Monday, 11 May 2009

The sale of Ashdown House - Another View

In the last week there have been two articles on the UK national press regarding the sale of the lease of Ashdown House.
One was in The Times. The other was in the Daily Telegraph, complete with pictures of the interior of the house. Now, I'm all for Ashdown Park receiving coverage in the national press. I can think of nothing nicer. Anything that brings more visitors to this stunning National Trust property, to admire the peerless architecture, share the fascinating history and admire the peace and beauty of the countryside has to be a good thing.

Maybe that is why I am so disappointed in the articles I've read because they make no mention of those aspects of Ashdown Park at all. In fact the crucial point - that the house belongs to the National Trust and it is only the lease that is for sale - seems instead to be presented as something of an inconvenience to a potential buyer who might have to tolerate tour groups "straying" (according to the Times) or "parading through the house" according to the Telegraph.

Excuse me? Am I missing something here? Here are the aims of the National Trust, taken directly from their website:

"The National Trust is a charity and is completely independent of Government. We rely for income on membership fees, donations and legacies, and revenue raised from our commercial operations. We now have 3.5 million members and 52,000 volunteers who gave 2.3 million hours in 2007/08. More than 12 million people visit our pay for entry properties, while an estimated 50 million visit our open air properties. We protect and open to the public over 300 historic houses and gardens and 49 industrial monuments and mills. But it doesn’t stop there. We also look after forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, downs, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, castles, nature reserves, villages - for ever, for everyone."

For ever, for everyone. National Trust properties are there to be shared. Visitors are to be welcomed. Those of us who have worked for the National Trust as volunteers at Ashdown House have been doing that for years, making the most of what the house has to offer with energy, enthusiasm, creativity. Wouldn't it be marvellous if the new tenants also shared the Trust's aims and aspirations - and our pleasure in welcoming visitors?


Melinda Hammond said...

The Media want a sensational story, Nicola, you know that :) Let's hope that potential tenants will be clever enough to work out that this little gem comes with some responsibities (in your books it might be called noblesse oblige......)

Nicola Cornick said...

LOL, Melinda, let's hope they do! I quite appreciate that the story "beautiful stately home requires tenants interested in history" isn't as juicy as "buy a weekend trophy house and try to dissuade the visiting public from using your loo!" Of course they are missing the REAL story here, which is what the loyal and discreet Ashdown volunteers think of the whole business!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that you are introducing many to a marvelous gem of a house but you must agree that if you were spending £4.5m you might want a bit of privacy! Maybe, indeed, this is why the present owner is selling up.

Nicola Cornick said...

Thanks for your comment! It's an interesting point and I appreciate you making it. Ashdown House is indeed a gem and I think deserves to be shared. And after all, the house is only open for 6 hours a week.

I wrote the article mainly because I was disappointed in the way that the sale was being represented in the press with the implication that having the public visit it was some sort of imposition. I felt that was missing the point really.

I have no idea as to why the present occupiers are selling so cannot speculate on that. But I think that if you knowingly take on a house where the freehold belongs to the National Trust and they have an agreement to show the public the property, you have to expect some compromise on privacy. Surely if you wanted to ensure complete privacy you would spend your £4.5 million on the freehold of a private property?

Paul said...

I think you have to look at it from a buyers point of view.

We looked at it at the time (twice) and were in fact quite interested. But it is certainly true that we didn't like the idea of people having access to the stairs and roof (which was the only part of the property we were required to allow access, certainly there was no requirement to allow the public to use the loo!). There was in fact no requirement to allow access to the grounds or the South Lodge or even to allow parking so we could have made it virtually impossible to conduct tours there anyhow. But certainly it was a factor and needless to say we didn't take it any further mainly because my wife was concerned about the security aspects even with the reduced access. She just wasn't comfortable with it and I understand her position.

We loved the house, loved the pool pavilion and orangery and loved the grounds If it had of been freehold we would have bought it. Given the circumstances I'm sure you would be happy we didn't buy it.

We purchased another property, historic, larger and yes private and secure. of course it isn't as romantically striking as Ashdown House but life is full of compromises.

It's a special place and I do intend to visit it again this summer.

Nicola Cornick said...

I'm glad you consider Ashdown a special place, Paul. Thank you.