There's more to the National Trust than country piles, says the new head man. There's 20 Forthin Road, for a start

"I am at the tiller for the time being, but I'm just one of many," was the modest comment of Martin Drury, who took over as director general of the National Trust at the beginning of the year. "The challenge is to keep the thing on course." However, there are already indications that he will steer this venerable old craft towards her second century with some panache.

It was he who took the innovative step of acquiring the first house connected with a living person - and a pop singer at that, rather than a Duke or retired statesman. Hearing that 20 Forthin Road, Liverpool - the council house where Paul McCartney spent his teenage years - was for sale, Drury felt it was something the Trust should at least consider. "I was taken by several things," he told me. "Firstly it was really a rather good building from the last breath of a working-class housing movement - the garden suburb movement - which does great credit to this country." More importantly, he saw it as "an immediate link with the creation of music which touched millions".

This link is documented by a series of photographs taken in the house by Paul's brother Mike McCartney, showing, for example, Paul and John on the sofa with their guitars with Paul's maths exercise book open, revealing the words "I will hold your hand".

Reaction from the membership has been mixed: broadly those from the North approve, while those from the South indicate some degree of puzzlement. Drury is unrepentant: "Any organisation can so easily get turgid and backward looking. We are preoccupied with the past quite a lot, so it is good to be edging forward."

In fact, Drury regrets that the public perception of the National Trust is so closely linked to houses, although he served for 11 years as Historic Buildings Secretary and is an expert on antique furnishings. "Our country houses are very important and I'm very proud of them, but they do fuel the false impression that the Trust is very rich," he says. "In fact most of the big country houses run at a loss and the Trust's financial position is precarious. It needs more members."

There is another reason why the stately home perception displeases Drury: "It devalues the rest of our work, which is just as remarkable. We own 506,000 acres of countryside and through Enterprise Neptune, which is the single most important campaign the Trust has undertaken, we have protected 502 miles of coastline." Once land is acquired, the Trust has a unique power to declare it inalienable, which means it cannot be sold, mortgaged or compulsorily purchased without recourse to Parliament.

In the light of present conflicts over road proposals, I asked Mr Drury about relations between the Trust and the Department of Transport (DoT). "In most cases the DoT tries to avoid our inalienable land," he said, "but when threatened we are obliged by statute to defend it - and we do. That is the situation at Hindhead. The proposal to take the A3 by- pass on concrete stilts across the Devil's Punchbowl was rejected as unthinkable. The Trust insists that the road is run through a tunnel, an option it also wants to see adopted at the even more sensitive World Heritage site of Stonehenge. At Golden Cap in Dorset, where the plan was to run the A35 through some of the Trust's loveliest coastal land, the DoT listened to the Trust's arguments and reduced its proposal from a double to a single carriageway. This is still considered unacceptable and the Trust opposes it as publicly as possible."

"We are not against the car," Drury added, "but the present rate at which life is dominated by the car cannot be sustained. At the last AGM it was suggested that the number of visitors arriving by car should be reduced from 90 per cent to 60 per cent. A tall order, but a move in the right direction." When Prior Park near Bath opens this season, all visitors will have to walk or come by public transport - there are no parking facilities. The Trust has initiated other strategies; work on 12 cycle tracks to run from urban centres to Trust properties; cheaper combined public transport and entry tickets for some properties and the continuing policy of listing available public transport in the handbook to enable those who are carless to reach the properties - in theory at least.

"I want the National Trust to be appreciated by a wider sector of the population" said Drury, who is fully aware of the middle-class, middle- England image of Trust members. He pointed to three schemes - "Linking People with Places" - operating in Plymouth, Birmingham and Newcastle, which reach out to connect people from depressed inner city areas with the amenities that nearby Trust properties can offer them. In Newcastle the project has apparently been so successful that older people and single mothers have formed their own groups to organise walks, field trips and weekends.

This seems very much more in the spirit of Octavia Hill, the Trust founder whose aim was to create "outdoor sitting-rooms for the poor", rather than the stereotypical huntin' shootin' and fishin' stately home incumbent whose image the words "National Trust" conjure up for so many.

Hunting, of course, has caused the Trust some headaches over the years. What are the new director general's views on it?

"Our policy is to allow hunting - which is perfectly legal after all - where it has traditionally taken place and not to allow it where it would damage habitats or if the land has been given to us with a no-hunting condition." He is aware of the intense passion the subject provokes: "To some, mostly country people (and it is these we depend on as employees, tenants and benefactors in our work), it is an inalienable right, while to others - many of them the very people we are doing the work for - it is something utterly repugnant. It is best for us to keep out of the argument."

Martin Drury is more concerned with finding ways in which Trust properties can be shown more imaginatively. He has just launched the "Thousand Threads" project, so called because it seeks to weave a tapestry of information by means of a series of high technology "Gateways" at 30 properties. If it comes off (support of pounds 11.35 million has been sought from the Millenium Commission), virtual reality, CD-ROMS, fly-by-wire models and interactive hands-on displays will be used. This will help to deepen the appeal of the properties and improve visitor enjoyment, while an even larger audience will be tapped both here and abroad through CD-ROM and the Internet.

Up-to-the-minute stuff indeed for the staid old National Trust, demonstrating Mr Drury's belief that it is essential to move with the times. "I want to spread the social base of the membership and also get over the fact that the Trust is a charity in need, not an opulent great ship sailing confidently towards the future. I want to improve the schools education programme: children of all races are the British people of the future, and it is their National Trust." He is also keenly aware that the Trust has to earn public affection by giving people what they want. Which brings us back to the Beatles House.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam