14 March is Commonwealth Day and it will be observed here in London with a special service at Westminster Abbey attended by Her Majesty the Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth.
Today the Commonwealth acts as ‘inclusive network for mutual support, development and growth of opportunity and rights for all’, says Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, which all sounds very familiar … !
It is no coincidence that many INTO member trusts are from countries also belonging to the Commonwealth – common language, common legal system, common bonds, common values.
Like the Commonwealth, INTO acts as a supranational platform through which to provide professional advice and coordination between the Trusts. It also offers smaller nations the opportunity to have their views and opinions heard on an international stage.
So, on the eve of Commonwealth Day, we look back to the first International Conference of National Trusts, held in 1978 and hosted by the National Trust for Scotland, which brought together the Trusts of the world for the first time. From then, the Conference crossed the globe: USA, Australia, UK, Bermuda, New Zealand, Gelderland, Puerto Rico, Alice Springs, Edinburgh (the 10th International Conference of National Trusts in 2003 set out the parameters of the organisation that would become INTO), Washington DC, New Delhi (held in 2007, when INTO was formally launched) and from there to Dublin (2009), Victoria, Canada (2011), Entebbe, Uganda (2013) and Cambridge, England (2015).
And now we look ahead to the Bali Conference in 2017 which will explore the role heritage trusts can play in enabling communities to strengthen their cultural heritage and improve their quality of life while conserving their environment.
Closer to home, today I enjoyed a family visit to Kingston Lacy, an Italianate Palazzo in the heart of Dorset. Bequeathed to the National Trust in 1981, it is a trip around the world in an afternoon, a true evocation of the Grand Tour – the 18th Century equivalent of a ‘gap year’ – undertaken by William John Bankes two hundred years ago. Rather than bringing back endless photographs and tacky souvenirs, Grand Tourers filled crates with paintings, sculptures and a love of ancient classical architecture.
Wikipedia calls Bankes a ‘an explorer, Egyptologist and adventurer’ and the home he had remodelled to reflect his travels includes the Spanish room lined with Venetian gilded leather and Spanish paintings; a set of doors from the Vatican; a collection of Old Masters featuring Titian, Rubens, Tintoretto and Velázquez; the Guido Reni ceiling fresco from Bologna; an extensive collection of Egyptian artefacts including several obelisks (Bankes also visited Palmyra and Petra); the Japanese Garden … I could go on (there is more information about Kingston Lacy’s treasures here) but suffice it to say that Kingston Lacy is joyful international feast – and a Grand Day Out!