Letter from London Director of the National Trust signals new interest in the roles of LGBT lives in UK Heritage

Unable to attend a panel discussion at London’s Sutton House on 13th February, the London Director of The National Trust sent the following message. We at LGBT HM have taken this as an indication of the Trust’s intention to bring LGBT stories to the proper forefront of the histories of their properties.

From Ivo Dawnay, London Director of the National Trust (writing in a personal capacity)

Welcome to Sutton House and this excellent event conceived by Sean. Regrettably I can’t be with you, but I can from a distance, congratulate you all on shining a light on the engagement of LGBT communities with the National Trust, and, indeed all aspects of the nation’s heritage.

 

It is fair to say that the diversity of sexual orientations of people involved in this world is something universally known-about but little discussed or celebrated. Perhaps the single most important person in the 20th Century history of the Trust was James Lees-Milne whose tireless work at acquiring country houses threatened with destruction or decline gave us an enormous part of our portfolio.

In an age when homosexuality was illegal, Lees-Milne was as ‘out’ as it was possible to be and even married an ‘out’ lesbian to everyone’s surprise. Many of the rather Grand Trustees of the old Trust – mostly pubic school educated aristocrats – themselves had distinguished gay backgrounds, though these were largely confined to the elaborate Chippendale closets that they kept in their draughty stately homes.

And many of our donors too had credentials. William Banks, who conceived and built the magnificent Kingston Lacey house in Dorset from abroad was driven there in exile after a scandal involving a young man. He was said never to have seen the fantastic house/art gallery he created – unless, as one legend has it, he snuck back into Britain, dressed as a woman to inspect it.

Then there was Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville West at Sissinghurst – hardly discreet about their own same sex liaisons.

Dozens of brilliant staff through our 119 year history have come and will continue to come from the LGBT community – we would be lost without them. It is perhaps time that all this and all of them were better acknowledged.

I hope you all have a brilliant evening.

 

The History Month event was attended by

Gemma Bending
Community Engagement and Learning Officer
National Trust, Sutton House
Dir Tel: 020 8525 9066
Sutton House, 2&4 Homerton High Street, Hackney, London, E9 6JQ