Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Shall We Keep This?

When I read that the Victoria and Albert Museum, where I have spent many a happy hour, has politely rejected a collection of the personal belongings, clothing etc. of the late Margaret Thatcher, this comes under the category of interesting questions.

Where I wondered have Stanley Baldwin's carpet slippers got to?  It is rumoured that he wore them when making radio broadcasts to relax him and make him  sound friendlier.  Disraeli, it is said, liked to gargle, given the air pollution in London at the time, very sensible, but where is the glass?

In short just how much of a leading figure's possessions should be kept for posterity and which?  What we may think of as proper now may not be the items that the future would like to see.  With Mrs. Thatcher, it might be keep the hats but not the chewed pencils.  A later generation might not agree with our decision.

Also, the decisions about what to keep and not keep will often depend on our own prejudices.  The one thing I am absolutely certain about with Mrs. Thatcher is that she and I would never have liked each other at a personal level.

My memory is scarred with dealing with bossy female shop assistants during the time of rationing and severe shortages.  She always reminded me of the old bat at the grocers who had her favourites and did not like awkward questions.  I suspect my sense of humour would not have amused her.  This has nothing to do about whether she was a good, bad, indifferent, useful or what Prime Minister.

So I would throw away the handbags and the hats.  The question, however, it is how much heritage we want to keep and related to whom?  As a Life Member of the National Trust, this is a question I know is causing a bitter debate about what buildings, artefacts, culture and arts and memorabilia should be kept; because we cannot keep, archive or maintain it all, a great deal has to go.

The Trust does have a real problem. Decades ago and not long after its foundation the attrition of the landed classes meant many fine houses etc. were being lost and both the belongings and the memory of the relevant families lost as well to history.

So it found itself being involved and later identified with this rather than with the wider perspective of history which some intended.  In recent decades when our masters have decided that the tourist trade should be a major part of the economy this was an excuse, but in reality there are only going to be a limited number of major attractions to deal with that trade.

Add to that what one generation likes to do and see and what following ones want can be very different, a lot of the Trust's places could begin to rarely see many visitors at all.  To add to this in terms of what might chosen to keep from the recent past and present be of little interest in the future.

For the moment our recent prosperity has allowed us to avoid many of these decisions but this is not going to last.  There are too many stresses now in our system and too many demands made and obligations buildings up for resources of all kinds to keep compromising and making promises that will not be kept.

Which is why the V&A cannot take on this latest offer.  Once it may have been one they could not refuse.  Is it now one they ought to or have to?

1 comment:

  1. Surprised that Maggie's M&S knickers haven't found a buyer yet...

    Or have they?