Sexing-up the heritage

Regular readers will begin to think that Sherds is obsessed with matters amorous, but in truth this is only a reflection of the extent to which the world is becoming ever more eroticised. Even Dr Who now has a feisty heroine who makes suggestive innuendoes about how long it is since the 907-year-old Time Lord last had sex, while trying to undress the Doctor and drag him in to bed.

That the heritage is not immune from this general trend is illustrated by the announcement from the eminently respectable National Trust, that it is creating an entirely new forum of heritage tourism, hand in hand with Mills and Boon. Forget fine furniture, paintings and objets d’art: what today’s visitor wants to know is what went on in the four-poster bed. The first of a series of racy novels set in National Trust properties has just been published: Scandalous Innocent, by Juliet Landon, is set in  17th-century Ham House, in Richmond, Surrey, and the story has a cast of characters that includes the real-life occupants of the house — the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale — and the fictional Phoebe, who falls for the Duke’s personal secretary, Sir  Leo, and pursues him into the bedroom.

‘There’s plenty of sex,’ the author said at the novel’s launch, adding that historic houses like Ham House, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year, are perfect for ‘romantic interludes’, because they are ‘full of nooks and crannies and private places’. John Stachiewicz, Publisher at the National Trust, said: ‘Our visitors love a good story about the romance of the houses and the history of the families [and] these houses have seen a lot of action. From house staff to conservators, everyone’s been on board and helping out and, I think in some cases, desperate to feature in the book in some shape or form.’

Vexing the Viscount

If the mind boggles at the idea of National Trust conservators as characters in a steamy novel, even less can one imagine the scholarly shades of the Society of Antiquaries as a setting for ‘a fun, light-hearted, sexy historical romp’. Yet such is the theme of Vexing the Viscount, a new novel by Emily Bryan, which finds Miss Daisy Drake joining Viscount Rutland, FSA, in the quest for erotic Roman antiquities.

The novel opens with Daisy’s unmaidenly interest in a Roman phallic lamp on display in the entrance hall to the Society’s Burlington House apartments; Ms Bryan’s research for the novel generally leaves much to be desired. She calls Sir Alistair Fitzhugh ‘head’ of the Society of Antiquaries, instead of President, describes Daisy as having ‘petitioned for admission several times’, when in reality you cannot apply to be a Fellow — you have to be proposed by a minimum of five existing Fellows. Bryan writes that ‘Sir Alistair blackballed her membership on account of her gender’; women were not even eligible for Fellowship in the era in which this novel was set, and no one individual could have black-balled anyone: to be blackballed was to receive more than one ‘no’ vote for every ten ‘yes’ votes cast in a ballot of all the Fellows (today the ratio is a more favourable four to one). But perhaps such exactitude is not really the point of the novel.

The Profumo Affair

Another example of sexed-up heritage is the invitation from Cliveden House, owned by the National Trust but run as a luxury hotel by the von Essen group, to relive key moments in the political scandal that became known as the Profumo Affair. As the 50th anniversary approaches, guests at the Grade-I listed house can visit the places where, in 1961, John Profumo, Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Cabinet, conducted his affair with Christine Keeler, at Lord Astor’s splendid Buckinghamshire mansion, built by the architect Charles Barry on a cliff above the Thames in 1851.

Guests may make use of Cliveden’s swimming pool, around which that fateful meeting occurred, but there will be no skinnydipping — as Keeler was when Profumo first caught sight of her.

Anyone signing up for the Profumo-themed weekend will enjoy a talk by Rupert Gavin, author of the stage play, A Model Girl, based on the affair that led to Macmillan’s resignation on the grounds of ill-health — probably exacerbated by the stresses of the scandal, in which it was alleged Keeler had been used as bait to obtain top secret information from Profumo by Yevgeny Ivanov, the Soviet naval attaché with whom she was also having a relationship.

A spokesperson for Cliveden said: ‘We will put forward some of the most fascinating revelations about what probably took place and seek to explain why the authorities even today are scared of the truth coming out.’

Queen was a Pipe pilferer

Scandal of a different kind wafts from the direction of Denmark’s Fredensborg Palace, where Queen Margrethe of Denmark celebrated her 70th birthday on 16 April 2010. As part of the birthday celebrations, the Moesgaard Museum, in Aarhus, has mounted an exhibition called Queen Margrethe and Archaeology, documenting the archaeological activities of the Danish monarch, who studied at Girton College, Cambridge, dug in Rome and the Sudan in her youth, and is now a Fellow of Society of Antiquaries.

It also turns out, according to the exhibition catalogue, that she smuggled antiquities from London to Denmark in her youth. To be precise, she is accused of pocketing a clay pipe fragment that she spotted in a flower bed in London’s Hyde Park as a student and of bringing it back to Denmark without permission.

The catalogue’s author, Count Jorgen Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, recalls being in London with the Princess Margrethe when she spotted what she thought was an early example of a clay pipe in a fenced-off rose bed. The Princess threw her hat over the fence and called out ‘Jorgen, please be nice and fetch my hat’. Once he had scaled the fence she asked him to pass over the pipe, which she slipped into her pocket.

It is unlikely, however, that the Fredensborg Palace is likely to receive a visit from Chief Inspector Mark Harrison, newly seconded as the policing advisor to English Heritage in order to develop and deliver the Heritage Crime Initiative.

Nils Jensen, Director of Danish Museums, said the Queen ‘had nothing to be ashamed of and the incident just proved that she was an avid archaeologist’.

What’s in a name?

People concerned about the UK’s pub name heritage have long complained about the practice of substituting modern brand names for historic names (so that Oxford’s Jericho Tavern became the Philanderer and Firkin, for example, while Canterbury’s Old Buttermarket became the Franklin and Firkin, presumably as a reference to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales).

But pubs are not the only victims of marketing-led renaming. Angry residents of the county of Northamptonshire are campaigning against plans to rebrand the county as ‘North Londonshire’. North Northants Development Corporation, an urban regeneration company, is spending £1.3 million on London  Underground posters and radio advertisements to encourage people and businesses to relocate by pretending that the south Midlands towns of Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough are really just stops on the Northern Line.

But Northamptonshire is as nothing compared with Yorkshire fury at the suggestion that ‘Yorkshire’ might be dropped from the name of the Yorkshire Dales National Park if, as a result of a recent public consultation, the park’s boundaries are extended into Cumbria and Lancashire. Natural England has protested in vain that it will work with local people on any change of designation: but Yorkshire County Councillor John Blackie is taking pre-emptive action by announcing that the Dales are ‘as Yorkshire as Whitby fish and chips, Wensleydale cheese, and Leeds United; the scenery is iconic and is the very definition of what Yorkshire is about’.

The inhabitants of the North Yorkshire town of Thirsk have also rejected as ‘too fancy’, the proposal to name the streets of a new housing development after local grandees: instead of De Stutevill Drive, De Braose Lane, Daubury Close and Mowbray Way, Thirsk town councillors have asked the developers for something more down to earth, like Sunny Way and (believe it or not) Gallows Lane.

They should think themselves lucky not to live in Yoga Way, Eco Way, Karma Way, Euro Close, Sustainability Way or Safety Drive. No, Sherds is not making these up: these are real street names in Sutton, Doncaster, Harrow, Brent, Leyland and Poole, respectively.

The local authorities who have responsibility for the creation of new street names have increasingly been influenced by modern culture and social preoccupations, says Dr David Green, a geographer from King’s College London, who also notes a rise in the numbers of streets called ‘plaza’, ‘heights’ and ‘boulevard’, as in Park Plaza (Shrewsbury), Lagentium Plaza (Wakefield, incorporating the Roman name for the fort at nearby Castleford), River Heights (Norwich), Foreland Heights (Thanet), Lincoln Boulevard (Grimsby) and even Sunset Boulevard (Warrington).

July 2010

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