On Saturday I visited Allan Bank, a National Trust Georgian villa, once lived in by William Wordsworth. I knew a little of its history before I visited but I had not done any extensive research so I didn’t really know what to expect.
As we approached the house I saw a very welcoming sign, ‘Come in, no need to knock’ so we did…
Inside we were greeted warmly, however I must admit my eyes started glancing around this most unusual National Trust property. As I glanced I saw on my right a kitchen, ahead of me I could hear a piano and I could see the peeling paint in the hall. The doors of the hall were all open, people were happily mingling around, touching things, sitting on National Trust furniture, reading books on sofas, writing on walls, and a child was allowed to play the piano! What was going on, had I walked into some kind of alternate universe?
It was now explained to us about the history of the house. Built in the early days of the nineteenth century it was lived in by William Wordsworth for a time. Later it was occupied by one of the co-founders of the National Trust but since the 1950s it has been let to private individuals. Tragedy stuck, though, in March 2011 when the tranquil building was devastated by fire. Since then the National Trust has repaired the structure of the building and now they would like your help in deciding what to do with Wordsworth’s former home.
This is why we were offered coffee and invited to take our coffee anywhere. We could sit on furniture, read the books in the shelves, write our thoughts on the black painted walls. It was truly remarkable to observe what people do with the space when the rope barriers and little acorns on seats are removed. Don’t get me wrong, much of the furniture and property owned by the National Trust needs to be protected, it would be stupidity to allow people to walk round Lyme Park bouncing on the beds, for example. But it was refreshing, for a change, to be allowed to go anywhere, touch anything and just relax.
What then should happen next? Should the building be restored to its former glory, perhaps a pair of Wordsworth’s reading glasses on a desk next to an open book? Personally I feel there are plenty properties of that kind, and it would be better to use this opportunity to inspire interest in all things historical.
What seemed so pleasant about Allan Bank was the warmth, the welcome and the freedom. You know the expression, ‘You can’t see the wood for the trees’? Well it strikes me that that is what happens in so many properties. You can’t see the building for the furnishings. You can’t see the views for the curtains! You can’t see the history for the little plaques loaded with detailed information.
My vote would be to use the house to demonstrate decay, to teach people what happens over time. Also to allow people to experience what it was like to sit in an armchair in the early nineteenth centaury. Allow people to feel heritage, touch it and experience it, not just see it. In particular it’s a great opportunity to have a place of historic interest that children want to visit.
That’s just me, you may have a better idea. Visit Allan Bank for yourself and tell the National Trust what you think.
To see more photos visit my Flickr photostream.