Friday, 23 June 2017

Reflections on a Visit to a Stately Home: We are all in this Together (but Not in the Way You Thought)

I recently visited a stately home, Doddington Hall near Lincoln. Entrance to the gardens and the hall will set you back £10.50. I was lucky enough to have a tour of both.
Doddington Hall

The house was built in the Elizabethan period and has stayed in the same family ever since, although their surnames have changed through marriage. Having never been sold, the house has never been emptied and the guide explained that the house is littered with treasures. One chair was worth £40,000 - the complete set of four is worth much more. The family did not know this until a delegation of antiques experts from Christie's, Sotherby's, Buckingham Palace and the Swedish royal family arrived to investigate what might be lying around. The delegation found four sets of the chairs I refer to, scattered about the mansion. The family did not know how many they had. The same room had chandeliers made our of Venetian Murano glass (surely the most garish and overrated manufacturers of glass in the world). The guide explained that there were some important and expensive paintings, some by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Example of a Sickening Murano Chandelier

It's nice to know that if this family ever falls on hard times the worst they will have to do is sell a chair or two, a garish chandelier, fell a few trees or... if the worst comes to the worst... a Reynolds. Of course, it doesn't need to come to that if you are rich. While we were there we saw two people restoring the families collection of tapestries. Apparently they have already spent over 80,000 hours working on this. I asked who was paying for the restoration work: a charitable grant. I wonder what my chances are of gaining a charitable grant to upholster a sofa or restore some paintings? I won't hold my breath. On the gardens tour we were told that, since this is not a National Trust property, they have fewer restrictions. One garden was reclaimed from agricultural use - that must have been expensive. Not to worry, it was funded by a National Lottery Heritage Grant. Presumably I am entitled to the same fund to redesign my garden, so long as I open it up to the public for £5 a ticket. I won't hold my breath.
Our Painting, by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Later on the tour we saw a portrait of "the man who saved Doddington Hall". We were told that this great man made the "brave decision" to repair the roof when it was leaking in the 1950s. At this time, just after the war, we were losing stately homes like this at a rate of knots. The landed gentry were struggling to keep up with the cost of running such massive buildings - especially since they rarely had jobs. But what is so "brave" about saving your home? It would have been expensive to repair such a big roof, for sure, but you can either afford the repairs, or you lose your house. He couldn't sell the chairs. Remember, the family were ignorant to their value and even their quantity. Did he bravely did into his own pocket? Not exactly. He bequeathed a Reynolds to the nation in return for the funds. That must have been tough - losing a valuable painting... and one that is of a family member too. Not to worry though, the painting remains in Doddington Hall of course. The guide explained that the painting is the reason that we are able to visit the house - because we paid for the roof (and we own the painting). Fair deal, but why then do we still have to pay £10.50 to see it?

In one way or another we have paid for the upkeep of this house, its grounds and its contents, which are still (with the exception of the Reynolds) privately owned. Our taxes, charitable donations, lottery tickets and entrance fees all prop up this millionaire family. My final observations on the tour of the house were two photographs, presumably of Anthony Jarvis (the previous owner of Doddington Hall, who has now passed it to his daughter). In one he was meeting Margaret Thatcher. In the other David Cameron is pouring champagne for him. Under the photographer there is a caption that reads "More Bollinger? Excellent policy Prime Minister". Seeing Mr Cameron again reminded me of his dictum that "we are all in this together". So I see. Indeed we are all in this together, but not in the way that we thought. We, the 99%, have banded together to support the 1%. We are all on the same team.

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