic. Obviously its subject matter, British hero dies at the moment of his triumph, which secures Canada by driving out the French, spoke strongly to the eighteenth century public. But West also packed the picture with subtle references that art connoisseurs would spot, and with which they could massage their egos. There are references to Christian ‘Pietas’ or ‘Lamentations’ in the position of Wolfe’s body. The soldiers to the right and the Native American to the left mirror well-known classical statues, and so on. So, possession of the picture, or the engravings made of it, pronounced the owner to be a well-educated, erudite person.

Another attraction was its modernity. The original was painted in 1770, soon after Wolfe’s death in 1759, but that is not why it was considered daringly modern. That is because of the clothing. Until this painting, heroes were shown wearing classical dress like togas. In fact George III did not accept his painting because the figures were wearing modern dress, which he considered unsuitable and likely to date as fashions changed, and he felt heroes should be timeless. By choosing to show the figures in modern dress West was appealing to the newly confident generation who felt themselves not just the new Romans, but to have surpassed the Roman Empire.

At the end of his interesting talk Loyd took questions, and I was able to ask him whether it was true, as we often tell visitors, that West took money to include people in the picture who were not in Quebec. He said that this was a myth, and that all the figures were either known individuals who were in Canada at the time, or generic characters. He also said that although not a Quaker himself, West’s upbringing in a Quaker family made it unlikely he would indulge such deception.

After the talk we went to view our ‘Death of Wolfe’ and I certainly saw it in a very different light. I looked at it with more understanding after the talk, and I was also able to use one of the new ‘magic’ LED torches Ickworth has acquired, to pick out details one cannot normally see. For example, the Native American has tattoos on his body, including some snakes.  How modern is that!

It’s well worth a look the next time you get a chance – although Ickworth is about to loan the picture to the Tate for their Artist and Empire exhibition this autumn. However, a fine digital print of the original has been made to fill the gap that the picture will leave.

A coastal walk will make you sleep longer and feel happier

New research out today reveals that people sleep an average of 47 minutes longer after a walk by the coast. 

Dunwich Heath (Photo credit Justin Minns)

A walk by the coast will also provide you with feelings of calm (83 per cent), happiness (82 per cent) and a sense of escapism (62 per cent). Sixty-two percent of people from the East of England also said they fall into a deeper sleep after being by the coast.

The research has been carried out as part of the National Trust’s Great British Walk campaign, run in partnership with Cotswold Outdoor, to look at how walking on the coast really impacts on our well-being and to encourage people to explore our UK coastline, of which 775 miles is cared for by the National Trust.

From Blakeney Point, Brancaster and Sheringham Park in Norfolk to Dunwich Heath and Orford Ness in Suffolk, the National Trust cares for some beautiful stretches of coastline in the region, which are popular destinations for walkers.

Repton-lo-3Sheringham Park (Photo credit Justin Minns)

Taking in views of rare wildlife, stunning stretches of wide sandy beach and strolling amongst colourful heather and fragrant gorse bushes are all strong draws for walkers in the East.

To help understand how a walk by the sea affects both our mood and the quality of our sleep, we’ve undertaken qualitative and quantitative studies to look at how the sea really impacts upon us. The research identified that when it came to feelings of well-being, people from the East of England feel happier (77 per cent) straight after a ramble along the shoreline. A further 65 per cent state that a coastal walk allows them a distraction from the stresses of everyday life.

When asked to identify their emotions after a coastal walk, walkers from the East said the experience made them feel relaxed (82 per cent), pointing to the calming and positive feelings we, as an island nation, have towards the coastline.

Ben Cowell, National Trust Regional Director for the East of England said:

“There’s something almost magical about walking on the coast and taking in all the sights, sounds and smells. Even on a blustery autumn or winter day, there’s something about getting out onto our coastline and feeling like all the cobwebs are being blown away. It makes you feel refreshed and relaxed.

I’m not surprised to hear people feel they sleep better after all that fresh air too and we know our visitors love spending time in our coastal places, whether they’re in shorts and t-shirts or wrapped up warm against the elements.”

Blakeney-lo-30Blakeney (Photo credit Justin Minns)

Undertaking the qualitative research component, Environmental Psychologist Eleanor Ratcliffe explored the effects of walking by the coast on change in mood and sleep. The report, (Sleep, Mood and Coastal Walking) saw participants undertake either a coastal walk or an inland walk. Both types of walkers experienced positive changes in happiness, calmness, sleep quality, alertness and sleep length following their walk.

However, coastal walkers showed a significantly greater increase in sleep length than inland walkers, and were more likely to show increases in sleep quality and alertness. Coastal walkers also reported memory associations relating to family, childhood and holidays, as well as opportunities for introspection and reflective thought, which were less apparent amongst inland walkers.

Here’s what Eleanor had to say:

‘‘Coastal walkers are getting more sleep with increased sleep quality and morning alertness. In addition, coastal walkers associated their walks with family, childhood memories and the anticipation of holidays. It’s clear that there is something really special about the coast, particularly as a place to escape to that can allow people to boost their mood, relax and sleep in.’’

For some inspiration and to help aid a better night’s sleep, here’s our list of top five coastal walks you might like to try this autumn:

  1. Brancaster Wander through Brancaster Staithe and enjoy the beautiful sights of the coast and its wildlife 
  2. Blakeney Look out for rare sea birds and seals at Blakeney National Nature Reserve
  3. Dunwich Heath A rare and precious habitat, that’s full of colour at this time of year 
  4. Sheringham Park Savour the sea views from the tree-top gazebo or along the top of the cliffs 
  5. West Runton This is the perfect place for a breezy walk along, or up and down the hills of Norfolk with views out to sea.

Brutal Utopias: a celebration of 60s architecture

This autumn the National Trust has partnered with the Southbank Centre, Urbansplash and the University of East Anglia for Brutal Utopias, a nationwide project celebrating Brutalist architecture.


Can Brutalism ever be beautiful? Could it ever be loved by more people and what Brutalist architecture should we be protecting and how?

Love it or not, Brutalism was the dominant post-war architectural movement that sought to offer the best of design to the masses through public housing schemes, new universities and venues for the arts and education that were accessible to all. 50 years on, Brutal Utopias reconsiders this era.

The National Trust doesn’t only look after country houses, coastlines and cream teas. We are as interested in urban environments and the future of architecture and heritage. So, for a period of ten days starting on Friday 25 September, there will be the chance to experience Brutalist architecture anew with a number of one-off opportunities.

These include behind-the-scenes tours of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery, tours of Park Hill flats in Sheffield and of the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

University of East Anglia (UEA), Norwich…

Of the seven New Universities founded in the early 1960s to expand student numbers, the University of East Anglia was the boldest in terms of its architecture. Designed by Denys Lasdun, who also created the National Theatre, the architecture of the university was intended to express a new concern with bridging the traditional academic disciplines and encouraging informal interaction between staff and students alike.


Tours of the university will include the context of the creation of the university, Lasdun’s early designs, and the opportunity to experience the network of concrete walkways, the ‘Teaching Wall’ – nearly half a kilometer of teaching spaces – and the iconic ‘Ziggurats’ where students lived and socialised. Tours of the site will be led by experts associated with the university’s design and formation, including David Luckhurst who succeeded Lasdun as one of UEA’s architects and designed many features of what remains a thriving modern university.

Dates: Saturday 3 October to Sunday 4 October
Times: 11.00, 12.30, 14.00 and 15.30
Duration: 80 minutes maximum
Tickets: Day Tours – £7 (adult), £6 (concession)
You can book your tickets here 


International Conference of National Trusts draws to a close

The final day of our International Conference of National Trusts looked to both past and future.

Balinese dancer

We heard from Barbara Erickson of the Trustees of Reservations in Massachusetts, USA. The Trustees of Reservations can justly lay claim to being the first ever National Trust. It was founded in 1891, four years before the National Trust in the UK. Its founder, landscape architect Charles Eliot, was inspired to act as a result of the industrialisation and urbanisation of Boston. He drew inspiration from conversations with Octavia Hill and Robert Hunter, who were busy at the time with the formation of their own National Trust. Today, the Trustees of Reservations continues its work looking after precious countryside and coastlines, and engaging new audiences through its campaigning activities and creative partnerships with contemporary artists.

We also heard from Patricia Zurita, chief executive of Birdlife International. Like the International National Trust Organisation, Birdlife is an umbrella body representing conservation organisations around the world. Its roots also go back a long way,  to the creation of the International Council for Bird Preservation in 1922. Working internationally to care for birds makes a great deal of sense given the migratory habits of many important species. Yet Patricia also used the analogy of birds’ flyways to make a point about the importance of international exchange among conservation groups. By clearing the channels of communication and agreeing on some important shared principles we can have a far greater impact on the issues facing the world today.

By contrast George Monbiot looked to the future, and challenged us all to interrogate the conspiracy of silences that somehow prevent action in the present-day. For George, these silences were manifold: the extraction of fossil fuels (all we currently talk about is their consumption); the rapid erosion of soils (we have just 60 harvests left, according to one estimate); the treatment of farm animals (he urged all National Trust cafés to turn vegetarian as a means of drawing attention to this); the rate of species decline (which is more rapid in upland areas of the UK, according to George, as a result of our farming practices there). George ended by asking the assembled National Trusts of the world to ‘ask how future generations might judge you, and live according to what they might ask of you, not just according to what the present demands’.

It was stirring stuff (you can read the full speech here), and definite food for thought for our delegates as they began their journeys home. But not before a beautiful performance of Balinese dancing, as a handover to the next International Conference, which takes place in Indonesia in 2017.

Huge thanks to all who attended ICNT16, and for the quality of the discussions and debates that took place.

Discussions devoted to land, landscape and nature

Day four of our International Conference of National Trusts was devoted to land, landscape and nature.

12009666_932987683441551_3171667782008247161_nOne of our venues for today was Wicken Fen  

Today, Ben Cowell our Regional Director here at the National Trust in the East of England, was lucky enough to spend the day at a place that has plentiful amounts of all three: Wimpole, in Cambridgeshire.

Our delegates heard about a number of issues that happen to be at the heart of the new strategy that was launched earlier this year by the National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Playing our Part). Among these were issues of how to adapt our land management practices in a changing world, the relevance of farming issues to the National Trust movement, and how we are facing into the challenges associated with water catchments, rivers and coasts (in this, the 50th anniversary year of our Neptune campaign).

Another big set of issues concerned the need for landscape-scale approaches to conservation, whether in countryside or in urban areas. In the UK, much inspiration has come from John Lawton’s report ‘Making Space for Nature’, which highlighted the significant loss of species in the last 60 years and the means by which this might be reversed through landscape-scale management policies. The Trust in this country is responding by drawing attention to some exemplar landscape-scale projects, two of which happen to be in the East of England – Wicken Fen and the Bure Valley.

There was interest in these ideas from other countries too, and some similar attempts to improve the natural environment such as through tree-planting schemes or by surveying bird life and encouraging farmers to adopt bird-friendly farming policies (‘Birds on the Edge’ in Jersey). There was much interest in the work the National Trust is doing in this country to promote access to nature for children and young people. The Project Wild Thing film was discussed, as was our report Natural Childhood.

But it was also striking how many National Trust organisations either do not manage land directly (since they focus mainly on built heritage), or do not have the capacity to engage in this area. For other countries, too, notions of landscape can be hugely different to how it is in the UK. We discussed how radically different attitudes towards ownership can prevail in different cultures, and the circumstances in which economic, aesthetic or spiritual views of landscape can sometimes prevail over nature conservation priorities.

Our different approaches to land, landscape and nature are part of the rich tapestry of the worldwide National Trust movement, even if we share common roots of wanting to look after special places for ever and for everyone.

Growing the National Trust movement

Day three of our International Conference of National Trusts saw us talking about how we might grow the worldwide National Trust movement, so that we continue to garner the support needed for our conservation work.


The conference moved from Cambridge to Suffolk and to Ickworth (Credit: Justin Minns)

Ben Cowell, our Regional Director for the National Trust in the England fills us in on what was discussed on day three…

We started our day in the grand surroundings of the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds, a working Regency theatre built in 1819 and looked after by the National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. From here more great discussions were had.

A recurring theme throughout the conference has been about the use of social media and new digital techniques to engage with our audiences. We heard from Deborah Bull of the National Trust for Canada about a crowdfunding project to raise funds for saving threatened lighthouses (This Lighthouse Matters). Projects like these connect with local community concerns, as well as chime with the increasing public use of digital platforms.  The Canadian example has helped to increase more generally the participation of young people in heritage issues: several younger people now sit on boards of organisations dedicated to the rescuing of the lighthouses.

Another project, Partners in Preservation, works in a similar way by using social media to raise awareness and engage people in debates about cultural heritage. The project, which is a partnership between American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the USA, involves public votes for the places that are felt to best deserve funding for historic preservation. Timothy McClimon, President of the American Express Foundation and sponsor of this day of the conference, urged us to find corporate partners for projects like these and to work with them in close collaboration: the results can often be very rewarding.

Later in the day the conference moved to Ickworth, a beautiful National Trust property just outside Bury St Edmunds. Here I was involved in discussions about the Trust’s role as a campaigner. It was fascinating to hear examples from around the world of where our partner organisations had been closely involved in public campaigns to save precious heritage.

One example was of the Rampal power plant in Bangladesh, a new coal-powered power station that is proposed to be built just 14 km from Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. Civil society organisations have used all the different tools available to them to try to change the plans, from behind the scenes advocacy to direct public campaigning, fearful of the impact the development will have on a very precious piece of global heritage.

Fighting battles like these is sometimes necessary, and can also help to win grassroots support for National Trust organisations, however big or small.

Using the past to connect with contemporary issues

Day two of our International Conference of National Trusts focused on questions of cultural identity.

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Anglesey Abbey is one of the venues for this week’s conference (credit Justin Minns)

Ben Cowell, Regional Director for the National Trust in the East of England was in attendance again and helped to run a number of sessions on how we in the National Trust movement are using the past to engage the public with contemporary issues.

We were reminded in one session of a quote from Freeman Tildman:

“The chief aim of Interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.”

Some fascinating examples of just this sort of provocation were raised by our international colleagues, many of them new to me:

  • At Colonel John Ashley House in Massachusetts, as well as hearing about the American Revolution, visitors find out about a slave who worked in the household and who sued for freedom in 1781. This unsettles conventional narratives about the north and south in America.
  • In Canada, the houses of Japanese-Canadians have been used as part of the process of reconciliation for what happened in Canada during World War Two.
  • The commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the 1970 Black Power uprising in Trinidad and Tobago was mentioned, as an example of a historic event that is still relatively close to us, yet of which modern generations may have little understanding.
  • World War One was mentioned, with the example from Australia of engaging school children by inviting them to plant trees to remember those who died at Gallipoli.
  • Robben Island in Capetown was cited as an example of a heritage site of conscience, where the visitor experience included being guided by former prisoners.
  • The Magna Carta links at Anglesey Abbey, where our discussions took place, led to a discussion about bravery. How brave should National Trust places be in confronting visitors with unsettling or uncomfortable aspects of the past? In telling the story of Magna Carta, are we prepared to show how liberties have also been lost over time, as well as won? This is one of the themes of The Jurors, the installation at Runnymede that the National Trust in England, Wales and Northern Ireland installed to mark Magna Carta 800.