After all, they sort of do the same kind of thing, act in the same sort of space and need to merge IMO. Before 2009 I had been a member of English Heritage for a while, largely to get into Stonehenge for free[ref]free once I’d gone about three times in a year ISTR[/ref]. It was a good staging post on the way down to the West Country, and usually picked up enough visits to make it worthwhile. It’s been a while since I was part of this, but now I have returned to the land of those with a regular income, I need to go out and put some of that to work.
I want to see more of Britain, and take my time
One of the remarkable things about Britain is that a lot of the place is like a history theme park, and that it has all sorts of bizarre things scattered around the landscape. Take this oddball triangular building. It challenges you a bit being inside, we are so accustomed to rectangularity in rooms that it’s quite disorienting.
The aristocracy of this country was eccentric that way, and fortunately the reforming post-war governments dispossessed enough of these folk of their undeserved wealth gifted them by that varmint William the Conk that we have the opportunity to see some of them.The general principle was since so many people got slaughtered in service to King and Country in the World Wars it was considered a bit rough to have the toff dynasties lording it over the proles like they used to.
There’s no need to get the violins out for the aristocracy – the landed gentry still own about half the rural land this sceptred isle, because the crafty devils struck a deal with the reforming post-war governments. Of course, Mr Attlee, they said, you wouldn’t like to break up family farms now, would you, after all we have just survived a war and had to dig for victory? So give us an exception on agricultural land for inheritance tax. Which still stands, but of course our landed gentry can’t be arsed to drive their own little Fordson tractors or get their hands dirty. They take public money in the form of subsidies to the tune of about £245 for every British household to reduce the costs of carrying their unearned capital stored in agricultural land, get huge contracting firms to farm the land, and flood it with chemicals, poison our birds while they of course keep the ancestral wealth in their dynasty free of IHT, because it’s agriculture, innit? To add insult to injury for the great unwashed, Gerald Grosvenor, who owned £9bn of ancestral wealth when he carked it recently, moaned that it didn’t make him happy. Well, Gerald, you know what you should have done then, you miserable git. Spread some of the love around, then maybe your kids don’t get to moan the same when they’re 64 😉 Seriously, you couldn’t make it up.
In the UK there are two heritage organisations, the National Trust and English Heritage (and the Historic Wales and Historic Scotland equivalents to EH). The overlap is notable – for instance EH run Stonehenge and the National Trust own the site, and Avebury it seems the National Trust run the site, even if they did upset Bill Bryson. Cynical me wonders how he managed to shell out £31 before seeing a stone, and whether his role as an English Heritage commissioner had something to do with his discombobulation. I’ve had the same dilemma as Bill whether to take a fleecing from the National Trust or observe from the sidelines but if he really did manage to miss one of these great big things
while he was so busy chasing comestibles then I think he needs a visit to the optician. Personally, I don’t expect to pay anything even for parking when I go to Avebury, but I guess I have more experience of the site than Bryson had 😉
I’m with the NT here– we don’t need more or bigger signs, because if you’re the sort that misses twenty-foot high sarsen slabs by the side of the Queen’s highway, then you aren’t going to spot the signs to the stones. The territory is map enough in this case.
I need to chill on the subscriptions front now, because now I have an income I can qualify how much as a proportion I am spending. Because of a fondness for prehistoric sites, I want to stay at out-of the way places, so I stumped up the £37 for the Camping and Caravanning club, mainly for their small certificated sites of about 5-10 pitches. These tend to be out of the way and on farms, which are often nearer prehistoric sites than a B&B would be. They also have basic facilities, so they don’t attract families with easily bored kids and hounds which is good for a restful environment. And they are a good way to stage a journey. I never really did that when I was working, because it all eats into my time, but driving all the way from Ipswich to somewhere like Ullapool in Scotland in a single pass isn’t particularly fun, particularly as a single driver and non-stop apart from refuelling – the joy/madness of youth … I have come to recognise the wisdom in Philip Greenspun’s advice on long drives
If you can’t arrange the trip so that it is 150 miles/day or less, then you might as well fly because you’re mostly going to see the inside of your car.
Thing is, he could afford to take out 100 days for his road trip. I’ve never been able to take a stretch out like that, from the day I started work over 34 years ago to, well, a couple of years ago 😉 And yes, fair comment, I was an employee all that time, and of course all you dynamic freelancers will say you can do that any time you like. Which may be true, but heck, I have no idea of how you get to have the cojones to give up paying opportunities to bunk off for three months if you are in your 40s and have a mortgage to pay. I tip my hat to those that do, but that just wouldn’t be me.
Britain’s a lot smaller than the US so I can travel for shorter times, and right now my sights are on an opportunity to see some ancient sites on private land (with their OK) and spend some time near Stonehenge. I haven’t been there for a few years, and in the intervening time English Heritage have cleared up the 1960’s monstrosity of the car park and visitor centre. On the downside they have some advance booking procedure, which is a right pain to do from a campsite because I usually have ratty Internet and no printer, and I want to aim for the golden hours of the morning and evening, because there will be fewer people and things are more atmospheric. And of course you don’t want to book ages ahead, because, well this is Britain and it may rain all day.
English Heritage enlightens me about the historical differences between them and the National Trust
EH sort of show the original reason there are two organisations with their history of English Heritage page. It appears that
1913 an Act of Parliament was passed that gave the Office new powers. These were essentially to make a collection of all the greatest sites and buildings that told the story of Britain. At that stage these were regarded as being prehistoric and medieval remains – country houses and industrial sites were then not really seen as heritage.
After the Second World War the Ministry of Works (as it had become) started to be interested in buildings other than castles, abbeys and manor houses. Its first industrial sites were acquired and in 1949 it acquired its first country house, Audley End in Essex. The Ministry had its sights set on a number of other big houses, but the Treasury was very nervous. The government felt it was one thing to take on old castles and abbeys, but quite another to look after, and maintain, huge roofed buildings full of works of art. After some debate it was decided that it would be financially more sustainable if the National Trust took on the country houses and that the Ministry of Works confined itself to the older monuments.
So now I know. This is why English Heritage scores on prehistory and ruins, while the National Trust specialises in places where there’s a roof to maintain. I suspect there’s mission creep with the NT, arguably for Avebury (prehistory so on EH’s turf). Looking at the National Trust’s website I struggled to find a clear statement of mission, that part is more about the how than the what and why. When I was last a member of English Heritage 10 years ago it was a quango rather than a charity, but they seem to still be up to the same sort of general thing.
I want to join one of these , but not both
As it happens I’d get free parking and entry to Stonehenge and Avebury with membership of either. Entry to Stonehenge is £15.50, so after four entries I break even, I will probably use three of those in the first go.
The NT is dearer at £63 than English Heritage at £52, but the obvious question is why the hell is this a choice at all. I don’t really see that we need two separate heritage organisations, particulalry now both are charities. EH is better on prehistoric sites, but the NT have a greater presence in Suffolk with Dunwich Heath, Lavenham Guildhall with its desiccated cat and Flatford Mill . Prehistory is thin on the ground in Suffolk, largely on account of there being precious little stone. What there is is very old, but small –
However, I am prepared to walk to save money – Flatford can easily be done by parking in East Bergholt and hoofing 1 km down the track, and Dunwich Heath is reachable from Minsmere. Like Bill Bryson, I don’t like NT car parking charges, and I just don’t pay for parking in Suffolk if at all possible – that’s the whole point of knowing an area.
The trouble with subscriptions
When I realised in 2009 I wanted a way out, one of the first things I did was can nearly all the subscriptions to various things and good causes I had acquired over the years. In an existential fight where it’s the choice between me or them I am going to take my side, and it really is surprising how much this sort of thing can add up over time. An awful lot of consumer marketing tries to salami-slice you, telling you the cost per day or per month, trying to sneak it under your radar, pretty much every mobile phone subs does that. So much so that Moneysaving Expert has come up with the Demotivator tool specifically to fight small regular payments.
Once I had added this up in Quicken (old skool non on-line version of Money Dashboard) it all had to go, the only one I retained was the RSPB membership, because I live near to Minsmere. As a general policy I paid for these in yearly hits, too, which makes tracing them a little easier.
For some reason I got hypersensitised to elective subscriptions – of course I pay water gas and electricity and council tax as subscriptions, but it’s tough to live without water and thugs with size 9 boots kick down your door if you don’t pay the council tax. Those are non-elective subscriptions.
I have been able to adapt to the the odd piece of hedonism or larger one off purchase, but I still fear the death by a thousand cuts, so it is in the little things that I find myself getting in my way. Elective subscriptions are one of these things. Sure, they can add up, but this is why I hire Quicken to track this sort of thing, and so far at less than £200 a year all in they are probably OK – I’d want to take action at about £500 p.a. – if only to ask does all of this serve me well?
One thing I have noticed is that there has been massive inflation in admission charges over the last few years – I was gobsmacked to see Stonehenge is £15+ and Minsmere is now £9. I hadn’t spotted the changes in the latter over the years as I usually just show my card.
It’s hard to love the National Trust, I think some of their aristocratic background and possessions bring out a little bit of the Lady Muck in them. However, they do good work even if their excessive parking charges need to be resisted. I will probably go the English Heritage route on this, because it’s a better fit with my areas of interest. Sadly even they have gone a bit more commercially-minded a la NT.
In the late 1990s I was able to go inside the circle at Stonehenge a couple of times as part of their Sundowners occasional member events which were free, and had a guide, looks like now that’s chargeable. On the upside you have more choice of times to get in now, and it’s still a lot cheaper than the hundred odd pounds this was when it was outsourced to commercial tour operators after 2003. So I’m chuffed they’ve taken it back in-house.