Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Mess, misery and mistrust at Chillingham castle

I suppose I have to thank Chillingham castle for something.

Let me think. Hmm. Could take time.

The tea room! Yes, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger enjoyed the tea room! (These children are becoming very Victoriana. The day is not complete without tea and cake at four.) Yes, I can say they wandered about the rest of the castle grumbling about the auction house lots, but they enjoyed the cake.

But I should thank Chillingham castle management for something else too. Giving the kids a subject for discussion while we dragged ourselves from room to dispiriting room, other than, Should you be allowed to thump your sister? Discuss.

So today we spent our time discussing this:

What responsibility should an owner of a building with centuries old connections have towards a telling of history, the building they preserve, and the people they invite to see it? Discuss.

Usually, I am happy to support a telling of history. It doesn't have to be a national glory line. It can be quirky, off-beat, original, little-person, and that's no matter to me. Sometimes those voices tell us about society, attitudes, cultures and histories in a way that grand statements and nationally sanctioned sentiments never can.

If that line comes to me at a price, like the entrance fee to a stately home or a ticket for the gardens, then I appreciate everything has a cost. And I appreciate buildings take a good deal of maintenance. Good grief, I only have to look at The Pile to know that. And we're only a weeny Victorian heap with a leaking roof and a few non-functioning sash windows!

But inescapably, at the heart of me, I believe we all have a responsibility towards the histories we live in and the histories we tell. If anyone is fortunate enough to live in a building with centuries of connections to the land, to the people who lived and worked there, who made it possible for you to enjoy that place, then you have an added responsibility towards the insights that the building and its spaces can give.

I think this idea extends to everyone, really, perhaps in different ways. We all live alongside the endeavours and thoughts of others who went before us. In a building, I respect the work people did and the time they took. I have never forgiven the neighbour for stripping out an original Victorian fireplace so he could use the space for a cupboard. (Insert very rude word, thrice over.)

With that belief - that we have a responsibility to the past which we can express in various ways - I'm not sure I trust the owner of Chillingham at all.

I am unsure about the restoration because I have no information about that. Maybe it is faithful; maybe not. I have no basis to believe in it. I doubt, deeply. I only have to look at the piles of auction house lots that inhabit every room because there's no interest in building a narrative here, not through space, nor object.

Worse than the uncertainty is the knowledge that the owner gleefully admits to telling 'false history' to catch out 'schoolmasters'. What point is he seeking to make? What is he seeking to do?

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger were confused too. They know enough history to be in that room for Edward I and become puzzled by the Union Jack and the African drums. But then the owner, with curious lack of thought, and careless lack of responsibility, laughs at my confusion.

Well, maybe I shouldn't take myself so seriously. Maybe I should be happy with the idea that I am staring at charming English eccentricity.

But for me, Chillingham is a building that I can only remain unsure about; it's a sad home for a cacophony of jumble; a collection that says, here is someone who's not interested in history, not of the people who built it, not the spaces they once shared, not the hours or years of their lives, not even the relationship between objects they made.

Maybe I'm expecting too much. Maybe the owner of Chillingham simply enjoys playing at castles and thinks I will, too. Out on the board comes torture chamber, ghosts, and secret rooms. When it's done, the game can be put away, no more use, because it's only a game, and we can play it without care, thought, or any sense of future.

Spot the bath.


Rachel M. said...

Is the bath the bassinet looking thing next to the window???

Green V-Neck said...

ABSOLUTELY you can! You are almost guaranteed success, look at what you have done so far!!

MadameSmokinGun said...

Hmmmmnnn....... I suppose with the outside of buildings we happily take in 'and this bit was added 100 years later...' but with interiors we want to see 'wot it woz like when.... ' I think I agree with you that this castle owner sounds like a twerp. Just as well there woz cake. Hopefully 21st Century.

Grit said...

yes rachel, with explanatory pointless witterings about france in the 18thc.

thank you green v-neck! i only need courage, right?

mme sg, i still feel quite put out about this day. my days are so precious! every one has to be cherished! in chillingham i was denied three hours of use and beauty.

in my defence, or to show i am not quite solitary and mad, that i am not the only person in england wanting to kick kittens after chillingworth, someone on trip advisor (i am perversely pleased to note) described it as the 'least favourite place to visit, ever', with 'rooms cluttered, dirty, ramshackle, crammed with mostly 20th century junk in big piles including old clothes, shoes, stuffed animals. Makes no sense, no timeline or organization'.

i should have read that before we went. (stupidly i would have still gone.)

Green V-Neck said...

Well, not only courage but also a healthy dollop of humor and a soup├žon of ass-kickiness. I think you're well set.

Heaps of Home Ed said...

Our family went to Chillingham last yr and loved it. We loved that it was ramshackle and filled with jumble, it reminded us of home. I wasn't enamoured by the dust but it felt like quite an antidote to the stuffiness and pretense of Alnwick castle with its H Potter theme. We loved that there were surprises around every corner (not in the least 'will the floor give way?')and enjoyed being given swords to hold and hats to try. If our home were transformed into a castle, well I may fantasize about splendour but in reality it would be the squirrels nest of Chillingham! Oh and that tea room...the coal spitting fire...the cakes!