HERITAGE: National Trust blamed for `soulless' stateley homes

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The National Trust has turned the nation's stately homes into soulless time capsules deadened by hidebound tradition, a magazine claims today. Harpers & Queen said critics had accused the trust, which looks after many stately homes, landscapes and monuments, of being too bureaucratic and unfriendly, and said it was not making as much money as it should, because it was a stickler for tradition and authenticity.

The trust "has come under criticism for creating time capsules rather than capturing the spirit of a place, and has evolved a rigid practice of mothballing houses during the winter", the magazine says in its June edition.

Meanwhile, privately owned country homes could "evolve and change at the owners' discretion".

The stately home at Ragley, Warwickshire, owned by Lord Yarmouth, made a pounds 412,219 profit in 1994 to 1995, compared with a trust property at Kingston Lacy, Dorset, which made pounds 79,375, the report said.

"The trust maintains its properties as historic monuments, often to a particular period, which can be extremely expensive," it said.

Another problem was that only 15 per cent of the trust's houses were lived in, and that the tenants had "little or no control over what the Trust chooses to do to the house".

For instance, Sir Edmund Fairfax-Lucy cannot light a fire in his sitting room at Charlecote (below), without the trust's permission, while the Earl of Belmore had to fight the trust to prevent it painting the drawing room at Castle Coole in Northern Ireland "germolene pink".

A National Trust spokeswoman said: "The trust was set up to preserve places of historic and natural beauty for the nation for ever. We try to keep the look of the home and contents, or of an earlier period. The trust is not there to make profit, but it is important that the house and estate is there for people to see."