Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rising from the ashes

On Sunday we buzzed over to Grasmere to visit Allan Bank, a National Trust property with a difference. The Trust have owned the house since 1920, when it was left to them in the will of Canon Rawnsley, one of their original founders. Since then, though, it's been tenanted and not open to the public. But last year it suffered a devastating fire which came close to destroying part of the building, and in trying to raise money for repairs they've opened the place to the public.

But my goodness, what a difference from the usual stately home, stuffed with furniture and valuable paintings and quite often bristling with signs saying 'Do Not Touch'. Here at Allan Bank there's nothing. Virtually no furniture, bar a few sofas by the fire in the reading room. No soft-furnishings; no knick-knacks; no paintings. Even the wallpaper and carpets have gone. But what's left is the house. The basic, raw, architectural structure of the house, which is normally hidden away behind all that surface gloss, but which is revealed here in all its fascinating detail. Floorboards, plaster decoration on walls and ceilings, fireplaces, window frames - you can see the lot, in exactly the way the house's original architect would have intended.

Better still, you can interract with it. Because the house is in an unfinished state you can sit for hours on the window seats with a cup of tea, or touch the stone, scuff the floorboards, even (I mean it) write on the walls. The Trust are looking for ideas on what to do with the house once they've finished conserving it from the fire, and are actively encouraging visitors to write their ideas on any surface that comes to hand.

The results are interesting to say the least. A few suggest specific uses for the house - a base for wounded soldiers, an animal rescue centre. But the vast majority want it left as it is, so future visitors can also appreciate the house, and the unique atmosphere it holds, for themselves. You can add us to that list.

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