Following a recent article confirming the NT’s 10-year plan to strip some houses of many of their contents and make their displays “simpler”, with a view to getting people under 40 through the door, I have to admit that I was in the camp that deemed this attitude of the NT to be “bonkers”. Why would they deliberately make their houses more museum-like? They have houses, not museums: there is a place for the V&A with its room sets.
However, last year I visited a NT house unlike none other and it was nearly my favourite house trip of the year. And it didn’t have any contents! And I liked it!
It is a modest house in Grasmere in the Lake District, possibly my favourite place in the Lake District. We were somewhat wary of what to expect given that we knew the house had been on fire and it had no original fittings/furniture, but I told D that the house offers free coffee and the chance to sit overlooking the lake while painting a watercolour. D gave in and agreed we could go.
Thus, we found ourselves parking in the garden centre and trekking up quite a steep hill to Allan Bank. I made my cup of tea, raised an eyebrow at the near-derilict interior and found myself in the former morning room, paintbrush in hand, painting a watercolour of the lake.
What the NT have done is make each room in this house somewhere that you can (for an hour) enjoy living there. There are reading rooms, a nursery, painting rooms, tea, a piano to play, board games etc. We played badminton in the outhouse.
And guess what, I enjoyed it. I felt very welcome. I scribbled on the blackboard at the top of the stairs, where visitors are invited to make suggestions for how the house can move into its future.
And guess what, I will always try and go back to Allan Bank when we’re in Grasmere!
The house was owned by one of the founders of the NT and then rented out. When the property caught fire the previous residents were so pleased with their new accommodation that the NT decided to do something quite different with the house, rather than just relet it. And I think it works really well; it’s something special, perfect for the special place it’s located in.
Further reading: http://www.visitcumbria.com/amb/allan-bank/
When visited: October 2014