Viscount accuses National Trust of vandalism: Family goes public in dispute over 'arrogant' handling of ancestral home given to nation. Stephen Ward reports

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WHEN a piece of land has been your family seat for almost 900 years, and the building a Georgian masterpiece, it must be hard to see others come in and change things.

Eight years ago, with huge death duties looming, Lord Scarsdale handed his ancestral home, Kedleston Hall, near Derby - a Robert Adam building and contents and its 820-acre park - to the National Trust for the nation.

When a house is given to the trust, there is a always a memorandum of wishes. In his, Lord Scarsdale said he wished to be consulted 'on major but not minor issues'. What does not seem to have been settled adequately was whether the house would be restored exactly to its Georgian state, and what would happen to alterations and additions to the interior made by generations of the Curzon family.

Yesterday, growing tensions in the agreement, which allows the family to stay as tenants for ever in one wing, emerged publicly. The third Viscount Scarsdale, 70, who inherited the title and home from his cousin 13 years ago, said on local radio in Derby that the National Trust's treatment had been 'vandalism and sacrilege', and its attitude to his family had been 'arrogant and insulting'.

He said there had been a long catalogue of 'irritating incidents' over the past seven years. He said furniture had been removed, ornaments broken, gardens altered and a large fountain destroyed.

He said bitterly that he never knew what was going to happen next at the hall, which is open to the public between April and October. 'The National Trust don't really want my opinion, because they have already decided what they are going to do. To my mind it is arrogance and really rather insulting to me and my family. I mean, I only gave them the place . . . It should be a happy and amicable relationship with the trust, but I'm sorry to say it's not.'

He said he was worried by what he sees as the NT's attempts to make the hall 'all 1760 Georgian'. He says it is a family home and should reflect the changes through history.

Lord Scarsdale said the stone gazebo with a fountain in the middle 'simply vanished' while he was in London for a couple of days. The trust had allegedly told him the structure was unsafe, but he insists it was so strongly built that workmen had to smash it apart with sledgehammers.

'I thought it was vandalism to bash it down in this manner,' he said.

The trust insists that it changes nothing lightly, and only on the advice of the best experts, but is entitled to make sensitive changes to the public parts since they were built by the first Baron Scarsdale from 1758-1760 as a showcase.

According to Robert Walker, of the trust: 'There are records of the housekeeper in the 18th century taking visitors on a progress through the rooms. It is not as though there has been a series of different uses. There has always been a family wing, and the central portion and opposite wing have always been a showpiece.'

He said the trust's representatives met Lord Scarsdale every two months. 'We seek to engender a constructive relationship in donor families,' he added.

(Photograph omitted)