The Spectator's Notes

The first step towards restoring the National Trust

29 May 2021

9:00 AM

29 May 2021

9:00 AM

It is poetically fitting that the resignation of the chairman of the National Trust, Tim Parker, was announced on the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. The collective mistakes that have so damaged the Trust’s reputation were bound up in the rush of many institutions to ‘take the knee’, metaphorically and literally. Immensely delicate questions about how best to study the connections of Trust properties with slavery and (ill-chosen word) ‘colonialism’ were rushed and politicised. The view inevitably spread that the Trust now bears an animus towards the past whose glorious buildings and landscapes it is supposed to protect so that millions may enjoy them. That animus is clearly present in the writings of the head of the Colonial Countryside Project, Professor Corinne Fowler, but probably not in Mr Parker himself. His problem was a lack of leadership and of deep knowledge of the Trust’s history and essential purposes. He was therefore vulnerable to the Black Lives Matter ambush. It has taken a huge amount of protest from the Trust’s real friends and the campaigning of the new organisation, Restore Trust, to start putting things right. Mr Parker’s departure is part of that. The tragedy is that the National Trust was, until recently, capable of reconciling the radical with the conservative — the former tending to care more about the recreation of the masses, the latter about the heritage of the houses, gardens and estates themselves, but both accepting the link between the two. That is the Trust that needs restoring.

The recent decision of Oriel College, Oxford, that Rhodes will not, in fact, fall will set a precedent, particularly because of the college’s revelation of the complication and expense of the legal processes involved. Next up is Jesus College, Cambridge. As this column has previously discussed, Jesus is trying to remove Grinling Gibbons’s outstanding bust of the college’s generous 17th-century benefactor, Tobias Rustat, from its chapel. Rustat profited (somewhat marginally) from slavery; this allegedly makes it unbearable for worshippers to look at him any longer. To treat a historic monument in this way, Jesus needs a ‘faculty’ from the diocese of Ely. This is a legal process, and is being contested by a group of more than 80 Jesus alumni with long pockets. Suspecting that the practical difficulties might be dawning on the Fellows, I made a successful Freedom of Information request for the minutes of the relevant college council meeting in February. They are interesting. ‘The Bursar informed Council that it is likely to cost College in the region of £55,000 to go to Consistory Court, and more if we need to go to appeal. Relocation of the Memorial will cost very roughly £30,000.’ My very rough estimate, based on what lawyers say, of the ‘more’ on appeal is about the same sum again. This comes at a time when Varsity magazine reports that the college is laying off people, provoking a campaign for a rent strike. The college told the paper it ‘has faced an unprecedented reduction in income since the beginning of the pandemic and the biggest financial… challenge in its recent history’: it has ‘a duty to manage its resources prudently and… to support its charitable aims of education, learning, research and religion’. It seems a funny time to be spending six-figure sums on ripping out a listed work of art.


The Bursar of Jesus also ‘noted that the College will need to show that it has consulted properly with its beneficiaries’, including the relevant student bodies. Another Fellow ‘urged that the consultation should be phrased in a balanced and neutral way, and that students should not be actively encouraged to respond strongly’. These two remarks suggest that the consultations previously trumpeted have not been proper ones and the college’s Legacy of Slavery Working Party has been applying undue pressure during the consultation to get the response it wants. The Bursar ‘will also ask the College’s solicitors to advise on issues relating to charity law and the ability of the College to pursue the case.’ Under charity law, the minutes do not add, those responsible for the college as a charity (i.e. the council) could be personally liable for spending college money on uncharitable activities. One suspects this thought could affect what the minutes call ‘the ability of the College to pursue the case’. By the way, all four national bodies consulted for their views of Jesus’s petition to remove the statue — including Historic England and the Churches Buildings Council — oppose it.

O tempora, o mores. A worried report from the Social Mobility Commission claimed last week that many top civil servants know Latin, and use it, thereby excluding their less privileged colleagues. I am trying to help stamp this practice out by constructing a lingua franca purged of hard-to-understand terms from the snobby old Romans e.g. (exempli gratia) circus, video, doctor, bonus, exit, femur, stet, quantum, trans, memorandum, focus, alumnus, camera, conductor, radius, maximum, minimum, major, minor, senior, junior, media, gratis, post-mortem, ego, versus, data, species, penis and vagina i.e. (id est) quite a lot of words. It is hard work, but we must jettison stuffy old concepts like habeas corpus, pro bono, sub judice, de jure, de facto and de minimis non curat lex — all so 20th-century. Then there are all those initials. AD (anno domini) is now on the way out, but why must we make people uncomfortable by using a.m./p.m. (ante and post meridiem) to tell the time, and how dare the Queen call her herself DG Reg FD on our coinage? It must, a fortiori, be intimidating for would-be civil servants from deprived backgrounds to have to wrestle with a CV (curriculum vitae), and ipso facto, become persona non grata. Res ipsa loquitur, QED (quod erat demonstrandum), etc (et cetera). Latin: RIP (requiescat in pace). When levelling up, it is much better to use good old English words like hoi polloi.

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