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About A Week: A Trustworthy Trust

Peter Hinchliffe celebrates the work of the National Trust, keepers of some of Britain’s finest houses and landscapes.

There’s a surprising piece of “art’’ work above the drawing room fireplace in a grand centuries-old house in Yorkshire.

Beningbrough Hall near York is the northern outpost of Britain’s National Portrait Gallery. Eighteenth century portraits of the rich, famous and talented hang on its walls. There’s John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, Samuel Pepys the diarist, George Frederick Handel the composer…

And a message which announces “Gypsy Loves Olive’’.

Beningbrough was built in lush meadows near the city of York in the early 1700s for John Bourchier, freshly returned from a grand tour of Europe filled with a vision of what a country house should look like.

During the Second World War Beningbrough became the temporary home of the crews of bomber squadrons based at nearby Royal Air Force station Linton-on-Ouse.

These included 408 Royal Canadian Air Force Squadron. “Gypsy’’ was a member of this squadron, and Olive a local girl with whom he fell in love.

Sixty years on from he end of the war it’s hard to imagine the roar of aero engines as scores of heavily-laden aircraft took to the skies, heading out to bomb targets in mainland Europe.

Beningbrough now is a haven of quiet. When I was there last weekend it seemed the very essence of peaceful England on a sunny summer afternoon.

It almost goes without saying that Beningbrough is owned by the National Trust, an organisation independent of he Government, which protects the “treasures’’ of Britain.

Under the Trust’s protection are 700 miles of coastline in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They look after 617,500 acres (250,000 hectares) of countryside, moorland, beaches and coastline.

Amongst the historic properties in the Trust's care are 166 fine houses, 19 castles, 47 industrial monuments and mills, 49 churches and chapels, and 35 pubs and inns.

The childhood homes of Beatles stars John Lennon and Paul McCartney are owned by he Trust.

The Trust has –

· Saved the Large Blue butterfly and the Lady’s Slipper orchid from extinction in he UK.
· Escorts toads across the road of North Yorkshire
· Facilitates Druidic rites at Avebury and Stonehenge
· Provides habitats for he UK’s 17 special of bats
· Restores traditional orchards and maintains rare fruit varieties
· Rewired Cragside in Northumberland, the first home to be lit by hydro-electricity.

A hundred years ago as of last month Parliament passed the first National Trust Act, giving the Trust the authority to protect property forever for the benefit of the nation.

“The need of quiet, the need of air, the need of exercise, and..the sight of sky and of things growing seem human needs, common to all men,’’ declared Octavia Hill. Along with Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and Sir Robert Hunter, who drafted the Act of Parliament, she founded the Trust in 1895.

The Act gave the Trust the ability to declare land 'inalienable', so that the Trust could make an irrevocable commitment to look after that land forever, with no-one being able to take the land away from the Trust without Parliament's permission.

It spelt out the purpose of the Trust to 'promote the permanent preservation for the benefit of the nation of lands of beauty or historic interest'.

More than 50 million people visit the Trust’s open-air property each year, and more than 12 million visit the pay-to-enter properties. Around 50,000 volunteers help to keep the Trust running.

The Trust’s membership has just passed 3,500,000. Announcing the fact in full-page national newspaper advertisement the Trust says “We’ like to say a huge than you to each and every one of them. As a harity we rely heavily on heir support.’’

Among the National Trust properties in the area where I live are –

· Marsden Moor Estate – a huge area of moorland, with unspoilt valleys, reservoirs, peaks and crags. It is the home of rare varieties of wildlife. Many scenes for Britain’s longest-running TV comedy programme Last Of The Summer Wine have been filmed there.
· Rievaulx Terrace and Temples near Helmsley, one of Yorkshire’s finest landscape gardens. The half-milke long terrace offers stunning views of over the Ryedale Valley and Rievaulx Abbey far below.
· Nostell Priory near Wakefield, an 18th-century architectural masterpiece with Adam interiors and a landscaped park.

I treasure happy memories of visits to Nostell Priory. There are handsome horse chestnut trees in the rounds. After the first autumn gale, my sons and I used o go and gather nuts blown rom the trees. The nuts are used to play the ancient British game,
conkers.

In the peace and quiet of 21st Century Beningbrough it is hard o imagine the lives of those bomber crews who were billeted there during the early 1940s. One evening, they would be carousing in the local village pub. The next, winging their way through a lethal hail from bursting shells over the Ruhr, Berlin, or some other target in Germany.

Many of the beds at Beningbrough were only occupied for a few days. Thousands of airmen who headed out over the North Sea on bombing raids never returned. They were shot down and killed.

“Gypsy’’ whose inscription is preserved in the drawing room at Benigborough, did survive. He returned to his home in Canada, but not with his beloved Olive.

He married another young woman, and Olive married another young man.

One hopes they experienced the contentment to be found at Beningbrough Hall.

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