Brits at their Best Sharing the Inheritance

British Life

Old houses to visit

Landmark Trust Houses

Sir John Smith’s Houses & Island

A good way to explore the Landmark Trust’s handbook is to lie back in your chair. You read about staying at the Bath House “in its deep woodland setting, so near to the Forest of Arden”, and you imagine you are there. If you enjoy festive surprises, you'll like the walls of its Dome Room, which are encrusted with shells.

If you grow tired of living in the Augustan age, you can go back in time to a lost village in Suffolk. You would cross the ford, leave the car 400 yards from the house, and move your bags in the wheelbarrow helpfully left by the Trust. There you would live in the 13th century medieval manor hall and dine at a trestle table, eating venison and drinking mead with companions of your choosing.

If you wanted a party, you would travel to Auchinleck House in Scotland. Dr Johnson argued politics in the house's library with Boswell’s father, who had built the house with a view across to Arran. The house is ideal for children and parents since children are happily lost in it.

All these houses and many others were saved from destruction by Sir John, who founded the Landmark Trust in 1965. He had several pressing reasons -

"Many minor buildings, put up with thought and care by skilled, intelligent people long ago, were disappearing all the time". He wanted "to rouse people's interest in their surroundings. . . in space and time". (Telegraph) To accomplish his twin goals, the Landmark Trust acquires and rents out historic houses for weekends and holidays.

To acquire the houses, Sir John established a charitable investment trust, the Manifold. Given the expense of restoration, Manifold Trust investments fortunately produced "a cataract of gold", and people began donating cherished buildings as well.

It is a tribute to the British people that they built so many charming and interesting buildings. It's a tribute to Sir John that he gave these buildings the attention and money they needed to survive today.

His most expensive project was organising the rescue of Lundy Island –

one of those simple places where you can hear earth's voices as they are; where you can slow down and consider what you are doing.

Lundy Island, church and blue sea

Lundy Island lies in the Bristol Channel, 12 miles off the coast of Devon, on major bird migration routes. There were fears the island would be turned into a casino, but Sir John organised a rescue, and Sir Jack Hayward made the critical £150,000 donation. The Landmark Trust runs Lundy, which welcomes visitors.

Image: Michael Maggs

The name Lundy may come from the old Norse word for puffin as puffins dwell here. (They are coming back after almost dying out.) Megalithic peoples visited the island, and so, later, did pirates. You can book a stay in the castle, cottage, barn or bramble villa.

Sir John, who died in March 2007, is remembered in the Telegraph. He did not “save the world”. He decided to save part of it, and he did.

English bulldog puppy

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass