National Trust: challenging gender stereotypes

I associate the National Trust with many things – history, beautiful gardens, hill farming, scones and jam.  But not so much with views on unconventional sexuality.

Yet in their latest members’ magazine that’s exactly what they’re doing, with a fascinating piece called ‘Prejudice and Pride’ on the less conventional people to have lived in their properties over the centuries.

There’s an initial, more general article by author Sarah Waters which explains how a better understanding of the challenges facing some former residents helps us to understand the places themselves.  And that’s followed by a series of mini biographies of some of the more unconventional figures themselves, linking them to the various National Trust properties where they lived and loved.

As you might expect, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West loom large, not least because the National Trust now owns several of the properties (Sissinghurst, Knole, Monk’s House) they were associated with.  But there are also some less well-known figures, such as actress Ellen Terry’s daughter Edy (Smallhythe Place), 19th century MP William Bankes (Kingston Lacy), and theatrical designer Oliver Messel (Nymans).  More of a cop-out is Henry Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey, who seems to have been labelled as gay (both at the time, and now) simply because his marriage failed and he enjoyed dressing up.

However, apart from that it’s an intriguing exploration of a subject that’s too often swept under the carpet.  I particularly liked Ms Waters’ comments about the many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of servants living and working in these properties over the years, who struggled to hide their own unconventional relationships.  Overall, hats off to the National Trust for a sensitive and unsensational article.

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All of a twitter

I’m slowly creaking my way into the twentieth century (never mind the twenty-first!) and have just opened up my own Twitter account.

It’s much more fun than I expected, with lots of local Cumbrian and Lakeland events, venues and people to chat to, as well as all my own interests to follow such as museums, art, architecture, history, gardens, reading (of course!), ghosts, and even the odd pot of chalk paint.  And new friends made already, which is always nice.

If you’d like to track me down, I’m on as F_Glass_Author (all the better ones were taken!).  I’ll usually follow legitimate fellow-tweeters (ie, no spammers or scammers) back.

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Bookshop Trail

The other day I picked up a leaflet somewhere about a bookshop trail.  Not just any bookshop trail, but specifically the ‘Dales & Lakes Bookshop Trail’, which is a collective of secondhand bookshops in the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District national parks and their surroundings.

I’d never come across this before, and was delighted to find that there are twenty-six participating stores, including several in the small “book town” of Sedbergh, which is situated roughly half way between Kendal and Yorkshire.  We visited the town for the first time last year and I was amazed at the number of book shops lining the streets.  Now, apparently, there are six – not bad for a town of around 3,000 people!

And it’s not just Sedbergh.  The shops listed cover a vast area from Hawes and Hebden Bridge in the Yorkshire Dales, to Keswick and Penrith in northern Cumbria, Whitehaven on the far west coast, and Cartmel and Grange-over-Sands in the south.

It’s an impressive cooperative project.  And I’m really looking forward to trying to visit every bookshop on the list!

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Beautiful buildings

There are some stunning photographs of architecture in this gallery from the BBC web page yesterday.

I particularly like the one of the Flatiron Building in a blizzard, but each one demonstrates a clever eye for spotting the unexpected view or the strange beauty in artificial, built environments. I just wish all the captions explained where the various photos had been taken.  I’d love to know where that very Starship Enterprise style control room was, for example!

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Ja Windermere!

Dave and I haven’t been particularly well lately – all kinds of winter bugs at work – but last Saturday we shuffled up the hill to Windermere town centre to see the “German” Christmas market.

Ja Windermere is a brand new venture which has never been run before.  And it was very sweet.  Hardly in the same league as Birmingham’s famous Frankfurt Christmas Market, but it featured around 40 stalls selling food, drink and gifts, and was large enough to have closed two of the roads in the town centre (with parking for reindeer behind the Tourist Information Centre!).

The main difference to other Christmas markets is that it was only German in name and style, not in content.  There were a couple of stalls selling gluhwein, and one doing Frankfurters and German sausages, but apart from that all the produce was local, and the whole event was sponsored by Made In Cumbria, a local trade cooperative organisation.

Even so, it was great fun and had really drawn in the crowds.  We spent an enjoyable 20 minutes strolling round the stalls, bought a handful of bits and bobs (including some Herdwick cards to frame) and then shuffled home again.

I’ve since read in the local papers that it was a roaring success, so hopefully we can expect a bigger and better Ja Windermere here next year.

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Coppermines in the sleet

Tuesday was Dave’s birthday and although the weather wasn’t great we decided to take the day off and go out somewhere.  ‘Somewhere’ proved to be Coniston, after an interesting drive avoiding fallen trees.  We hadn’t been for over a year (even though it’s only about 12 miles away) so it was great to see the place again.  First stop was a coffee in front of a roaring (and very welcome) log fire in the Meadowdore Café – an old favourite from days of yore when I visited the area with my parents.  And then we donned boots and waterproofs and set off for a walk up the famous Coppermines Valley.

The weather at valley level wasn’t great – cold, windy and spattering with rain – but as we climbed it deteriorated.  Coppermines (a hanging valley) isn’t all that far above sea level but as soon as we got up and over the lip, we met the wind.  In spades.  Howling straight off the snow-covered fells above, and bringing curtains of horizontal sleet with it.  You might say it was bracing.  It was also freezing, wet, and difficult to stand upright.  We struggled along the miners’ track for a few hundred yards, took some photos of a sheep (those Herdies are tough), and decided enough was enough.

We thawed out soon enough over a pub lunch at the Black Bull, but it does make you wonder how the miners managed – not only having to walk further in bad weather, but then putting in a twelve hour shift of hard work afterwards, in clothes that were quite probably soaked right through.

Here’s a couple of photos to show what it was like.  The blobs show how hard it was to keep the sleet off the camera lens!

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Archaeological riches?

Saturday morning was horrible – foggy and wet – so we headed for our nearest big town, Barrow in Furness.  It’s not the most romantic destination around, but it has all the ‘big stores’ to hit, plus The Dock Museum, which is great to poke round on a wet day.

The journey was interesting as the road south down the lake had flooded badly in half a dozen places after overnight rain.  We got through in our trusty 4×4 but I was glad we weren’t in something low-slung!

We got the chores out of the way first (tins of paint, grub from Tesco) then trotted along to the museum.  As ever there are all sorts of tidbits of information about Barrow’s history to while away an hour or so.  The shipbuilding industry, iron-ore working, Barrow’s sudden growth from small village to giant sprawl in the mid nineteenth century, and its role in the two world wars.

This time, we had the bonus of an extra exhibition.  Billed as ‘Archaeology on Show’, it celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society with an exploration of ‘the rich archaeological finds from Barrow and Cumbria’.

Sadly, although the finds might have been rich the exhibition wasn’t, terribly.  We’d expected more than about twelve separate exhibits: an aurochs horn, part of a stuffed reindeer, a few photographs of the county’s Anglo Saxon heritage.  It had the feeling of something put together by a village school rather than a premier society; the best word I can find to describe it is ‘sparse’.  We can’t complain too much as entry – to both the exhibition and the rest of the museum – is free, but I’d still have liked a bit more content from a county the size of Cumbria with a history of settlement dating back, apparently, 750,000 years.  A shame, as previous exhibitions have been really fascinating.

 

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