National Trust widens appeal with eclectic acquisitions

Michael McCarthy
Thursday 12 February 2004 01:00

A mountain, a modernist house, a stately home and an ancient back-to-back terrace - these are the symbols of the new and expanding appeal of the National Trust, which yesterday announced its property openings for 2004.

The eclectic mix of new visitor attractions represents the policy of Fiona Reynolds, the director-general, who has set out to widen the Trust's range of interests over the past three years. Ms Reynolds has managed to retain core supporters while appealing to people outside the Trust's once solidly middle-class base. She has presided over the acquisition of a 19th century workhouse, John Lennon's childhood home, grand aristocratic mansions and most of Snowdon.

Her influence was evident in the list of new openings she announced yesterday. There is a unique modernist house, The Homewood in Esher, Surrey, influenced by Le Corbusier and designed in 1938 by the British architect Patrick Gwynne. The house, all straight lines and plate glass, can be visited by guided tour only on Fridays, starting in March.

There is also a piece of what one might term industrial revolution-domestic architecture, the last remaining terrace of back-to-back houses in central Birmingham. These small houses, built around courtyards rather than in the streets of the North, were where craftsmen and their families lived and are being restored at a cost of nearly £2m and will open in July.

One of the more curious acquisitions is the home in Liverpool of E Chambre Hardman, the city's society portrait photographer of the mid-20th century. The Georgian house in Rodney Street, containing Mr Hardman's140,000 images of Liverpool and its people, will open on 15 September.

The countryside is represented by Divis Mountain and Black Mountain, the backdrop for Belfast. They have been property of the Ministry of Defence for many years and closed to the public, but it is hoped they will open later this year under Trust stewardship. They offer stunning views of the city.

And more traditionally minded Trust members will be pleased with the re-opening of Wallington, a Palladian country house from 1688 near Morpeth in Northumberland with beautiful interiors and grounds.

Ms Reynolds's tenure of office has coincided with a remarkable surge in membership of the Trust, the biggest conservation body in the world. The organisation has swollen to 3,314,284 members, up 470,000 in two years, paying subscriptions that range from £36 for a single adult to £65 for a family.

Jon Barton, the Trust's director of communications , said people were joining at one point last year at a faster rate than babies were being born in Britain. Membership shot up from one million in 1980 to three million in 2002. The rise was steady in the 1980s and 1990s, but has increased sharply since 2001, when Ms Reynolds took over. She thinks the membership surge may be due to something more than just a broadening of appeal or a reaction by a public increasingly interested in heritage and history opposed to information delivered electronically. She said: "We offer the real thing."

The Trust has more than 300 houses, 165 gardens, 73 parks, 600 miles of coastline and 600,000 acres of countryside.

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