Chair of the
of England, Wales and Northern Ireland
the English Country House
Royal Oak Foundation
April 18, 2012 – Gracie Mansion
Simon Jenkins wants us to play house in the 330 structures the National Trust owns. We’ve all seen that sign “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH.” If Jenkins has anything to say about it, that graphic will change to PLEASE ENTER! We will be invited to sit, cook, lounge, dance and even play the piano. A game of billards at Upton House is within your reach.
Is this the disneyfication of historic houses? Jenkins argues that houses are expressions of family dreams, vulnerabilities, marriages, aspirations and careers. It’s the difference between being a participant or a spectator. “We are taking the past and reinterpreting it for the present. In a recent survey, National Trust members were asked how many times they returned to a great house. The answer: seen it once, seen it all. Jenkins wants people to come back and back again.
How is he going to accomplish this? By making these great houses “talk” to us. Inviting visitors to experience the life owners and servants once lived: sitting at the dining table, reading the diary of Lady X at her dressing table, playing croquet on the great lawn or hitting a tennis ball with a vintage wood racquet.
This philosophy is controversial, especially in a venerable old institution like the National Trust. Jenkins says “it’s the stick-in-the-muds vs. the progressives.” His vision is a post-twitter prophecy. But I suggest using twitter to accomplish his mission.