'If I didn't have this house to look after, then I'd be well off'
July 8, 2008 6:18 AM   Subscribe

Maintaining a historic home is an expensive business. Tissington Hall, a 400 year old house in Derbyshire with a mere 12 bedrooms, had a £16 000 bill for heating alone last year. The current owner sat down a cried when he inherited it and its £100 000 annual running costs.

Weddings and functions obviously help, but why not follow Doddington Hall and open a restaurant and farm shop? Because it's just not going to cover the £150 000 per room you're going to need to find for tapestry repairs.

James Hervey-Bathurst, outging head of the Historic Houses Association and owner of Eastnor Castle has had to cough up £320 000 for his roof so far this year. Hopefully receipts from Land Rover and the Big Chill should go some way to covering it. Perhaps a few more TV appearances would help?

Should the National Trust step in? They've can now only look after truely execptional properties, like the John Vanbrugh designed Seaton Delaval Hall
posted by fatfrank (95 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are they legally obligated to heat all 12 bedrooms?

Like many stately home owners, he sees himself as a custodian of our historic heritage and believes he should be rewarded with bigger tax breaks

FTFY
posted by DU at 6:23 AM on July 8, 2008


That's a fairly liberal use of the word "home" I think.
posted by sourwookie at 6:41 AM on July 8, 2008


He might then be well off but would he be well dressed?
posted by tellurian at 6:41 AM on July 8, 2008


I guess it's too late to get them sub-prime mortgages?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:43 AM on July 8, 2008


He should just be happy that he inherited at all, what with being a descendant of Herbert's bastard and all.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:44 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't they have deductions or credits in England where a public benefit can offset income? If not, have they made a good faith effort to spread rumors of hauntings so they can cash in?
posted by Brian B. at 6:48 AM on July 8, 2008


So... the descendants of very rich people are 'burdened' with maintaining the enormous estates and holdings their predecessors accumulated through centuries of feudalism, tenanting and clearances, and now they're moaning about it? Terribly sorry old chap, but that's what happens when you no longer have an economic and social system expressly designed to keep you at the top of it.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:52 AM on July 8, 2008 [12 favorites]


we'd just love to have a proper job. You know, up in the morning, into the office, home in the evening. A salary. A normal life, really

Oh no you wouldn't.
posted by Phanx at 6:55 AM on July 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


These days, the Labour party's somewhat revolutionary view, as expressed by Baroness Blackstone, the former heritage minister, is that it is "no longer constructive to see this as the toffs and us".

Nice of a baroness to point out that the labour party is now toffs R us.
posted by srboisvert at 6:59 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sir Richard of ... Tissington Hall, ... heavily in debt having borrowed "a hell of a lot" to convert an old stable block into a small private school that has now closed for want of pupils. ...
"Ideally, I'd like to put a marquee up in the garden for half the year," Fitzherbert says.

"But to put up a marquee I need planning permission, which won't be easy. And getting permission to convert disused farm buildings - into holiday lets for example - is a nightmare. None of it is easy."


My heart bleeds. It can't be that hard if he got the permission to build a school, or was that such a massive cockup that they don't want to give him permission to do anything else?
posted by jacalata at 7:07 AM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


How much does it cost to maintain the world's smallest violin?

People in much smaller houses struggle to afford, say, a new boiler, without the compensation of living in an enormous house surrounded by acres of land.
posted by WPW at 7:08 AM on July 8, 2008 [6 favorites]


What people like this often do is offer their inherited works of art to the nation in lieu of tax. They often get a pretty good valuation and are allowed to keep the stuff in their house if they promise to provide reasonable access to the public. Sometimes this is fine, but sometimes the access is little more than a convenient fiction.

However, if you feel like asserting your right of access you can check the list here, or search by region on a clickable map.

The name of each artwork is listed with contact details for viewing. If the item you want to see is not on public display, you can arrange a viewing. The owner is obliged to offer you an appointment on the day you want, or offer a slot between 10am and 4pm on any one of at least three weekdays and two Saturdays or Sundays within the following four weeks.

You may be asked for identification, and the owner is allowed to make a 'reasonable charge'.
posted by Phanx at 7:10 AM on July 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


So now I have to stop bitching about my 99 year old Dutch Colonial?
posted by butterstick at 7:17 AM on July 8, 2008


I love posts like this that send me off digging into history. Mount St. Helens is named after Alleyne Fitzherbert, a younger brother of the first Baronet, Sir William Fitzherbert (who doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry!). Also, do you capitalise that H or not? It's all over the place.
posted by tellurian at 7:25 AM on July 8, 2008


Dude, all you need to make this work out is about 20 friends. And a bunch of acid. And some bands.
posted by The Straightener at 7:50 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gosh! That's a lot of poppy heads some of you have on your fresh, young lawns.
posted by tellurian at 8:01 AM on July 8, 2008


Happy Dave,
Smirking "terribly sorry old chap" to the toffs saddled with inherited property debt is fairly short sighted. Even though I agree some toffs are awful!

But when the "only" answer seems to be a gleeful: tear down their posh homes, I think we all end up poorer.

(This is, I think, a good quote on the thorny subject...)

"The extent of the wreckage first really impinged on the public consciousness with an exhibition organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Destruction of the English Country House, which opened its doors in March 1976. It appeared that, in the previous half century, literally hundreds of manor houses and industrialists’ mansions, noblemen’s castles and cottages ornees, had been smashed to smithereens by the demolition men without the slightest opposition from the authorities. Magnificent palaces designed by our greatest architects, dazzlingly important works of art, had been destroyed through fashionable indifference."
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:05 AM on July 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


the descendants of very rich people are 'burdened' with maintaining the enormous estates .. that's what happens when you no longer have an economic and social system expressly designed to keep you at the top of it.

Who are your ancestors? You got a lot of explaining to do. Unless they were living in a shoe box as dirt poor peasants at the bottom of the social ladder, they also took part in a social system expressly designed to keep those beneath them down.
posted by stbalbach at 8:07 AM on July 8, 2008


You know, I'd bet that if he liked he could rent it as apartments and make a profit off it.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:09 AM on July 8, 2008


Gosh! That's a lot of poppy heads some of you have on your fresh, young lawns.

You don't say?
posted by Pollomacho at 8:20 AM on July 8, 2008


I've read about this in PG Wodehouse books.
posted by OmieWise at 8:20 AM on July 8, 2008


jody tresidder: But when the "only" answer seems to be a gleeful: tear down their posh homes, I think we all end up poorer.

Who is advocating that? I merely think that if the state is going to end up paying for these homes, perhaps the state should have a stake in their ownership. And I find the "woe is me" act a bit rich when these folks are lucky enough to have the National Heritage Cashpoint on their front lawn and are busily punching in their PIN, mumbling "timeless duty ... sacred trust ..." as they withdraw a wad of tax money.

People living in right-to-buy council homes who find they need a new roof don't have the National Heritage Cashpoint. They don't have the social capital - well-connected relatives and friends - that these stately homeowner have. They don't have the sympathetic ear of the National Trust, SAVE, the CPRE, the Countryside Alliance and the major political parties. They don't get features in G2 - they get features in the Society pages, under Poverty. They get treated like scum when they ask for assistance from the state. The stateley homeowners get ministers from a soi-disant Labour government doffing their caps when they ask for handouts.

It's all just good PR. They want handouts, and that's the end of it. If it will take hefty state assistance to save these houses, fine. But it would be nice if the people got something in return.
posted by WPW at 8:29 AM on July 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


"we'd just love to have a proper job. You know, up in the morning, into the office, home in the evening. A salary. A normal life, really."

"Oh no you wouldn't.
" quoth Phanx

I was at school with Fitz, my family knows his family quite well, and until he inherited Tissington he was a rising journalist on one of the major UK broadsheets. Without the millstone of the house round his neck he'd probably be editor of a national daily newspaper by now. Please, put your class prejudices aside and if you don't actually know the facts about something then hold your peace.
posted by Hogshead at 8:31 AM on July 8, 2008 [11 favorites]


Wow, I can really sound sanctimonious if I put my back into it. Class guilt.
posted by WPW at 8:31 AM on July 8, 2008


Unless they were living in a shoe box as dirt poor peasants at the bottom of the social ladder, they also took part in a social system expressly designed to keep those beneath them down.

Ah, right, that old chestnut. You're not the descendant of someone incredibly poor, therefore you can't possibly criticise feudalism and early industrial capitalism. Right. Frankly I know my family history about two generations back (i.e. my great grandparents), and it's fairly solidly middle class. Before that, no idea. My great, great, great grandad could have been an Ayrshire tenant labourer for all I know, or he could have been a baron with crushing gambling debt. Obviously I should shut my trap about absolutely everything, seeing as how I'm an oppressor.

You got a lot of explaining to do.

Who to? The Internet Gods of Entitled Speech?

Anyway, slight Wodehousian joshing aside, I don't want to see beautiful stately mansions torn down out of 'fashionable indifference' or even mis-placed bourgeois class-war affectation, but equally I'm not pre-disposed to feeling sorry for the landed gentry when they can't afford the family pile anymore. It has ever been thus, but societal inertia and expectation masked it for a long time. I'm certain good uses can be found for the land and buildings, should they be sold - with appropriate safeguarding, old buildings can be turned to new uses. Not every one should be preserved in amber for evermore. Classic example is a gorgeous church facade that stood, supported by scaffolding for near enough twenty years until the Omni Centre in Edinburgh was built, whereupon it was incorporated into a rather nice hotel.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:32 AM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's a tricky one: on the one hand, of course, it's boo fucking hoo, you landed twat; on the other, I quite like beautiful old houses.

sonic meat machine writes 'You know, I'd bet that if he liked he could rent it as apartments and make a profit off it.'

That would be a pretty good solution, but since it's a listed building, there's no way you could chop it up into flats. Renting the whole joint to some insanely wealthy Russian oligarch or Saudi oil magnate would work, with the added benefit of driving Telegraph leader writers into a frenzy.

srboisvert writes 'Nice of a baroness to point out that the labour party is now toffs R us.'

She's a life peer (ie., didn't inherit her title her kids won't inherit it), formerly known as "The Red Baroness", and by the standards of the Labour Party today, relatively left wing. Sure, she's pretty posh, but not landed gentry by any stretch of the imagination.
posted by jack_mo at 8:32 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


So I'm wondering, they own the lands right? Why can't they do what their ancestors did and rent the land out to farmers? Why not develop parcels as rental property? How about building commercial property and encouraging investment on the front end of the property? Surely anyone with more than an elementary business education, a tiny incling of entrepeneurship, and a motivation above that of a stoned high schooler can come up with something to do to earn money with vasts tracts of land?
posted by Pollomacho at 8:41 AM on July 8, 2008


WPV,
You've already outed yourself as sanctimonious - so I don't have to:)

They don't have the sympathetic ear of the National Trust, SAVE, the CPRE, the Countryside Alliance and the major political parties.

That's a not-very-bright comment.

The "sympathetic ear" of the NT pays no bills.

If your crumbling stately house is historically significant, you can't easily convert it into super low cost housing for the proles, for example, - because the structure will be subject to rigid "listed property" rules.

If you want to keep your house intact - by opening it to the public - location is everything. (Which is why the "statelys" in the south of the UK are tourist honeypots, and many away from the capital are lonely white elephants.)

Look, I understand your energy and heat here. But:

It's all just good PR. They want handouts, and that's the end of it. If it will take hefty state assistance to save these houses, fine. But it would be nice if the people got something in return.

The "people" do get something in return.

That's why there are so many stately homes open to the public.

The toffs still in charge of big houses that have been turned into a going concern are, in fact, the ones who woke up to the fact they couldn't rely on handouts - and who busted a gut to learn the stately home business.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:47 AM on July 8, 2008


I was at school with Fitz, my family knows his family quite well, and until he inherited Tissington he was a rising journalist on one of the major UK broadsheets.

Inheritance law must be rather odd in Britain if it can actually force you to take possession of property you don't want.

Otherwise, it would be about a billion trillion times more accurate to say that he was a rising journalist until he freely and of his own volition chose to abandon that career in favor of managing a struggling family estate.

Without the millstone of the house round his neck he'd probably be editor of a national daily newspaper by now.

Perhaps then he should have refused the inheritance.

It's a tricky one: on the one hand, of course, it's boo fucking hoo, you landed twat; on the other, I quite like beautiful old houses.

If only Britain had some sort of Trust that operated on a National basis that could take possession of impractical but glorious old estates and manage them on behalf of the British people.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:55 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


sonic meat machine: 'You know, I'd bet that if he liked he could rent it as apartments and make a profit off it.

jack_mo: That would be a pretty good solution, but since it's a listed building, there's no way you could chop it up into flats.


Then the best solution here is to ease up on regulations for what can be done with a historic home. I do have sympathy for the man (but can't he sell the place?). Wanting to preserve the architecture of the past is all very well, but it has to be done with consideration for the good of the present day population, and not involve either a huge outlay of tax dollars or bankrupt the owners. Jeez, this is like selling your kids to pay for your grandma's grandiose funeral.

And I'm relieved we don't have this problem in Toronto, where we may have a history of tearing down lovely historic buildings to put up butt ugly new ones, but at least we don't wind up with white elephant properties. My 1912-built house is considered old. Mid-nineteenth century is about as old as our buildings get, and most of those are the best properties of the time and quite liveable.
posted by orange swan at 8:58 AM on July 8, 2008


You know, I'd bet that if he liked he could rent it as apartments and make a profit off it.
Only if things have changed since 1835. Bad enough to live in Derbyshire but, "It is worthy or remark that in this simple and rural parish there is not a single tavern or public house."
posted by tellurian at 9:00 AM on July 8, 2008



FOURTH YORKSHIREMAN:
I was happier then and I had nothin'. We used to live in this tiny old house with great big holes in the roof.
SECOND YORKSHIREMAN:
House! You were lucky to live in a house! We used to live in one room, all twenty-six of us, no furniture, 'alf the floor was missing, and we were all 'uddled together in one corner for fear of falling.
THIRD YORKSHIREMAN:
Eh, you were lucky to have a room! We used to have to live in t' corridor!
FIRST YORKSHIREMAN:
Oh, we used to dream of livin' in a corridor! Would ha' been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woke up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House? Huh.
FOURTH YORKSHIREMAN:
Well, when I say 'house' it was only a hole in the ground covered by a sheet of tarpaulin, but it was a house to us.
SECOND YORKSHIREMAN:
We were evicted from our 'ole in the ground; we 'ad to go and live in a lake.
THIRD YORKSHIREMAN:
You were lucky to have a lake! There were a hundred and fifty of us living in t' shoebox in t' middle o' road.
FIRST YORKSHIREMAN:
Cardboard box?
THIRD YORKSHIREMAN:
Aye.
FIRST YORKSHIREMAN:
You were lucky. We lived for three months in a paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six in the morning, clean the paper bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down t' mill, fourteen hours a day, week-in week-out, for sixpence a week, and when we got home our Dad would thrash us to sleep wi' his belt.
SECOND YORKSHIREMAN:
Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at six o'clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of 'ot gravel, work twenty hour day at mill for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would thrash us to sleep with a broken bottle, if we were lucky!

posted by blue_beetle at 9:03 AM on July 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


That's a not-very-bright comment.

Charming.

The "sympathetic ear" of the NT pays no bills.

Free publicity (like handholding G2 features) does help pay the bills, and organisations such as SAVE and the others are adept at fixing up that sort of thing. Why is this feature in G2? I would lay money on its origins being closely related to the NT (new chairman: Simon Jenkins, a Guardian columnist among other things), which has just launched its biggest-ever appeal. Maybe a press release, maybe a phonecall to the features desk. The NT fixes up the interviews, and it all goes sweet as a nut. This is how journalism works. And that's the value of the NT's sympathetic ear.

You cannot deny that these stately homeowners have an arsenal of advantages that other folks who need new roofs do not.
posted by WPW at 9:07 AM on July 8, 2008


He can, incidentally, sell his house. What he can't do is have his cake and eat it.
posted by WPW at 9:09 AM on July 8, 2008


ROU_Xenophobe writes 'If only Britain had some sort of Trust that operated on a National basis that could take possession of impractical but glorious old estates and manage them on behalf of the British people.'

Well yes, ideally, they'd take on every such glorious old estate. But nowadays they tend to go for the cheap stuff - John Lennon's boyhood home, &c..
posted by jack_mo at 9:11 AM on July 8, 2008


Oh man! It just keeps getting better.
Tideswell Velveteen - The basic fustian was woven in Oldham and sent by rail to Miller’s Dale station to await collection from Tideswell. When it reached the factory, the fustian, a thick unbleached material, was stiffened with lime and stretched taut on a frame ten yards (9 m) long. Women walked from one end of the frame to the other, cutting through the loops row by row with a keen blade made from a watch spring, sharpened to a fine point on a whetstone. It was said that during one day’s work the women walked almost as far as Manchester. Finally, the pile was fluffed up with a wire brush and the ‘velvet’ was returned to Oldham to be dyed ready for sale.
posted by tellurian at 9:12 AM on July 8, 2008


You're right Hogshead, it certainly is my prejudices speaking. They tell me that that school you went to together was quite a good one, and that in fact its name probably began with E, or just possibly W. They tell me that your friend probably didn't suffer the inconvenience of having to begin his career in journalism on a trade mag or local paper.

Those are prejudices: happy to be corrected with the facts. But my prejudices tell me your friend has never experienced a normal life, and that he wouldn't like it one little bit. I fear he might cry all over again.
posted by Phanx at 9:20 AM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Can I add this on to yours blue_beetle?
FIRST YORKSHIREWOMAN:
Women walked from one end of the frame to the other, cutting through the loops row by row with a keen blade made from a watch spring, sharpened to a fine point on a whetstone. It was said that during one day’s work the women walked almost as far as Manchester.

Except, this is real.
posted by tellurian at 9:20 AM on July 8, 2008


Pollomacho,
All your questions are reasonable - but they read like back-of-an-envelope jottings from a stoned high schooler who hasn't thought too hard.

So I'm wondering, they own the lands right? Why can't they do what their ancestors did and rent the land out to farmers?

Because their ancestors "owned" their tenant farmers.
They didn't have to worry about the land providing the peasants with a decent independent income.
Farmers in the UK have enough trouble making money out of the land they do own, without paying rent for new, uncultivated acreage.

Why not develop parcels as rental property?

Because you immediately have to also offer good local schools, hospitals, motorway access etc if you want to offer desirable parcels of potential rental development land at the market rate.


How about building commercial property and encouraging investment on the front end of the property?

Again, you need motorway access (say, for light industry).
It's also far cheaper to move into a readymade business park with good sized units and support services than some barn of a place, somewhere in Derbyshire. Start chucking too much taxpayer "seed money" at a problem property - and you get the same old screams of "unfair" from the lowly elecorate!

Surely anyone with more than an elementary business education, a tiny incling of entrepeneurship, and a motivation above that of a stoned high schooler can come up with something to do to earn money with vasts tracts of land?


See above!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:24 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was at school with Fitz, my family knows his family quite well, and until he inherited Tissington he was a rising journalist on one of the major UK broadsheets.

Well boo-hoo. If anyone else is unable to afford the upkeep on their house, they have to sell it and move to somewhere smaller. I get the impression that these people think they should have the right to stay in a massive house just because their ancestors did. There is no right to a guaranteed income. If you can't afford it, sell it to someone with more money who can afford the upkeep.
posted by bap98189 at 9:32 AM on July 8, 2008


Yeah, he should just sell it. Or let the government have it. If I lived in a house I couldn't afford to maintain (which Ihave), I would get out of it (which I did).
posted by tadellin at 9:33 AM on July 8, 2008


from the article the ancestral spread is 1000 acres.

I would wager that part of the problem of lack of civic infrastructure is that the region's land is all parcelled up into trophy estates, leaving two classes of occupants, vestigial feudal barons and the peonage.

I say tax the land at the greater of £1,000 per acre or highest bid and let the chips fall where they may.

ob. David Lloyd George:

"to prove title a legal title to land one must first trace it back to the man who stole it"
posted by yort at 9:38 AM on July 8, 2008


If I lived in a house I couldn't afford to maintain

I can at least understand and believe it when the proprietor talks about the pressure to keep the family's august continuity of tenure intact for his descendants.
posted by yort at 9:40 AM on July 8, 2008


"If I didn't have this house to look after, if it was turned into some country house hotel, then I'd be well off,"

Well why doesn't he do that? He claims it's a lot of paperwork. Whatever.
posted by delmoi at 9:45 AM on July 8, 2008


The NT fixes up the interviews, and it all goes sweet as a nut. This is how journalism works. And that's the value of the NT's sympathetic ear.

Nope, WPW, that's not entirely how journalism works.

Though that's a pretty good description of how you land an interview with a toff on the precipice of bankruptcy - when you want to write a lovely, detailed piece on his or her family's fall into penury!

Tell them it'll all be good publicity!

Been there, done that.

Stately home (grade 2 listed, I think it was) not far from London - lovely posh elderly owners determined to make it work.

(Their assorted kids wanted nothing to do with it - because of the horrendous expense).

First they sold all the paintings and all the decent furniture (when I say "first" this was just after the Second World War).

Then they rented - at a token rate - two thirds of the house to the local education authority as a teacher training annexe. (Property was too big and the subdivided high-ceiling rooms too cold and drafty to make it work: this converted use withered away. The local education authority hastily gave it back.).

Then they paid to have the gardens landscaped for the tourists. (Kiddie gardens, tea rooms, miniature railway etc).

Their property wasn't sufficiently dazzling to compete with a dozen other superior day tripper open country seats also within the crucial 90 minutes car ride from London.

Then they imported miniature horses, the experts to care from them, and opened an exotic zoo as the unique selling point.

The owners, by this time, were down to personal living quarters roughly the size of a very small apartment.

That went bust too (coincided with the 1980s recession).

It made a fabulous series of articles.

But it didn't save the owners from losing their savings - and their house.

(My last piece was about their tears as they packed up to leave.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:50 AM on July 8, 2008


yort: I can at least understand and believe it when the proprietor talks about the pressure to keep the family's august continuity of tenure intact for his descendants.

It would be very sad. But that's a private grief, not a national one. But it's the building that's valuable to the country, not his family. We should be protecting historic buildings, but we should not be subsidising certain privileged bloodlines like rare cattle.

You know, closing the coal mines and the ship yards uprooted Tens of thousands of families who had been settled for generations, impoverished them, and destroyed centuries of accumulated working-class culture and tradition. Whole communities of houses fell into literal ruin. But the Conservatives went ahead anyway, because they were uneconomic, they wouldn't pay, and we can't subsidise on the basis of sentiment.

This business is uneconomic. It won't pay. We can't subsidise on the basis of sentiment.

They only notice the class war when they lose.
posted by WPW at 9:54 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


yort writes "I can at least understand and believe it when the proprietor talks about the pressure to keep the family's august continuity of tenure intact for his descendants."

Kinda cruel considering he's already claiming hardship.
posted by Mitheral at 9:55 AM on July 8, 2008


Jody, as I say, it's very sad.
posted by WPW at 9:57 AM on July 8, 2008


So...I see that almost nobody actually bothered to read the article. Those who say that he should "just let the government have it" should be aware that the article makes it plain that the National Trust isn't going to take on the cost of owning and running any but the most exceptional properties. So...giving it to the government to hold in trust for the nation is not an option.

O.K., why not just sell it? Well, the article points out that he could sell it and be a (relatively) rich man. The point he makes is that if he sold it it would become purely private property (some rock star's playground) and that he believes that it should be accessible to the public.

Now, you might believe that he's a liar, and that he just likes living in the place and wants the government to support his sentimental attachment to the family property, but you can't really dispute the fact that IF you believe that these buildings are part of the national heritage and should be accessible by the public then there is a genuine problem here. He isn't wealthy enough to maintain the place, the National Trust isn't going to step in and do the job, so either the property becomes purely private (surely a loss to the nation at some level?) OR the government finds some way to funnel more money to the maintenance of this part of its heritage. So regardless of his motives (about which we can know nothing at all, although some of you seem very confident that as a member of a certain class it's impossible that he's anything other than a braying, self-important twit), the measures he is arguing for are, surely, worth considering?
posted by yoink at 10:10 AM on July 8, 2008 [9 favorites]


Well, I'm listening yoink.

(But I would say that, wouldn't I!!)

As for the rest of them: let 'em live in Toronto:)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:19 AM on July 8, 2008


Unless they were living in a shoe box as dirt poor peasants at the bottom of the social ladder, they also took part in a social system expressly designed to keep those beneath them down.
...
Ah, right, that old chestnut. You're not the descendant of someone incredibly poor, therefore you can't possibly criticise feudalism and early industrial capitalism. Right. Frankly I know my family history about two generations back (i.e. my great grandparents), and it's fairly solidly middle class. Before that, no idea.


Oh, sweet! Since I'm a descendant of Jacobite tenant-farmers who had to flee Britain after the rebellion failed and the clearances began, it looks like it's my time to shine!

FUCK THE ENGLISH AND EVERYTHING THEY STAND FOR

Quick, now someone say something about WWII, so I can point out that you'd all be speaking German right now, etc.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:43 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


People living in right-to-buy council homes who find they need a new roof don't have the National Heritage Cashpoint.

If they're living in a right-to-buy council home, then the council will still be obliged to do the repairs on behalf of the tenants.

If they're planning on buying their right-to-buy council home, then they can either have the council repair it, or they can negotiate a substantial discount to do it themselves prior to purchase.

And finally, if they've already bought their right-to-buy council home, then they can use the enormous difference between the rate that they paid for their house and the full market value of the house to subsidize the repair.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:48 AM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Is it possible to preserve too much history? I know that is a question that horrifies some, but you know, we cannot preserve our entire past--there's not enough room. And any structure that is sufficiently old is going to be "of interest" but that doesn't mean preserving it (and preventing other uses of those resources) is a worthwhile investment.

I know, I'm an American, and we don't have any history to speak of here yet, but England is not a big country--is it feasible to run around trying to preserve every family estate because it has some nice architectural touches and an interesting history?

I'm sure it is hard for the families to let go, but there is no reason they can't try to keep some of their home (fittings, fireplace mantels, lintels, etc. can be moved and incorporated into another house) and let the rest be torn down, or sold.
posted by emjaybee at 10:50 AM on July 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


the measures he is arguing for are, surely, worth considering?

I read the article on the train to work this morning. Yes, they're worth considering, but we need to be clear about what that would mean. Should this building be protected? Yes, and it is - it's listed. The owner has a duty to care for it. Should it be kept open to the public? Well, that would be nice, but the public don't seem to be very interested in visiting it. Should we keep it open to the small number of visitors it gets at any cost? You'd be subsidising a failing private enterprise. On sentimental grounds. This logic could apply to hundreds of traditional family firms. Ironmongers, cobblers, wheelwrights, coopers, brewers, the list goes on and on. They are often also custodians of family traditions an historic builders. And there are very few left, because most of them have closed without so much as a whiff of subsidy.

I'm not a hardcore Marxist class warrior, I'm a middle class bleeding heart liberal and I really would like everyone to get subsidies, generous ones. But we get this market orthodoxy rammed down our throats all the time, from the Conservatives for 18 years and now, shame, from Labour. OK, we have moved on from the welfare state of the past, There Is No Alternative, I see that. But what really gets my goat is that the market orthodoxy evaporates when it's a stately home that's failing. Residual deference. It's amazing.
posted by WPW at 10:52 AM on July 8, 2008


tellurian - thanks for the GENUKI link, it's one of my favorite websites.

I do have sympathy for someone with such long roots in this place and with this house, and I support his efforts to preserve them. But if he wants public support for that effort (which is what tax breaks would mean), then he really would have to demonstrate that the house and grounds (or large parts of them) really would be for the use of the public. It's all nice preserving it for the future, but most of the benefit will be accruing to him and his descendants, and maybe the people who pay him money to be able to see/use the house. Even opening your home/grounds for 62 days a year isn't exactly open to the public - it serves the family more than it serves the public.

But the truth is that there are many compromises he could make - turning it into a hotel being the first on the list - which he doesn't seem that willing to make. It's a hard choice, but it is a choice. Selling off parts of the park would be a choice, or making deals with the county/national gov't to turn it into a public country park or wilderness preserve - country parks near where I lived in the UK were open everyday, free of charge, to those who wanted to picnic or walk. Even if it wouldn't make any money, it might be able to reduce grounds keeping costs (if the county was willing to help), or would be a good argument for tax breaks.

But yes, it does sound like many of these owners want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to argue that they are preserving public heritage, but they want to control that heritage and the access to it. They want to dictate who can come, when and for how long, and probably charge for that right as well - but still want tax breaks for this "service". They don't really want to share these houses and gardens which they claim that they are preserving for the public. Now, I don't personally know the owners of any stately homes open to the public, but I have met the servants who worked in one - and frankly, they were offered an awesome deal by the National Trust. The National Trust took over all repair expenses, left them a very large section of a very large house and grounds to their own private use, and then even gave them the revenue from the most lucrative visitor days (the weekends). As far as I could tell, the Trust basically was subsidizing this extremely wealthy family and their lifestyle (in London as well as the country), and still the public had to pay to see the house, follow guided tours around, couldn't explore most of the really interesting grounds - basically only got to gaze in at the windows at something which they, the public, were financing.

I'm not saying that I'm for full open-access - obviously there would be huge problems with that. But I also think that claiming to be doing something for the public which benefits you more than the public is a bit dishonest. These house owners want to preserve these specific houses because of importance of the house to them and their families, which I respect. The truth is that the general historic importance of these houses is often not as great as the significance to the specific family. And if you want public support, you are probably going to have to give the public a lot more for it than many of these owners are willing to do.

Also, at least the main owner in the article could start budgetting a bit better - flying a £200 flag everyday? That's just stupid. Yes, I realise that custom flags really are that expensive. You fly the £5 Union Jack you buy off the internet, and save the flag with your coat of arms for special occaions.*

*My husband was very involved with a college which has historic buildings older and harder to maintain than these houses, as well as the expenses of educating students and supporting research. They had a beautiful custom flag which cost about £200, and you know what? They didn't fly it everyday - they had special "flag days".
posted by jb at 10:52 AM on July 8, 2008


Those who say that he should "just let the government have it" should be aware that the article makes it plain that the National Trust isn't going to take on the cost of owning and running any but the most exceptional properties. So...giving it to the government to hold in trust for the nation is not an option.

What that means is that he is mistaken in thinking that the house is of any particular importance for the heritage of Britain, and it's no great loss for it to be sold off.

O.K., why not just sell it? Well, the article points out that he could sell it and be a (relatively) rich man. The point he makes is that if he sold it it would become purely private property (some rock star's playground) and that he believes that it should be accessible to the public.

The public is saying that they don't particularly want to see it, by virtue of their not coming to see it.

Across the pond and all, but I don't see any reason to be any more sentimental about this guy's property than refusing to subsidize other nonviable enterprises. Shit, he's probably already directly or indirectly reaping the benefit from the subsidization of agriculture, and he still can't make it work.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:59 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wrote: "... an historic builders."

I meant: "... and historic buildings."

Peter, I meant the owners of properties purchased under the RTB. And indeed, sinking deep into debt is a way of paying for repairs. Maybe the owners of the stately homes could mortgage the difference between the value of the house and what they paid for it?
posted by WPW at 11:01 AM on July 8, 2008


I think yoink has good points. There are questions of should the UK government be concerned with these properties going private (and thus the society as a whole losing it).
It seems there are a lot of responses suggesting that he should sell the home if he cannot afford the upkeep.
I'm not British, so I am unclear on the market over there. Can one sell these enormous old homes?
Over here in the US, people wind up stuck in homes they cannot afford and unable to find a buyer.
posted by Librarygeek at 11:02 AM on July 8, 2008


If the public really aren't interested in visiting (because of location, other places to go, etc), then obviously there isn't the public utility in the house, and they should look for another use. There may be some historic value; I really do hope that the National Trust isn't preserving based on size, but rather based on historic/archeological/architectural value, since a tiny medieval house is far rarer than yet another Georgian mansion. But many of these houses may just be another (very nice but not sterling) example of a houseform of which we have many, many examples.

Preservation isn't really a matter of space - as someone pointed out upthread, the houses in question are not in populated areas (or they would happily be taken over for public use), but often more remote spaces. But it is matter of money - a great deal of money. If money were endless, I would happily preserve them all - each one has a unique and valuable history. But (as the article points out), money isn't endless, neither for the owners or for the public (who they want to subsidize them).

I think that the owners of these houses really do have to make compromises -- they are going to have to sell the house to someone with the income to keep it up (the traditional solution to the problem), or they are going to have to work out someway to make it financially feasible, whether as a public asset (if the public is interested) or a private one (hotel, events location, etc). What I really object to is the expectation that they should get a subsidy from the public to keep it as essentially a private asset.
posted by jb at 11:02 AM on July 8, 2008


I know, I'm an American, and we don't have any history to speak of here yet, but England is not a big country--is it feasible to run around trying to preserve every family estate because it has some nice architectural touches and an interesting history?

I am not an American, but I understand the thinking here.

Still, maybe it's easier to think of England's historic but problematic houses the way some Americans regard their own heritage national parks?

As a Brit, I could observe the colossal size of North America and wonder whether it's worth paying to maintain in a pristine-ish state so many canyons and forests - seen one, seen 'em all surely!

Like canyons and some forests, these problematic old houses are a finite resource. You may think you might not need them all preserved today, but your grandchildren might be a bit pissed off down the line.

(My google fu has let me down. Didn't Teddy Roosevelt have some guy in opposition who taunted him with a dreadful slogan like "no cents for scenery!!" when Teddy was first talking about the need for conserving huge bits of land?)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:18 AM on July 8, 2008


I agree entirely that not every building of potential architectural and/or historical interest can be preserved. I said that the guy's arguments merit consideration (rather than the glib and uniformed dismissals that have characterized most of the comment in this thread), not that they are necessarily persuasive.

On the other hand I strongly disagree with ROU_xenophobe and jb that the all-wise invisible hand of the market should be left to determine what parts of the nation's heritage should be preserved and what should be destroyed. There are all sorts of significant treasures that the nation is wise to invest in preserving and maintaining that the general public would not pay to see in sufficient numbers for those costs to be able to be recouped. Whether or not this guy's house is worth some form of "preservationist" tax break is an argument that would have to be made (this article does not give us enough information to make that decision).

None of these things are simply or easy matters. There is obviously an art-historical and social-historical value in being able to visit the country homes of England and see them pretty much as they were in their heydey. To see the kinds of works of art that C18th grandees brought back from their Grand Tour, to see who the family was commissioning to have its portraits done over a range of centuries, to see what kind of china they bought, at what point they ripped out the Tudor interior and replaced it with a C18th gothic one or refined Regency one or what have you.

On the other hand, to break that collection up and sell it probably will mean that some of the major works (the handful of pieces that are really significant examples of the artist's work, say, or really outstanding period furniture) will become more accessible to more people by way of ending up scattered throughout museums around the world. Others will disappear into private collections and be essentially lost to public knowledge. There might be a net gain in accessibility, but there will also be a net loss in contextual richness (and no, a little panel alongside the work saying "this work was once part of the collection of the Duke of Fallenonhardtimes" doesn't make up for that).

At what point do you say "well, we've got enough reasonably well-preserved C18th neoclassical country houses, we can let the rest go rot"? If you're a scholar of the period there's clearly no such point--because you'll always be interested in yet another example, even if it does nothing but confirm your thoughts about the period. If you're a politician weighing budgetary priorities, there's clearly got to be some point where you say "well, it would be nice to preserve them all, but this one just doesn't make the cut." T

here are really interesting arguments to be had on this topic about the nature of cultural heritage, the incommensurability of different kinds of "value" etc. etc. I just don't think "yah, fuckin' toffs crying about the upkeep of their family estates" is a particularly interesting skein in this debate.
posted by yoink at 12:24 PM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Maybe the owners of the stately homes could mortgage the difference between the value of the house and what they paid for it?

Well, my point was that these people have already been granted very substantial amounts of free personal wealth from the public purse in order that they can own their own homes -- homes that have been taken from the stock of publicly owned housing thereby depriving what must now be several million families who would be genuinely unable to afford to buy a home the possibility of decent affordable public housing. So your comparison between these and the stately home owners leeching on the public purse didn't really work for me.

And while I have no particular love for the owners of stately homes, from what I know about the subject, the upkeep of such places over several years can often be far greater than the market value of the property. Owners become slaves to the estate, leading greatly reduced standards of living in order to preserve the house out of some notion that it's worth doing for our historical heritage.

Quite a lot of them, as I understand it, would be happy to turn their homes over to somewhere like English Heritage or the National Trust if those organizations would commit to the upkeep of the place. Unfortunately, unless a house is particularly special, the National Trust won't accept a property without a matching bequest for the upkeep. They've not got any shortage of houses -- it's a shortage of money for upkeep costs that they've got -- exactly the same as the owners.

So while I'm no lover of these minor aristos, I do think these properties are worth preserving. However, our system of conservation -- green belt policy and the listed building system -- means that owners often can't preserve them by making them economically viable as businesses -- and given that it's the state (ie, the people) who insist that we preserve them in this manner, it doesn't seem unreasonable that we at least foot some of the bill for doing so.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:30 PM on July 8, 2008


How about building commercial property and encouraging investment on the front end of the property?

Again, you need motorway access (say, for light industry).
It's also far cheaper to move into a readymade business park with good sized units and support services than some barn of a place, somewhere in Derbyshire. Start chucking too much taxpayer "seed money" at a problem property - and you get the same old screams of "unfair" from the lowly elecorate!


Wouldn't a venture that creates jobs, such as a readymade businesspark with motorway access get far more support than throwing money to prop up a dilapidated building? I don't know, I'm an American, so my perspective on this all comes from and American perspective. My family's inherited lands are being utilized in the ways I stated previously and its far more rural than anything Derbyshire's got. In lean years it's paid for its own maintenance, in boon years we've made profits, all this without owning anyone.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:42 PM on July 8, 2008


Nice of a baroness to point out that the labour party is now toffs R us.

Tessa Blackstone was the daughter of a fireman, who had a career as an academic in the social sciences where she worked on subjects like race relations and prison reform. She's also the chair of the British Humanist Society -- so she's apparently a fairly militant atheist.

In short, the woman sounds like a Mefite. But maybe Metafilter is toffs R us too?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:46 PM on July 8, 2008


Wouldn't a venture that creates jobs, such as a readymade businesspark with motorway access get far more support than throwing money to prop up a dilapidated building?

The problem is, we (as in the British public) want it all possible ways. We want to preserve these buildings, so we have the listed building system. That means that any repairs or alterations must be done in a way that is consistent with the original construction. Employing extremely expensive craftsmen at huge cost. And on top of the listed building system, we have a green belt policy aimed at preserving the countryside that refuses to allow change of use, so the owners can't redevelop the property, changing it to multi-family occupancy, or a hotel, and can't stick down a business park even if they wanted to.

Whenever these things are challenged, local people tend to rise up in arms. Oh no, you're ruining our environment! You're ruining our heritage! You're undermining the value of our property by changing the character of the village, etc. etc. etc.

On the other hand, the people who live in these areas all tend to be conservative voters, so they tend to hate paying taxes. But I guess if they're happy to subsidize anything, this is the kind of thing they like to subsidize.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:58 PM on July 8, 2008


AP June 8, 2008:
Thousands of England's historic sites and monuments are endangered by threats ranging from neglectful landlords and wet weather to burrowing rabbits, the country's heritage guardian said Tuesday.

English Heritage has surveyed about 70,000 buildings, monuments, parks, battlefields and shipwrecks and says one in 12 is in danger of neglect, decay or “inappropriate change.”
posted by bonehead at 1:02 PM on July 8, 2008


jody, do you really think that a not-particularly-noteworthy 18th-century family manor compares with the Grand Canyon in value? Or, I don't know, the Dover Cliffs, or some other spectacular natural feature?

(I would say the same for an American building that was costing lots of taxpayer funds but seemed of little real benefit, but we don't have a feudal history here; most of our historic buildings are rather modest).

I get your point, and obviously value is relative, but do I think there's a huge difference. And if we're talking about tax dollars, you could make a point that preserving natural heritage does benefit everyone, whereas preserving obscure family manors benefits mostly students of manor life and architecture.
posted by emjaybee at 1:07 PM on July 8, 2008


most of our historic buildings are rather modest

Of dubious historic designation sure, but modest, I think not!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:15 PM on July 8, 2008


Peter McDermott: Well, my point was that these people have already been granted very substantial amounts of free personal wealth from the public purse in order that they can own their own homes -- homes that have been taken from the stock of publicly owned housing thereby depriving what must now be several million families who would be genuinely unable to afford to buy a home the possibility of decent affordable public housing. So your comparison between these and the stately home owners leeching on the public purse didn't really work for me.

The people who bought their homes through the RTB aren't responsible for the disgraceful way the transfer was structured. They're not individually to blame for the housing shortages. The really disgraceful part was that the local authorities weren't permitted to use the proceeds of the RTB to build new homes. That was a key cause of the dire shortage of social housing, and contributed to the vast differential between the RTB purchase price of a home and its market value. Many RTB properties were, incidentally, disastrously missold, so that (for instance) elderly tenants found themselves having to pay for repairs they couldn't afford, and mortgage repayments they couldn't afford, and ended up back on the housing scrapheap. The RTB was conducted in a very shady way for very shady ideological reasons, but that was the fault of the then-government and can't be blamed on the council tenants who enjoyed a capital windfall as the result. They were very lucky, as are the beneficiaries of inherited wealth.

I suppose the real question when it comes to subsidy is where you draw the line. What are we protecting? A building? The building is safe, whoever owns it is legally obliged to protect it. It can be sold to a billionaire with the money to support a house like this, built for someone with a vast income and assets. Are we protecting the right of the public to visit it? Would the owners would keep their homes open if they weren't in straitened circumstances? Are we subsidising a business? On what grounds? Or is this a form of housing benefit, for people who don't even come close to qualifying for regular housing benefit? I'm all for preserving heritage, but I don't want to open another channel of funds into preserving privilege when there are far more important housing, national heritage and cultural priorities.
posted by WPW at 1:24 PM on July 8, 2008


We want to preserve these buildings, so we have the listed building system. That means that any repairs or alterations must be done in a way that is consistent with the original construction. Employing extremely expensive craftsmen at huge cost.

PeterMcD,

My sister and her husband restored a wonderful, isolated, listed "hall" in the wilds of Norfolk - gritting their teeth - somewhat - over the incredibly precious dos and don'ts list provided by the heritage people.

They were even required to paint the inside of the main hall a hue consistent with the last traces of the original color. This meant purchasing - at vast expense - a bespoke paint called Old Cream, which apparently imitated the effect of ancient whitewash mellowed by candle smoke etc of your typical 16th century rich man's dwelling.

They sensibly hired local Norfolk painters to carry out the interior painting. And it looked absolutely wonderful.

My sister was congratulating the main painter. But she found herself getting a little frosty when he kept saying he thought the "magnolia paint had turned out great".

She corrected him, pointing out how much the paint had cost - and explaining how it was called Old Cream & had been mixed by a paint historian to these incredible specifications.

The Norfolk painter just smiled proudly and said: "Actually, we ran out of that special stuff. So I got the boys to do the topcoat with the left over Dulux magnolia paint from when I did my house. You can't tell the difference, right!".

She had to admit she couldn't!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:35 PM on July 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


. And if we're talking about tax dollars, you could make a point that preserving natural heritage does benefit everyone, whereas preserving obscure family manors benefits mostly students of manor life and architecture.

emjaybee,
And I get your point too!

Except the stately home sightseeing circuit - which is the direct result of toffs being forced to open their homes to the public to keep solvent - is a huge part of tourist Britain.

"Doing the statelys" is for homegrown daytrippers - not just history-minded students -as well as zillions of overseas visitors. Crumbs, you only have to look at something like "Colonial Williamsburg" here in the USA (where I live) to see what a natural magnet these things are. And in places like Colonial Williamsburg, even the more modest - once deservedly obscure, if you like -dwellings have become a draw!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:53 PM on July 8, 2008


Jody, that analogy would only work if the homes in Colonial Williamsburg were still privately owned by the families of the colonists, who still lived there and received state subsidies to pay for the upkeep of their homes.

I would pay to see that.
posted by WPW at 1:59 PM on July 8, 2008


On the other hand, to break that collection up and sell it probably will mean that some of the major works (the handful of pieces that are really significant examples of the artist's work, say, or really outstanding period furniture) will become more accessible to more people by way of ending up scattered throughout museums around the world. Others will disappear into private collections and be essentially lost to public knowledge.

Um...the artwork is already in private collections, and often very difficult to access (as noted above) - so what's the difference? (yeah, I know that for tax reasons they claim that the public can come see the works, but in many cases that's just a show, and not a reality).

As for me advocating for a free-market solution, well, it's a bit funny if you know me. I'm all for spending public money to preserve things which don't have any market value but have great historic or social value - I'm a history graduate student who works in local archives, so you could say I have bias here. I'm all for the preservation of the most historically important structures - though that would, frankly, put a small medieval house way before most of these stately homes, in terms of its rareness and historical significance. And that is (hopefully) how the National Trust and other heritage bodies set their priorities.

But I also recognise that there are lots of priorities for public funds - including for living people who need health care and social services - and that there is always a competition for these funds, and I really can't justify giving tax breaks to support the preservation of historic buildings which continue to be owned and controlled by private individuals for their best benefit and not the benefit of the community, or the necessity of history (do they give scholars full access to their family artefacts? Do they deposit their family papers in public archives?), particularly as many of the people lobbying for this still have an income (after having paid for the upkeep of the house) well above the national median.
posted by jb at 2:16 PM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Okay - the heritage people are sometimes crazy. Fussing about paint is silly, unless it's ORIGINAL (like the medieval paintings on the walls of St Albans Cathedral - they are beautiful). Listing shouldn't be about trying to recreate the house as it was, it should be about preservation of houseforms for historic purposes - recreation is for museums, not houses.

I would have suggested that they instead preserve the last traces of the original colour - probably covered so that it wasn't damaged by sun - make it a little window or a feature, like a pub I know did with centuries old graffiti covered in plexiglass, and happily paint whatever wasn't original whatever colour they felt like. If the rest was 1930s lime green, would it matter? We can't preserve everything.
posted by jb at 2:22 PM on July 8, 2008


jb: As for me advocating for a free-market solution, well, it's a bit funny if you know me.

Actually, I think it is funny in the light of your following statement, to which I was responding:

If the public really aren't interested in visiting (because of location, other places to go, etc), then obviously there isn't the public utility in the house, and they should look for another use.

jb: But I also recognise that there are lots of priorities for public funds - including for living people who need health care and social services - and that there is always a competition for these funds, and I really can't justify giving tax breaks to support the preservation of historic buildings which continue to be owned and controlled by private individuals for their best benefit and not the benefit of the community, or the necessity of history (do they give scholars full access to their family artefacts? Do they deposit their family papers in public archives?), particularly as many of the people lobbying for this still have an income (after having paid for the upkeep of the house) well above the national median.

Yes--you may have noticed that I already agreed that there are "priorities for public funds" and that it might well be the case that preserving this guy's house may not qualify. However, the arguments you adduce here are pretty easily met. It would be extremely easy to make any tax-break of the kind that this guy is advocating dependent upon adequate provision of public and scholarly access. In fact, it is pretty hard to imagine a situation in which public funds would be turned over to help maintain these buildings without such a proviso. In the case of this particular man's position, his entire rationale for advocating this kind of private/public partnership is that it preserves public access to the houses; it's a bit of a strawman in that case to say, as you do here, "why should the public pay if they don't get any access?" Unless, of course, you think he's planning on pulling some kind of elaborate bait and switch scam: "thanks for the roof, suckers, now get off my lawn before I release the hounds!"
posted by yoink at 2:37 PM on July 8, 2008


The current owner sat down and cried when he inherited it and its £100 000 annual running costs.

The Daily Telegraph, July 6, 2002, tells a different story:

It's the sort of decision, you imagine, that might raise a derisive chuckle among the likes of Sir Richard FitzHerbert , whose own introduction to his family inheritance was somewhat removed from such a comparatively neat operation.

One day, when he was 24, Sir Richard got a call out of the blue. "An uncle I'd never spoken to, due to a family feud, asked me to come and see him at home - Tissington Hall, in Derbyshire. He sat me down in one of the drawing-rooms and said: `Do you want to take this place on?' Not being a complete idiot, I said `Yes', thinking he'd live five years and I could get to know it gently, going up at weekends while I did the London thing and found a wife."

But it didn't quite work out like that. Six months later, he got another call. "I was about to go to three parties and was just getting out of the bath when I was told that Uncle John had died."

So, in 1989 Sir Richard, by then 25, returned to Tissington, ushered out his uncle's widow and children from her previous marriage ("that was a bit tricky") and, for three "pretty depressing" years, he learned the ropes on his own, selling paintings to pay for the roof ( pounds 300,000) and wiring ( pounds 25,000). Then he met and married Caroline, and now runs various thriving enterprises, including a school, based around the 68-room Tudor home.
posted by raygirvan at 2:53 PM on July 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Arguing against myself here, yoink!

You wrote.:" Unless, of course, you think he's planning on pulling some kind of elaborate bait and switch scam: "thanks for the roof, suckers, now get off my lawn before I release the hounds!"


A very few of the more cunning toffs have been known to pull an archive bait and switch!

That is, knowingly donating piles of almost totally useless family papers - literally, laundry lists and stuff relating to farm and tenancy accounts from which all the "good" stuff has already been secretly removed! - to public records for which there was, briefly, some tax advantage!

(I came across references to this crap-document-dumping-for-cash when I was editing a book about Britain's largest "unknown" country house. Obviously, some toffs can't be trusted!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 3:09 PM on July 8, 2008


raygirvan--you write "tells a different story" as if you've somehow caught him in an untruth. How exactly is the "sitting down and crying" claim incompatible with the Daily Telegraph story? Remember, the moment he "inherits" the property is not the moment when his uncle asks him if he's willing to "take the place on"--it's the moment when he learns that his uncle has died, and that he's entering into three "pretty depressing" years of selling parts of his inheritance to maintain other parts of it.
posted by yoink at 3:12 PM on July 8, 2008


Jody Tresidder--oh, I'm quite prepared to believe in the perfidy of toffs. That's why I think you'd need well-written legislation that ensured a reasonable quid-pro-quo for the public from any funds sent the way of maintaining these houses. One thing you'd really want to avoid is giving them tax breaks to do a place up and then letting them reap the benefits of selling it into purely private ownership. The public's right of access would have to persist even in the event of the property changing hands.
posted by yoink at 3:18 PM on July 8, 2008


Tears or no tears, it does put a rather different complexion on the story to hear that he inherited a house he had never visited from an uncle he had never spoken to, rather than actually growing up there, had the option of turning it down, and was doing very nicely indeed for a while (in 2002, at least). From "you'd have to be a complete idiot to refuse" to "you'd run a mile" in six years. Clearly the business turned sour. So we give him the tax breaks - and what happens if/when circumstances improve? If only all homeowners could enjoy that kind of understanding in the rough patches.

It sounds as though he was oddly harsh to the widow and kids who had actually been living in the house, as well.
posted by WPW at 3:45 PM on July 8, 2008


Another data point: from the Times, Named: the farmers who make hay by handouts. For some reason, the online edition omits a list that was in the print edition, where it was mentioned that he got a Common Agricultural Policy grant of £245,215. In short, before believing stories of upper-crust penury it'd be nice to see the balance sheet.
posted by raygirvan at 4:17 PM on July 8, 2008


Tears or no tears, it does put a rather different complexion on the story to hear that he inherited a house he had never visited from an uncle he had never spoken to, rather than actually growing up there, had the option of turning it down, and was doing very nicely indeed for a while (in 2002, at least). From "you'd have to be a complete idiot to refuse" to "you'd run a mile" in six years. Clearly the business turned sour. So we give him the tax breaks - and what happens if/when circumstances improve? If only all homeowners could enjoy that kind of understanding in the rough patches.

It sounds as though he was oddly harsh to the widow and kids who had actually been living in the house, as well.


It doesn't say he'd never visited the house, just that he'd never spoken to the uncle. I'm unclear on the relevance of this point, anyway; I took it that we all agreed that his own personal sentimental attachment to the family pile was irrelevant to his argument.

He obviously had the option of turning it down--regardless of whether he'd never been there before or had grown up there; that's not new.

He was "doing very nicely" because he'd sold off a whole lot of the contents of the property in order to do routine maintenance. That's obviously not a sustainable strategy.

The claim that "you'd have to be a complete idiot to refuse" hardly proves that he saw the house as a potential goldmine. Notice that the uncle's expression "take this place on" suggests that he saw it as a responsibility, not an obvious boon.

What happens when the circumstances improve? Well, if the legislation has been written properly, he continues to have an obligation to keep the place (and whatever contents remain) accessible to the public and to scholars.

Finally--the claim that he was "oddly harsh" to the widow and the kids is just gratuitous--it's completely unsupported by the article. I'm sure if you inherit property you'll grant infinite squatters rights to whoever happens to be living there regardless of whatever other provisions may have been made for them in the will, but the mere fact of someone taking possession of property that they have inherited is hardly shameful.
posted by yoink at 4:55 PM on July 8, 2008


Forgive me, but it is late, and I should be asleep. But I have worked for The National Trust, and the Heritage Lottery Fund in the past, so feel I should say something...

As PeterMcDermott said, the National Trust does not take on stately homes willy-nilly any more, and the ones that they do, not only do they have to have bursaries for the upkeep, but they will only have them if the houses have significant public benefit (see Tyntesfield, where they are effectively doing the restoration in public view, with a huge amount of volunteer involvement, and running New Deal schemes and the like.

The Trust didn't originally set out to preserve stately homes, and in recent years, they have swung back towards more environmental concerns, and taken their focus away from the big houses. Most of their country piles were acquired in the mid 20th century when British society changed, and the old system was no longer sustainable (people can't afford their big country homes any more? Old news). These properties were often gifted for pennies, and came with no cash for their upkeep. They have learnt from these mistakes.

They have tried a few things to broaden their income base from properties, such as building houses on parkland that isn't historically significant, but this has been controversial. To those suggesting that they should just build houses on the 1,000 acres, the parkland surrounding the houses is often as significant as the buildings themselves (see Capability Brown)

The Heritage Lottery Fund is the main heritage funder in the UK, and they are very clear on what they will and won't fund, all their projects have to have benefit to the public. They certainly won't pay for you to get your roof fixed.

There is a little known entity called the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which was initially set up after WWII, when it was felt that rather than more war memorials, the fund would be used to buy significant items for the nation. Last year, they helped save Dumfries House for the nation.

Personally, I'm a pragmatist, I think heritage is good for what it gives to us today and for people in the future. We have lots of deserted medieval villages and stately homes and so on. I don't think we need to save things just because, and if they can be put to good use as five-star hotels that provide jobs and economic benefits, then so be it. This is probably why I don't work for the National Trust or the Heritage Lottery Fund any more. As much as the heritage sector is changing to include people, widen access and broaden the idea of what heritage is, there is still a strong tendency to put shinny baubles above people.
posted by Helga-woo at 5:05 PM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Many RTB properties were, incidentally, disastrously missold, so that (for instance) elderly tenants found themselves having to pay for repairs they couldn't afford, and mortgage repayments they couldn't afford, and ended up back on the housing scrapheap.

I know that this was the case in some parts of the country -- particularly where people bought in multi-tenant buildings like tower blocks. However, these people formed a really tiny minority of the millions who got substantial sums of free money from the public purse.

Remember all of those houses in London that sold for a pound apiece? Some of them eventually sold for as much as a million pounds.

Even here in Liverpool, where property was really cheap, people who had no interest whatsoever in buying themselves could turn a quick five grand or so by allowing one of the many property companies that sprang up to take advantage of the giveaway to put up the money on their behalf, and have the property revert to them as soon as they had title.

They were very lucky.

Well, I thought you were arguing that they weren't lucky -- but that by comparison with this guy, that they were somehow badly done to? In fact, they were simply doing exactly the same as our toff is attempting to do -- trying to maximize their personal benefits at the expense of the public good.

I don't want to open another channel of funds into preserving privilege when there are far more important housing, national heritage and cultural priorities.


On this point though, I agree with you completely. I'm not unsympathetic to the guy. I'd give him tax breaks for money spent maintaining the property. But only if it was publicly accessible.

I'm sure if you inherit property you'll grant infinite squatters rights to whoever happens to be living there regardless of whatever other provisions may have been made for them in the will

And provisions *will* have been made. Despite the fact that we still have these odd toffs, the days of Jane Austin are long gone. You can't get away with leaving all of your worldly goods to some second cousin, twice removed simply because he happens to be a man if you haven't adequately taken care of any dependents.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:32 PM on July 8, 2008


Yoink - The personal details are irrelevant to the case for his proposed tax break, although I would say that I didn't claim anything about his treatment of the widow, I said it sounded harsh. But it was gratuitous and unfair and I wish I hadn't said it. I retract the remark.

As for his other remarks, you're being very generous in your interpretations.

This much is relevant: I said he was "doing very nicely" because the piece says that his business was thriving and gave the clear impression that after a sticky patch to begin with everything was AOK for about a decade. That's clearly salient. The legislation would also have to be written to ensure that the tax break only covered the lean years, otherwise it's straight into his back pocket. And if it was so written, doesn't that sap his motivation to make the business a success? That's the argument traditionally levelled at state handouts. You know, they just reward failure, encourage a culture of dependency, and so on.
posted by WPW at 5:34 PM on July 8, 2008


Well, I thought you were arguing that they weren't lucky -- but that by comparison with this guy, that they were somehow badly done to? In fact, they were simply doing exactly the same as our toff is attempting to do -- trying to maximize their personal benefits at the expense of the public good.

The comparison was clearly a poor one as I didn't mean to open a can of worms about the rights and wrongs of RTB. Suffice to say that half of all adults living in poverty are homeowners. That's 5 million people (2003 figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation).

I'm not unsympathetic to the guy either. But it's very hard to justify giving him a tax break over other, more deserving, people, buildings, and treasures.
posted by WPW at 5:49 PM on July 8, 2008


WPW writes "Jody, that analogy would only work if the homes in Colonial Williamsburg were still privately owned by the families of the colonists, who still lived there and received state subsidies to pay for the upkeep of their homes. "

In fat, the Colonial Williamsburg houses that are not exhibits are rented (at favorable rates, not unlike a subsidy) to (long-time) employees of CW. They have to keep anything anachronistic out of public view, so inside they're these little dens with thick curtains to block from outside view the lights and the TVs.
posted by orthogonality at 6:22 PM on July 8, 2008


Would he be legally able to rent it out, under conditions that the tenant undertakes to repair and restore the property, and any such expenses are offset against the rent? Assuming a tenant could be found to do that, that seems a reasonable way to balance the interests of the poor historical preservationist (if he has somewhere else to live) and the wealthy rock star. Become landlords again, but live in a little house and rent out the big one, in reverse of the old arrangement.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:59 PM on July 8, 2008


aeschenkarnos - that would be the Persuasion solution : )

(good book, if anyone hasn't read it - definitely in her top 6)
posted by jb at 7:41 PM on July 8, 2008


I'm not unsympathetic to the guy. I'd give him tax breaks for money spent maintaining the property. But only if it was publicly accessible.

I'd probably be one of the punters queueing up to see it, tbh. I love the NT.

I wonder how many homes they turn down every year...
posted by chuckdarwin at 2:48 AM on July 9, 2008


A very few of the more cunning toffs have been known to pull an archive bait-and-switch!

That is, knowingly donating piles of almost totally useless family papers - literally, laundry lists and stuff relating to farm and tenancy accounts from which all the "good" stuff has already been secretly removed! - to public records for which there was, briefly, some tax advantage!


I assume you're referring to the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, under which archives can be set off against inheritance tax? In order to qualify under this scheme, an archive has to be (a) of pre-eminent importance, and (b) fairly valued. I've sometimes been asked to provide expert advice on whether an archive meets the 'pre-eminent' standard, so I can testify that the threshold is set very high, and a pile of laundry lists and other 'totally useless' papers would not qualify for acceptance.

Do you have a particular case in mind? If so, I'd be interested to know the details.
posted by verstegan at 2:50 AM on July 9, 2008


Do you have a particular case in mind? If so, I'd be interested to know the details.

verstegan,

Yup, I have a VERY specific (and egregious) case in mind!

For sideways reasons - to do with the heirs, possible current legal rumblings and exactly who did what regarding crucial family papers (some of which were likely spirited away to Ireland) - I am having a rare fit of discretion. If one knew how and why the critical papers were removed- and I do - you'd understand my "laundry list" reference to the value of the papers made available.

(Not being obstructive here - I was only the editor, not the author, of the book that brought me this cracking little tale of archive double dealing. It was - as you put it perfectly - an acceptance in lieu deal. I can't believe I forgot that term! It was very obliquely referred to in the published manuscript - on legal advice. Btw, have you ever read the novel The Archivist by Martha Cooley? It's wonderful!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:05 AM on July 9, 2008


Internet detectives up, up, and away!
posted by ryanrs at 2:13 PM on July 9, 2008


Actually, laundry lists and stuff relating to farm and tenancy accounts is really important - I'm glad they put them in the archive. I don't know when these records were from, but I can tell you that while we have so many political papers, etc, from the 16th century, we have precious few good farm accounts - and they can be amazing for revealing how, well, everyone else in the country lived. These things might not seem important now, but they will be.
posted by jb at 4:44 PM on July 13, 2008


Actually, laundry lists and stuff relating to farm and tenancy accounts is really important - I'm glad they put them in the archive.

jb,
I totally agree.

I rather over-egged the disparaging reference to "laundry lists etc".
But you are absolutely right - the more pedestrian records can be a goldmine for historians!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:39 AM on July 15, 2008


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