Oxford Centre of the National Trust

Chairman's Letter

Regular readers of this letter will know that I will have been your Chairman for eight years by the time of the next AGM in March 2019. The National Trust recommends that the role should be undertaken for four years. For some time I have been asking for volunteers to join our Committee in the hope that somebody would then be able to replace me as Chairman. The Oxford Centre has now been in existence for fifty years making it one of the oldest Centres or Associations in the country. This should, therefore, have been a joyous year of celebration. There was a disappointing response to the anniversary dinner at Linacre College in September and three of the planned outings were cancelled due to lack of support. The Committee has worked hard to arrange exciting visits and a great deal of effort has been made to publicise our talks at the wonderful new venue at Magdalen College auditorium. I was upset that less than forty members attended the talk in October and so I have decided that I shall resign as Chairman as from the AGM in March. I feel strongly that new leadership is required to take the Centre forward for the next decade and beyond. I will continue as ticket Secretary and managing the website until my successor asks me to stand down.

In addition Val Gould, Membership Secretary, and Julia Money who has arranged some talks for the last few years have both left the committee. Their contribution to OCNT will be recognised at the AGM in March. It is not clear at this stage how their jobs will be reallocated among the current committee or whether, as I hope, new committee members will be forthcoming.

Rupert McNeile

Report on the Holiday to North Wales

22nd October saw thirty-one intrepid adventurers from the Oxford Centre embark on a holiday to North Wales in glorious sunshine. Our first visit was to Chirk Castle, situated on a hill overlooking the Cheshire and Shropshire plains, Built in the reign of Edward I, it has medieval towers but inside the family rooms are 17th and 18th century. In the gardens the clipped yews and herbaceous borders were lovely.

The next day we had a surprise visit to the parish church at Bodelwyddan. It is known as the ‘Marble Church’ as there are fourteen varieties of marble there and the pulpit, lectern, pews and choir stalls are beautifully carved in wood. The imposing steeple, 202 ft, overlooks the Commonwealth War Graves, so many of them Canadian soldiers who died of influenza after WW1.

We carried on over the Menai Strait to Anglesey and Plas Newydd, the ancestral home of the Marquess of Anglesey. The stunning 58ft mural by Rex Whistler and also the exhibition of his work, were the highlights of the property, which overlooks the Menai Strait. The landscaped gardens were designed by Humphrey Repton.

On Wednesday morning we had a scenic journey along the Conwy Valley in beautiful sunshine, past the elegant stone bridge at Llanwrst to Betws-y-Coed for a short stop. Then it was on to the Llanberis Pass and back past the slate quarries in the Ogwen Valley on our way to Penrhyn Castle, with its exuberant interiors, extensive grounds and industrial Railway Museum. Many people explored the walled garden. On our return journey along the coast we had views of people competing in the World Sea Angling Championships on the sands.

Thursday saw us at Bodnant Garden, where the spectacular autumn colours and many other horticultural features were very photogenic. Then on to Conway with its variety of attractions. At least one member of the party walked all around the city walls. Some people went to the castle and many to Aberconway House, while others sat on the quay and watched children fishing for crabs. We came back via Llandudno.

The first rain we had was on Friday but it cleared up at Attingham Park, the imposing Georgian mansion in acres of parkland with walled garden, splendid stables and one of the best National Trust shops.

Our accommodation at Bodelwyddan Castle was interesting – many single members were surprised at the enormous queen-size beds, while one lady remarked that she lost her husband in theirs! We could not fault the food which was excellent and plentiful. Our driver, Gordon, entertained us well and ensured that we all arrived and departed safely at all our various destinations.

Many thanks must go to Nesta for arranging such an enjoyable holiday to the Land of her Fathers – who will forget her pronunciation of LlanfairPG? We all appreciated the amount of hard work she put in on our behalf.

Betty Fathers

Oxford Centre celebrates 50 years with a Farming and Wildlife Symposium

On 25th September a Roundtable Symposium chaired by OCNT President Dr Nick Brown took place in the Halford MacKinder Lecture Theatre in the Oxford University School of Geography and the Environment. Speakers who discussed ‘The Future of the British Countryside: food production and conservation’ were Dame Helen Ghosh (Master of Balliol College and former Director General of the National Trust); Mr Richard Bramley (Yorkshire farmer and a member of the NFU Environmental Forum); Dr Paul Jepson (Oxford University School of Geography and the Environment); and Mr Tom Curtis (3Keel, an Oxford-based firm of sustainability advisors specialising in working with food systems, supply chains and landscapes).

From the 1940s food production was central to agricultural policy, but the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy imposed restrictions and requirements on farmers. With the changes inevitable after Brexit, there is an opportunity to move in new directions with more emphasis on enjoying the countryside and the benefits nature offers for our well-being. The National Trust is a custodian of 70% of the land and accepts a role to discuss with other green NGOs the cultural value of landscape in addition to supporting a thriving agricultural industry.

As a practising farmer Richard voiced his concerns that farmers’ voices are not adequately represented in discussions about future policy. Farmers are caught between the requirements for food, conservation and tourism. Food has never been cheaper, but consumers rarely consider where their food comes from or how much it costs to produce.

There is now an opportunity to frame a new policy for a managed landscape which balances natural assets to provide a personal ‘embodied’ experience in natural settings (away from commercial pressures and technology) with our other assets – efficient farmers and other rural enterprises, ensuring sustainable management of resources.

New thinking is needed, and if our politicians seem unable to address the issue, other organisations should create opportunities for collaborative innovation.

Summary by Felicity Peacock

Visit to Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Our visit to Warwick in September was a great success. We were welcomed in the Great Hall of the Hospital with coffee/tea and biscuits and then had an introductory talk by one of the ‘Brethren’. The chapel was built in 1143 and the adjoining 15th century half-timbered buildings were used by the medieval guilds of Warwick.

In 1571 Robert Dudley acquired them as accommodation for wounded soldiers in the Elizabethan era. It is still used as that today although there are only eight ‘Brethren’ now. We had a guided tour of the Great Hall, Guildhall, Chapel and Gardens, all of which were absolutely fascinating with facts of their history.

Most people made their way to the Collegiate Church of St. Mary, where we were made to feel very welcome. The whole building was decorated with poppies to commemorate remembrance of those who have lost their lives during conflicts. There were thousands of poppies – knitted, crocheted, painted or made of paper. The regimental Chapel has six glass screens at the entrance – each one was covered, front and back, with red poppies. In the Beauchamp Chapel pupils from the local primary school had decorated most surfaces with a variety of memorials: ‘Thank You for our Freedom’. It was all very meaningful and made us all reflect on the sacrifices made for all of us. A very thought-provoking experience.

Betty Fathers