On the Tenth Day of Christmas . . .
L P Hartley is right about the past being a foreign country. They did indeed do things differently there.
In the wake of the huge social and political changes wrought by the Second World War, history and heritage were largely swept aside in the drive towards modernity. 'Out with the old, in with the new!' was the clarion call of the mid-twentieth century. For an alarming number of stately homes that meant dereliction and destruction, with an estimated demolition rate in 1955 of one every five days. That said, to some extent the Nation's grandest homes, being afforded some degree of potential protection by the National Trust, were perhaps slightly less vulnerable than those more modest properties which, whilst of architectural and historical note, fell under The Trust's radar. Many such buildings would have quietly crumbled into complete obscurity had it not been for a man called Sir John Smith who came up with the idea of rescuing historical properties and funding their restoration and maintenance with income generated by subsequently renting out the properties as holiday lets. That may not sound particularly revolutionary to our ears, but back in the mid-1960s it was a novel - and no doubt risky - business model. It's testament to the vision of Sir John Smith and his wife Christine, that it's turned out to be such a rip-roaring success, with The Landmark Trust attracting 50,000 visitors each year to stay in the 200 properties currently in its care.
It was the determination of Sir John and Christine Smith that struck me most when we went to Art Out Loud, Chatsworth's Literary Festival, last September to hear Dr Anna Keay, Director of The Landmark Trust, speak about the recently published book Landmark: A History of Britain in 50 Buildings. The historical facts were, of course, interesting but it was the human element which held my attention, especially details about the way in which this tireless couple were personally involved in working together on the practicalities of saving buildings across the Nation. From the authentic restoration of external architectural features to ensuring that the internal fabrics and furnishings were congruent with the overall character of each building, they rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty. Indeed, the book includes a lovely photograph of Christine Smith painstakingly hand-printing fabric to be used in one of the houses. Landmark: A History of 50 Buildings is weighty, coffee-table tome, jam-packed with gorgeous images of the Trust's properties and yet, for me, it's this one single, simple image which speaks most powerfully because it serves as a reminder of the value to be found in quiet commitment and steadfast determination, not just to get a job done, but to get it done well. It seems apt therefore to end this post by quoting one of Sir John's favourite sayings, namely that "good enough is not good enough" which, here at MooreMundi, we think as worthy a motto as any as we face the work which stretches out before us in the year ahead.