Kenwood Friends fall out with English Heritage

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Supporters of one of London's best-preserved historic houses claimed yesterday that English Heritage had instructed staff not to meet them because of dispute over the buildings' care.

The Council of the Friends of Kenwood House, in Hampstead, north London, held its first meeting without the presence of English Heritage staff yesterday .

George Levy, a member of the council, said the injunction had come from Sir Jocelyn Stevens, the chairman of English Heritage, following the row between English Heritage and the Friends over curatorial provision at Kenwood.

It is believed to be the first time that staff representatives - Judith Rutherford, director of history properties in London, and Ian Dejardin, the curator with responsibility for Kenwood, have not attended a council meeting. The pointed move follows the Friends' passionate objections to English Heritage's decision to dismantle its Museums Division, based at Kenwood.

Instead, the quango has substituted a managerial team in Oxford Street, with a curator only visiting Kenwood on average twice a week.

Kenwood, remodelled by Robert Adam in the mid-18th century, was bequeathed to the nation by Lord Iveagh, head of the Guinness dynasty, in 1928. He also passed over a collection of paintings, including a Rembrandt self- portrait, Vermeer's Lady With the Guitar, several Gainsboroughs and a Turner.

The Friends believe that the decision to remove permanently-based curatorial staff from the house would downgrade the museum.

But their beliefs have sparked a war of words between the Friends, who raised a capital fund which yields pounds 30,000 to pounds 40,000 for Kenwood, and Sir Jocelyn, who is famous for his tough management. He has said that it is "very difficult" to run such an important museum "when the so-called Friends are interfering all the time".

He has also furiously denied claims that he is neglecting the museum, regarding it as an attack on his managerial abilities and "very, very libellous".

Mr Levy said in his turn yesterday that it saddened the group that Sir Jocelyn was not prepared to sit down and discuss the problem. "The sooner that discussion could take place with Sir Jocelyn the happier everyone would be," he said.

"Our relationship with English Heritage has always been excellent and we are very anxious to have this matter resolved as soon as possible. We feel that there is every reason for a discussion to take place and we would really welcome it, because although we will continue working for Kenwood, it is a little difficult under these circumstances."

English Heritage denied that staff had been forbidden to attend meetings. "Of course staff are allowed to meet with the Friends. But they didn't feel it was appropriate to attend the council meeting, because we've talked to them about the issues," a spokesman said.

The stalemate now seems unlikely to be resolved unless a compromise can be brokered by the Department of National Heritage, which appointed Sir Jocelyn and the Friends.

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