I had the pleasure of spending much of this week in the company of a very dear friend and colleague, David J Brown. David was in the UK with his wife Candice, and kindly agreed to speak to staff and NTEWNI headquarters. Another reason for their visit was to hear their son, Andrew Brown, perform in Cosi fan Tutte. They stayed with us for a couple of days after Andrew’s recital at the Royal College of Music. And then we took them to the Grange Festival to watch the dress rehearsal of Le Nozze di Figaro! Truly a holiday of music and Mozart!
I loved showing David and Candice the Grange. I’ve mentioned it in previous blogs because it really does play an important role in my life. When I was a child, it was threatened with demolition. But was then rescued thanks to the endeavours of SAVE Britain’s Heritage. I’ve been lucky enough to meet many of them since through my work: Simon Jenkins, Kit Martin, Charles Saumarez Smith, Marcus Binney. And our dear INTO friend, Donald Hankey, was the architect for the conservation work in the 1980s.
David’s visit on the eve of D-Day was very timely. Not only was Donald Trump in town but there are American connections to the Grange too. Winston Churchill and Dwight D Eisenhower apparently met there in 1944 to discuss Operation Overlord, as it was known. US troops were stationed here and I suppose the mansion was still standing fairly proud in those days. However, by the time I was born, it was crumbling. And my Grandmother’s stories of playing there in the 1910s seemed quite unimaginable. Fortunately, the opera brought new life back into the tired Greek Revival country house in the late 1990s. And now it is flourishing.
My parents bought our family home fifty years ago this year. And as David mentions in his lovely blog, I was born there – as was our daughter Connie. We are holding a party to celebrate this milestone later in the summer.
Driving to the office the morning after the opera, we visited Avebury. We had driven past Stonehenge on the way but decided to stop up at Avebury. And I was reminded how incredible the ancient stones are that surround the village. David, as I’ve mentioned before, has a really good catch-phrase: What if the period of significance is now? So we tried it out at Avebury. We surmised that the stones demonstrate human ingenuity and dedication. Much to learn from that today. But also our place in the wider landscape, our connection to nature and the passing of time. While we were there, we all helped a disabled visitor cross the road to get closer to the stones. His walking aid was no barrier to his determination to be part of the prehistoric stone circle.
A sizeable group of NTEWNI staff came to David’s talk about the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Not that they were bribed by the INTO cookies at all!) They were joined by INTO Amici and volunteers. Everyone was fascinated to learn more about the NTHP and its close ties to INTO and the Trust family. Their work in urban areas and with local communities was of particular interest.
The following day, David and Candice headed up to London to meet Sir Laurie Magnus, Chairman of Historic England. But not before helping Connie with her homework assignment (researching the US states of Wisconsin and Maine). Along with dinner in our local pub.
I think it’s always lovely to have visitors to show around. It reminds you – if you need it – of all the positives of your place. I have called River House home for my entire life and I probably take it for granted. But having fresh eyes experience it was real eye-opener for me. I’m endlessly grateful to my wonderful parents who bought it in 1969 and hope to pass it on to the next generation. Perhaps I naively imagine that it won’t change, but of course it will. And should. But I hope it will retain the stories, memories and ambience that my parents – and now we as a family – created here.
Thanks for reading!