Recline and Fall: The National Trust Sinks into Ikea-Induced Irrelevance

Ickworth House Wikimedia National Trust

The National Trust is doing a pretty good job of trashing its brand. Just as the once hugely admired RSPCA dragged its name into the mud with its ill-advised – and poorly executed – opposition to traditional field sports, so too the Trust is managing to take itself into institutional irrelevancy. I cite its devotion to bean bags.

According to The Independent newspaper, the National Trust is conducting an “experiment” in which it replaces period antique furniture with bean bags at selected historic homes. This has understandably caused consternation among heritage experts and outright surprise from visitors.

Similar experiments will take place at nine other of its venues around the country – threatening to engulf the heritage body in a huge row all of its own making. All in the name of PC idiocy.

It all started at Ickworth House in Suffolk, the former home of the Marquises of Bristol. On-site Trust management moved out some items of furniture dating back to 1820 from its Regency library earlier this year, replacing them with brightly coloured bean bags (yours at Ikea for just £16.19).

This was designed to encourage visitors to linger in the room. Instead it caused outright fury from heritage experts including former Trust head curator Tim Knox, who called it “misguided”.

The National Trust’s director of strategy, curatorship and external affairs, Simon Murray, has revealed it was part of an experiment that would involve 10 houses.

The trust “presents each house in context”, Mr Murray told The Art Newspaper and added that it was different to a museum as with a huge number of objects on display many visitors “cast a cursory eye over them and don’t get a great deal from the experience”.

Art historian Bendor Grosvenor, whose blog post on his Art History News site about Ickworth sparked the controversy, told The Independent: “I suspect the hoo-ha about the beanbags may at least cause them rethink what they were going to do.

“I don’t think you’ll ever bring in a new audience by talking down to it. Experimentation and bringing in new audiences are marvellous but there are better ways of doing it by taking away things people might want to see. It’s patronising nonsense.”

Exactly. People go to historic homes to see how people once lived – not as they live now. If they wanted that experience they could have stayed at home.

If the Trust was to follow this misguided scheme of proto-modernisation, maybe soon we can expect to see a few additions like this in historic Trust properties: wood-fired cappuccino machines, period-themed wi-fi routers, wood-edged flat screen TVs and wind farms – miles of them – marching across open fields and right up to the front door of a property like Ickworth House, because it’s all kinda’ modern.

This is happening under the Trust’s director-general, career lefty Dame Helen Ghosh. The very same Dame who declared that the Trust intends to become far more political — with a small ‘p’, on the deeply troubled subject of global warming.

Personally the thought of bean bags in Trust properties makes me feel like cancelling my subscription to this once fine national institution. Except I don’t have one and don’t expect to any time soon.

I mean, why bother? If I wanted to see a bean bag in situ I can just go to the local Ikea and give Ickworth House a miss.




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