This Thursday will see the winners announced of the 2012 Hudson’s Heritage awards at a lunch ceremony at Goldsmith's Hall in London.
Spear's, the global wealth management and arts/culture magazine I founded, is proud to be Associate Partner of these awards which have quickly become regarded as ‘the Oscars of the UK heritage industry’.
Thursday's awards will be presented by Hudson’s founder Norman Hudson OBE, (right) along with judges Lady Lucinda Lambton, Loyd Grossman (chairman of the Heritage Alliance) and Jeremy Musson (former architectural editor of Country Life) and heritage consultant Simon Foster. Inaugurated last year, the awards were created to celebrate achievement and success in the UK heritage industry at a time when heritage tourism is a growing sector within the UK economy, with growth at 2.6% - more than manufacturing.
The Hudson’s awards fill a much needed gap in the heritage sector for industry awards – with the only competition being the HHA’s Restoration and Best Garden awards, sponsored by Sotheby's and Christie’s respectively.
The Heritage Angel Awards, inaugurated last year by Lord Lloyd Webber, have also helped to recognise new benchmarks of excellence in the heritage sector. But the Angel awards are more for artisans and conservation 'heroes' rather than the owners or managers of Britain's just 1500 or so historic houses and gardens open to the public (either owned privately or by English Heritage and the National Trust).
The success of both the Hudsons Heritage Awards at Goldsmith's Hall on 29th November (below) and the Heritage Angel Awards demonstrates the growing importance of the heritage sector in the public consciousness. This is also born out by the rapidly expanding membership growth of the National Trust and the increase in heritage site visitor numbers across the UK. One in three people now say that they want to see a heritage site when taking a weekend break. This is partly because people are spending less money travelling abroad and are preferring to enjoy the unique heritage open to the public on their own doorstep.
As shown by the success of our Spear's Save Britain's Historic Landscape Campaign, which was acknowledged by the Prime Minister in a letter to Spear's from Downing Street following publication of the new NPPF planning reforms, the heritage industry is critical to UK economic recovery. Heritage tourism is bringing in over £20 billion to the economy and the sector is one of the few growing parts of the economy. Within this £20 billion, historic houses, castles and gardens directly contribute over £8 billion to the economy - including local employment - according to English Heritage.
Yet the Coalition government - despite Cameron's splashy £27m Britain is GREAT global marketing campaign around the Olympics - paradoxically seem to be doing their best to undermine the heritage sector and heritage tourism by not giving it the critical support and tax incentives it urgently needs.
The last Budget inexplicably introduced VAT on repairs of historic buildings (historic houses open to the public used to be exempt from VAT on essential repairs) and the new NPPF has axed the old Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS5) protection given to historic houses and Grade 1 and Grade 2 * buildings in favour of what some think may amount to a much diluted form of heritage protection.
We shall wait and see what sort of protection this gives. In the last week there was an encouraging rejection of a wind farm close to Grade 1 Scales Hall in Cumbria by a Planning Inspector on the grounds that 'in terms of visual impact' the turbines would have 'significant and adverse effect' on both the historic setting of the Grade 1 heritage asset and the Hall's 'living conditions'.
This encouraging Decision was made after referencing English Heritage's guide to what does constitutute 'adverse impact on setting' on page 8 of 'Heritage and the Historic Environment'. It also backs up the previous precedent set in March 2012 by the Inspector who also sited these EH guidelines in ruling that a similar 'adverse' effect on a Grade 1 historic setting would result from a proposed wind farm (Bicton) within a mile of Grade 1 Kimbolton Castle in Huntingdonshire - the former royal palace of Catherine of Aragon, re-modelled by Vanbrugh and boasting no less that three Grade 1 buildings, including a Gatehouse by Robert Adam. Upton Cressett also has three Grade 1 listed buidings, as well as three Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAM status) within half a mile of the Hall, making it one of the most heavily statutory protected heritage assets in the Midlands.
What is needed from the new minister with responsibility for Heritage, the Rt Hon Ed Vaizey, is consistency when it comes to protection of heritage assets of 'exceptional merit' (the definition of Grade 1). This is why Spear's will be pushing hard for the re-introduction in Parliament over the next year of the Heritage Protection Bill which received so much support when it was introduced in 2008 during the Labour government.
It was only kicked into the long grass because of the Credit Crunch. But cross-party support was strong and Mr Vaizey should have an open mind about listening to the case for giving greater clarity to the planning system when it comes to safeguarding the quality of heritage tourism that contributes so much to our economy and British identity. In particular with regards to the protection of our 'exceptional' heritage - that is Grade 1 or Grade II* buildings.
Only around 2.5% of the approx 400,000 listed buildings on the National Heritage List are Grade 1 listed. Since 45% of these are churches, that leaves only a tiny percent of Grade 1 buildings - open to the public - which are still lived in historic houses. Research has found that such privately owned historic houses (usually members of the Historic Houses Association who are fond of using the line 'much loved family home' in their Hudson's entries) are amongst the houses that the public most want to visit as they have a special atmosphere that the National Trust cannot replicate.
In the Spear's submission to planning minister Greg Clark over the NPPF reforms, we argued that special heritage protection should be introduced for our exceptional Grade I and Grade II * buildings that contribute so much to our economy as well as being open to the public. This added statutory protection, as enshrined in the proposed Heritage Protection Bill, would mean that councils, HHA owners, the National Trust, English Heritage and local campaign groups wouldn't have to waste millions - let alone the time - every year fighting developers through a planning system that remains inconsistent when it comes to protecting our priceless heritage.
The Heritage Protection Bill would give much needed clarity to the system - and save tens of millions every year on legal fees and planning battles which only bitterly divides local communities and exasperates council tax payers as vast sums are spent fighting court battles that should never have been allowed to reach Appeal stage. But developers rarely give up when there is a subsidy to be milked.
Ed Vaizey - whom I know from his key-note talk on philanthropy at a Spear's event - is a straight speaking, intelligent and persuasive man. I hope he will have the good sense to re-open the compelling case for the support and re-introdcution of this much needed Bill. There remain too many whimsical and arbitrary planning Decisions that undermine the Govt's commitment to its 2012 'Britain is GREAT' heritage marketing campaign.
Various worrying examples of anti-heritage planning decisions - admittedly all pre-NPPF publication - include allowing an executive housing development close to Grade 1 Great Coxwell Barn in Oxfordshire - one of England's most important medieval structures, described by William Morris as 'unapproachable in dignity'; or the highly controversial decision to allow a wind farm on the very site of Naseby battlefield. Another disturbing example of inconsistency is the damage that could be done to the historic setting of the National Trust's Grade 1 Lyveden New Bield in Northants - an architectural masterpiece with one of the greatest Elizabethan gardens in England. This Decision has recently been 'called in' by the Secretary of State, rightly, as it seems to breach the 'historic setting' protection clause that was included in the final NPPF.
Judging by the above, protecting heritage may not be a top priority for George Osborne or the Govt right now - over, say housing development or negotiating green energy pacts with Nick Clegg inreturn for other political favours. Lets hope Mr Vaizey makes heritage protection a priority.
This apparent sidelining of heritage and tourism by the Coalition seemed confirmed by the recent re-shuffle in the summer when the ministerial portfolio of 'Tourism and Heritage' was effectively abolished when minister John Penrose was replaced by Ed Vaizey, below, who now has responsibility for 'Heritage and the Built Environment'.
The good news is that Mr Vaizey is one of the few Government ministers - a sharp minded former barrister, lover of the Arts and supporter of the Armed Forces - with the ear of Cameron/Osborne. It is essential that Britain's heritage is given the Govt support that the Prime Minister has repeatedly said he believes is critical to keeping Britain 'GREAT'.
Against this challenging backgound, the Hudson's heritage awards - handed out by Norman Hudson, the Godfather of the UK heritage industry - are critically useful in giving a boost to a sector that is currently not getting enough support from the Govt.
Privileged Oxbridge types like David Cameron (Eton), George Osborne (St Paul's), and Nick Clegg (Westminster), may be wary of being seen to be 'elitist' but there is nothing elitist about protecting and
promoting the rich heritage that makes Britain's historic houses and gardens, open to the public, unique. These 1500 or so historic buildings contribute well above their weight to our tourist economy, making our rich heritage - from Downtown Abbey-like 'Treasure Houses' to small moated manor houses at the end of lonely valleys - the envy of the world. A recent survey carried out by Visit Britain found that 'the main reason' that visitors now come to this country from abroad is because of our 'historic houses and heritage'.
Yet the threat of a new Mansion Tax - compounded with the new VAT on much needed repairs on our crumbling castles and historic houses (a £400 million repair backlog) will only add further financial misery to the often struggling owners of historic houses that open to the public.
One of the reasons we have such a rich and unique architectural heritage is that, unlike France - and indeed most of Europe - we do not have any legacy of the Napoleonic Code (Code civil des Français) which was introduced under Napoléon I in 1804. The code prohibited any privileges based on birth, promoted religious toleration and specified that government jobs should go to the most qualified. Historian Robert Holtman has argued that the Napoloenic Code is one one of the few documents that has influenced the entire world.
But not having such a code inflicted on Britain has certainly been a major factor in ensuring that the English country house has become one of Britain's most successful cultural exports, whether it is in the form of Downtown Abbey or such blockbuster heritage exhibitions as 'The Treasure Houses of Britain' which famously opened in Washington in the 1985, being opened by Ronald Reagan, not long after Brideshead Revisited on PBS was also causing a serious outbreak of Anglophilia across America.
Private art collections can be extremely powerful weapons of cultural influence. As the super wealthy Egyptian businessman and philanthropist Shafik Gabr has had the insight to understand with his new 'East-West: The Art of Dialogue' and accompanying travelling show of Orientalist art (from his own vast collection) that is acting as the advance guard of his new East-West cultural initiative, great art can have more power to transform hearts and minds than any corps of diplomats of jet setting politicians or fake tanned $500,000-a-speech peace envoys.
The centre piece of this new cultural exchange programme is led by a new travelling scholarship programme for young 'global leaders' aged between 24-30, who will be known as Gabr Fellows. To call Gabr's Washington based cultural understanding initiative 'The Art of Dialogue' is clever as it is often an understanding of the 'Art' that then leads to a more productive and sophisiticated political or cultural dialogue. Gabr owns one of the great Orientalist collections in the world and the artists whom he is putting to work as 21st century cultural ambassadors include such 18th and 19th century East-West visionaries and traveller artists as Jean-Léon Gérôme or the Scottish artist David Roberts (two of whose drawings hang at Upton Cressett).
My point here - if you were thinking what on earth 18th century Orientialist traveller artists have to do with why our historic houses and their collections matter so much today - is that back in 1985, the 'Treasure Houses of Britain: 500 Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting' became a blockbuster show not only because of record visitor numbers but perhaps more importantly because it was (under the curatorial aegis of the late John Carter Brown and Gervase Jackson-Stopps, architectural advisor to the National Trust) a brilliant example of ambassadorial art and winning cultural diplomacy.
The seminal show took six years to assemble, but its legacy is still talked about in museum and heritage circles today - a true milestone in acknowledging the rich and unique role that the cult of the country house and private collecting has played in providing Britian with its unique heritage. The 'Treasure Houses' show is often mentioned alongside the equally seminal 1974 'Destruction of the English Country House' exhibition at the V & A museum, which helped so much to restore the place of the historic house in the public consciousness as exceptional architecture worth saving rather than demolishing.
The 1974 show also demonstrated what Evelyn Waugh meant when he wrote in 1959 (in a new preface to Brideshead Revisited) that English country houses were our 'chief national artistic achievement'. But he warned that as as architectural breed they were in danger of extinction, or 'doomed to decay' like the monasteries of the 16th century because of punitive inheritance and income taxes, along with the rise of cultural philistinism.
Fortunately this has not happened as was seen by the success of the recent 'The Future of the Country House' conference at the National Geographic Society in London organised by Giles Waterfield, chairman of the Attingham Trust - to mark the 60th anniversary of the American funded Trust, dedicated to the study of the 'country house studies'.
It was an exceptional conference with brilliant cast of speakers, ranging from the Duke of Buccleuch to Julian Fellowes, Miranda Rock (Burghley) to Dr Christopher Ridgeway (Castle Howard) although I did wonder secretly whether it would be remotely feasible - or even thinkable - for the 1985 exhibition 'The Treasure Houses of Britain' to have been put on in Obama's America today. I very much doubt it, especially if American public arts funding was required, as it very much was - thanks to Ronald Reagan - in 1985.
The Attingham Trust is an unashamedley Anglophile - as well as Flemishophile - academic institution and is very much in the mould of the style of uncompromisingly elitist American curating - led by the late Dr John Carter Brown, Director of the National Museum of Art in Washington - that dreamt up the 'Treasure Houses of Britain' exhibition which Brown began planning from 1979.
The exhibition was never just an exercise in Anglophile curatorial social climbing and snobbery, however. It was always designed to help the UK heritage tourism industry by way of encouraging Americans to visit Britain. And in this it succeeded. Nor was it ever just a golden blockbuster travelling Antiques Road Show. Yes, some dealers cynically argued that the glossy 'Treasure Houses' exhibition book - some 400 plus pages - was the greatest 'for sale' catalogue ever printed, with any catalogued piece given a timely provenance should any aristo suddenly feel the urge to sell. Yet in reality considerable effort was put in by Gervase Jackson-Stops and other advisors to ensure that the owners didn't simply view being in the catalogue as an opportunistic chance to sell.
Admittedly it didn't stop a few. A fair number of the pieces featured in the 1985 Treasure Houses catalogue have been sold since 1985 - but lets gloss over this delicate point for a moment. Our heritage has to survive - and one reason why perhaps so many pieces have been sold is because there has been increasingly less Govt support and funding since the 1980s - for the privately owned heritage sector.
This is another reason why the Hudson's Awards on Thursday, 29th November at Goldsmiths Hall are so important. Private owners have been forced to sell paintings and heirlooms because the state regards the heritage sector as capable of surviving - as it always has done. One bit of good news, however, is that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) will be accepting applications from private owners of historic houses open to the public from April 2013, which is very much welcome news and a move in the right direction.
The real point of Treasure Houses of Britain was that it was an exhibition designed to mutually help US-UK realtions both politically, culturally and diplomatically - just as the Cold War between West and East was starting to thaw. The idea was to use the stage set of the exhibition to underpin and re-establish perhaps the deepest level of political and cultural bonds between America and Britain since the war. Relations between Britain and America had been wounded at the outset of the Falklands War, when America appeared to do nothing at the outset of the war for fear of damaging US relations with South America.
But by 1985, with victory in the Falklands having helped Mrs Thatcher secure a second election in 1983, Angolphilia was restored between Britian and the US, with Reagan's personal friendship with Mrs Thatcher prevailing. Reagan himself had just won re-election himself in November 1984 so the exhibition - partly financed by American public arts funds - worked as a cultural showcase that sealed the Special Relationship. Even the star wattage of the Prince and Princess of Wales - who flew into attend the gala dinner - were eclipsed by the sheer dazzling beauty of the rare exhibits (all privately owned) that had travelled over in crates (c/o British Airways) from Britain's finest historic houses - great and small.
The American media was transfixed, ogling and fawning over British taste accordingly. The subsequent outbreak of Anglophilia across America - helped by the Thatcher/Reagan Mid-Atlantic romance, along
with the rising media cult of Princess Diana - caused the exhibition to be extended due to popular demand. The bulky 'Treasure Houses' catalogue - a hard copy of which sits on the tassled ruby velvet Ottoman in the entrance hall here at Upton Cressett - is almost identical in glossy style and content to Mr Gabr's own new 450 page (£120) book catalogue surveying his collection, along with essays by eminent Orientalist critics, entitled 'Masterpieces of Orientalist Art'.
Both serve very similar purposes. Just as Mr Gabr's collection stretches to hundreds of paintings, enough to fill a museum, so the 'Treasure Houses' show comprised of 700 art objects from more than 200 country houses in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland which showcased 500 years of British collecting from the 15th century to the late 20th century. No less than seventeen period rooms were constructed to display the objects, transforming the National Gallery of Art into nothing less than the interior of a grand panelled country house itself.
Critical to the success of the show was the idea that the public was not just seeing some very fine 'art' or portraiture - with works by Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, Anthony van Dyck, Canaletto, and John Singer Sargent - but more importantly that they were experiencing what made the English country house different from both its American and more importantly perhaps European counter-part, where the great collections - largely because of 18th century Napoleonic Code and no culture of primogeniture - have invariably been broken up, and sold off (often to British aristocrats on their Grand Tours).
Another aspect of the great English collections that exist in stately homes Blenheim or Chatsworth is that the collections are always being added to with the best contemporary or modern art, sculpture or craftsmanship - from Richard Oates rugs to Adam Dant murals. The latter are now indeed included as part of the Grade 1 listing at Upton Cressett so they cant be removed as Dant discovered to his horror after the murals he painted in his room whilst staying as a scholar at the British Academy in Rome were whitewashed over after he left.
Good examples of houses were the already great collections are being continually added to are Chatsworth, which also hosts a contemporary sculpture sale, and Sudeley Castle, where the co-heir is Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, formerly of Gagosian and now heading up the Pace gallery in London.
My point here is that the great cultural export of 'The Treasure Houses of Britain' show in Washington - which did so much to promote the cult of the English country house, and the idea of the country house being a crowning pillar upon which Britain's rich tourist heritage is built - worked because far from just including English furniture, paintings or craftsmanship, the great 'heritage' of this country is really a testament to the international and deeply diverse European collecting tradition (as well as fusion of European architectural influences) that has always made Britain such an international cultural stage set.
The Treasure Houses of Britain show included examples of French sculpture by Praxiteles, Canova, as well as our own Henry Moore; furniture by Kent and Chippendale but also by Meissen, Sèvres, Chelsea, and Oriental porcelain; and drawings, tapestries, jewellery, armour, silver, and other decorative arts from across Europe, Asia and America itself. The photo above is of the Dining Room at Chatsworth.
It is perhaps no coincidence that Inigo Jones, the great early 17th century architect of the Banqueting House - the son of a clothmaker from Wales - began his career as a stage set and theatre designer, working on many plays with the playwright Ben Jonson. Indeed, my own theory about the reason that the English country house has become so successful a cultural export over the last 500 years is that the English country house is exactly that - the world's greatest stage set for social mobiliy and cultural validation ever evented.
The opportunities for social mobility in Britain have always been the envy of the world; and our rich collections reflect that spirit of mobility. Thomas Wolsey who built Hampton Court Palace was the son of a butcher from Ipswich. Shakespeare was the son of a debt ridden glover from Stratford Upon Avon. But thanks to a world where the country house or royal place was not just a worldly stage which allowed for social validation but also a literal stage set - plays such as Macbeth and the Tempest were first performed on stage sets built inside the Great Hall of various royal places - Shakespeare was able to rise from grammar school obscurity to be chief playright for the King's Men, with his own coat of arms, and was actually one of those (dressed in silk robes) holding the majestical coronation canopy under which James I was crowned in Westminster Abbey.
Britain, with its buccaneering trading history and spirit of opportunism and adventurism that helped create an empire has always flourished as a global city. Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe in 1580, the year Upton Cressett was encased in brick and the Gatehouse (photo left) was built.
The story of Britain can be told through the story of our great houses, and the families of those who built them and lived in them; and often it is only the houses that survive to tell the story. Upton Cressett has only had two families living at the Hall for more than 45 years since thr 13th century - the Cressetts and the Cash family. The Cressetts married into the Upton estate in the 13th century and the hamlet has been known as Upton Cressett ever since. The Cressetts or their descendants still owned the estate until 1919; after it changed ownership various times between and after the two wars, becoming an unoccupied, overgrown and crumbling farm property in the 1960s, and it was not until 1970, when my father moved in with his young family and began restoring the house that Upton Cressett became a family home again.
But this never changing cycle of building, dilapidation, neglect, re-building and restoration is what again makes the story of the English country house so unique. The country house is like a character in a rich history play that can never quite manage to be killed off - it may say nothing, and be silent for years, but then an owner will come along who will restore the house to its former glory or architectural spirit and its story will continue, and it will take on another life and another social narrative.
TS Eliot was haunted by this idea in Burnt Norton, the first of his Four Quartets, whose title is taken from a manor house in Oxfordshire that he once visited before the war with a woman to whom he became close called Emily Hale (not his first wife Vivien) in 1934. After they walked in the manor's rose garden together, the 'moment' became embedded within his private and poetic consciousness and he used the memory in Burnt Norton (below), a house that was so-called because it had once burnt down in a fire and been re-built.
In the subsequent poem East Coker - named after the Somerset village where Eliot's family originated from, and where his ashes are buried in the church - Eliot deals with this recurring theme of architectural, spiritual and family re-birth; or as Eliot puts it 'old stone to new building, old timber to new fires'.
In succession Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended, Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass...
Houses live and die: there is a time for building And a time for living and for generation And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.
Originally called Norton House, the mansion owner, Sir William Keyt, had also died in the fire, which he reportedly started himself in 1741. Hence the importance of the idea of the 'fire' and 'rose' becoming entwined into one - and time past and time future being fused into one moment - a timeless present - at the end of the Four Quartets sequence.
So with no other countries having anything that can compare to such eclectic and relatively complete collections (there has always been the need to flog the odd Old Master or set of Chippendales to pay for a new roof or school fees) it suddenly becomes much easier to understand why our soi disant English 'heritage' appeals so much to tourists from around the world; for in visiting our great houses - or even much more modest homes such as Upton Cressett, where, for example, we have a three quarter length portrait of a young Charles II painted in exile in Holland by the Dutch Golden Age painter Adriaen Hanneman, a contemporary of van Dyck. English heritage does not really mean the heritage of England, it means the Heritage of the World.
Which is why the Hudson's Heritage Awards on Thursday, at Goldsmith's Hall, are so important. The awards reward and acknowledge the great traditions of collecting and patronage (Spear's is sponsoring the award for 'Best New Commission') both inside our great houses, such as Castle Howard (left), and in their landscaped and formalised historic gardens that also give the public such pleasure - at a time when private owners of historic houses are
also struggling with overdue architectural repair bills, a proposed Mansion Tax and punitive VAT bills and inheritance tax.
Yet farmers and land developers - including wind farm developers who are intent on destroying our historic landscape - get rewarded in subsidies for simply truffle hunting for the latest 'stewardship' scheme, or EU hand out, whilst their land value rockets in price all thanks to the goldmine of the EU subsidy racket - which Germany has to agree to to keep the French on side, whose whole economy is based on subsiding their farmers.
The very worst offenders are the morally and aesthetically (but not financially) bankrupt landowners who want to ruin our beautiful landscape and the quality of life for local villagers by attempting to milk the planning system for their own selfish commercial gain. Wind farms are the worst, but other blights include waste plants, the wrong sort of housing development and a general wish to bulldoze our Arcadian countryside and parkland in favour of social housing and towering pylons; or as Richard II despairs: 'Dispark'd my parks, and
fell'd my forest woods/From my own windows torn my household coat'.
If our heritage is not protected, the fate of our great houses, gardens and their historic settings and landscape - so much the envy of the world - will become like the ruined nation that Shakespeare warned as threatening the 'other Eden' of England in Richard II when a dying John Gaunt makes his famous speech: 'This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England... / Is now leas'd out--I die pronouncing it-- / Like to a tenement or pelting farm'.