If you wanted a tea towel to celebrate 100 years of the National Trust, you couldn’t do better than to ask Pat Albeck to design it. Pat has been designing tea towels for longer than I have been collecting them. She has designed more than 300, many for the National Trust. She has a clarity of design, with attention to detail. So, this tea towel says what the National Trust is there for, in pictures not words, but encompassed within the title of the tea towel, she has been able to use images that represent the National Trust: countryside, coastal areas, clouds over a wide horizon, hedges, trees, topiary, garden flowers, wallpaper and brickwork demonstrating the different types of building that they care for – 45 degrees Herringbone and Flemish Bond as examples. It is clever, simple and stylish. I loved it when I bought it in Calke Abbey in December 1995 and I love it now. I also bought two fine bone china mugs with the same design but over the years I have managed to break both of them; the tea towel still goes strong. For me, it epitomises the National Trust and all I love about it.
I know there are some people who feel the National Trust is about preserving stately homes, fine architecture and hundreds of acres of country parks which does not reflect the interests of the majority of the population, that it is about a class system that is outdated. There have been arguments about whether hunting should be allowed on National Trust land or whether the changes to A303 near to Stonehenge should go ahead or will this damage a historic monument. For me, the National Trust is about preserving examples of buildings, architecture, countryside, landscaping, farming, ancient monuments but also making them into places for learning and understanding about our heritage. It is not about looking at the world through rose-coloured spectacles but acknowledging what has happened and telling the truth. People made money out of slavery; it wasn’t right, still isn’t right but you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. You have to learn from the past, hiding it means that slavery still continues today; but it could be traditional farming methods, the mills and their poor conditions, the back-to-back houses, the life of servants who had to walk miles to carry ice from the ice house to the main house, the work of Capability Brown and how he changed our view of the landscape, the amazing architecture of Robert Adams, the beauty of the artwork of the Arts and Crafts Movement, the discoveries of Isaac Newton, the writing of Wordsworth. Our past is what makes our present. That is the beauty of the National Trust. It offers employment and volunteering opportunities; it self generates income from its membership, its holidays, its shops (including its tea towels) but the great thing about the National Trust is that it is always changing, always taking up new issues.
For me, it was the Enterprise Neptune Campaign that inspired my interest and encouraged me to join the National Trust. Enterprise Neptune was a long term project to protect large parts of the Welsh, English and Northern Ireland coastal areas, starting in 1965 with the acquisition of Whiteford Burrows on the Gower Peninsula. The National Trust recognised that as tourism grew in Britain there were areas of stunning beauty, and historical significance, that could be destroyed by bad planning. This was never about stopping the general population having access to the coastal regions of Britain but it was about protecting the landscape and wild life for future generations. The National Trust now owns such iconic coastal areas as the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland and the White Cliffs of Dover. The importance of Enterprise Neptune is, for me, demonstrated by the National Trust’s big failure, in 1981, to secure the ownership of Lands End for us all rather than to be the tacky tourist trap that it has been for years. That is the importance of the National Trust.
I have been a member for many years; I probably rarely go round stately homes and admire Robert Adams fireplaces but I will wander around as many National Trust gardens as I can find, visit Dovecots and churches, mills and tracks of coast because those are my interests. That is what is so good, there is something for everybody.
The National Trust has been one of 25 organisation of the partnership that finally, on 9 July 2017, brought UNESCO World Heritage Status to the Lake District National Park; this had been more than 30 years of hard work, three applications and is now the 31st area and first National Park in Britain to achieve that status. This successful bid was initially launched in 2001, as a result of the Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic that decimated livestock, tourism, businesses and the countryside in the Lake District. “It is a unique part of the world that combines a vibrant farming community with 1000s of archeological sites and structures that gives us an amazing glimpse into our past” The Outstanding Universal Values, necessary for UNESCO World Heritage Status, that are embodied in the Lake District, are Identity, Inspiration and Conservation: the Identity is the landscape shaped by people’s activities – farming on the uplands and lowlands, quarrying, mining, forestry, water management; the Inspiration comes from the Picturesque and Romantic Movements that flourished as a result of the Lake District with people like Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge and many more and finally, the Conservation “… a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy….” (William Wordsworth).
“We are delighted that World Heritage Status recognises the Lakes as the spiritual home of the Trust and our work to look after it over the last 120 years…… The status also celebrates the ever-evolving relationship between people and nature” says Mike Innerdale from the National Trust. Today, I read a newspaper article about the designation of the Lake District National Park as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the role of the National Trust in it, by George Monbiot who said “The designation protects sheep farming, and nothing else. This blatant assault on nature turns the area into a Beatrix Potter-themed museum……..” and he said much more. Personally, I prefer the views of Mike Innerdale to that of George Monbiot and my commitment to the National Trust brings together my love of both history and geography in a way that gives me much pleasure and delight and many tea towels.