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The Gilt and the Gingerbread (Within Within Within) is a personal enquiry and investigation, delving into the two rebuilds of Clandon Park, a large National Trust property in Surrey. The first rebuild in the 18th Century with moneyfrom the sugar and slave trade and then the modern rebuild that continues today after a devastating fire in April 2015.

 

After reading an article about the decision to rebuild the house and the arguments for and against this, I decided to go and visit the house in 2018. The first time I had done so since I was a child. It is from this perspective that the project evolves - a project about enlightenment and disappointment. Where the gold no longer glistens so brightly and like the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel delightful appearances can deceive.

 

With three generations of membership in my family, The National Trust has been part of my days out since I can remember with parents and grandparents taking me frequently to visit homes and gardens. This I now do with my own family. I had never really questioned my membership before. These days out were and still are stress free and enjoyable with space for rolling on lush grass, looking at glorious treasures in glittering parlours and partaking of tea and cake. A Middle England paradise.

 

The Trust has diversified greatly in recent years to include modest homes and smaller properties, like those they originally rescued in their infancy, but the Grand Houses (bought mostly in their fading years after the World Wars) are still the main attraction. Entering these large houses makes you small, more so when you are small like a child. You are stepping into an unobtainable world, like that of a doll’s house, a fantasy that you are briefly part of.

 

It is hard to think of these places as homes when the show of scale, wealth, land and power are so alien to most of the visitors passing through. I am a member, but I definitely do not belong. We are peepers, not allowed to touch. However as one of their 5.5 million members I realise that I am part of a very large but exclusive club. As I question my own belonging I confess that I did feel comfortable in these places. The National Trust endeavours to welcome visitors from diverse and ethnic backgrounds, but is it a place they wish to belong or will ever feel comfortable in?

 

In September 2020, the Trust along with many other institutions under the pressure for transparency and commitment to BLM, published a 115 page report on colonialism and slavery trade connections linked to many of their sites. With this comes the knowledge of who actually built these houses including Clandon Park.

 

The National Trust is completely dependent on membership, donations, gift shop and tea room revenue. Serving over 4.5million cups of tea a year, a large part of the National Trusts revenue still it seems relies on sugar. A big draw of the new build at Clandon Park will be a roof top café where you can be elevated as you take tea and survey the land. 

I am still a member but new ideas of whose heritage this is needs to be addressed, the dust sheets withdrawn and the ghosts released.