Country Journal

The National Trust The title ``National Trust'' has different meanings in various countries. The National Trust for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland is a private charity; it is totally independent of government. It was formed in 1895, at first with the intention of preserving open spaces, especially in England's Lake District and in Wales. The trust's first property was the gift of 4 acres overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales. In 1896 the trust bought its first house, the 14th-century vicarage at Alfriston in East Sussex, for 10; trust membership at the time was just 100.

The trust has come a long way since then. Now it has a membership of 1.3 million and is a force to be reckoned with in heritage preservation. But the rescue of great country houses was not at first envisaged, and indeed was hardly necessary until the 1930s. Today the National Trust owns 86 of them, most containing outstanding collections of furniture and works of art. Some of these were seen at the recent ``Treasure Houses of Britain'' exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to which the trust was the major contributor.

The National Trust has been true to its founders' concern for open spaces. It is Britain's largest private landowner, with over half a million of the greenest and pleasantest acres in the land. Its Enterprise Neptune is an ongoing appeal, which has so far raised over 8 million to secure 465 miles of Britain's best coastline. It needs to double this to save the estimated 900 miles that remain of the unspoiled coastline around England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own National Trust.

Also under the ample wing of the National Trust have come 18 dovecotes, 22 villages, 109 gardens, 104 prehistoric sites (including Stonehenge), 22 wind and water mills, 1,140 farms, scientific and industrial sites, churches, castles, medieval barns, country parks, and latterly 175 shops (which sell souvenirs and gifts to an eager public, and thus add substantially to the trust's income).

Such massive property and investment holdings generate a considerable income, almost 70 million in 1985. This includes grants from the British government and other sources (24 percent), and subscriptions from members (20 percent). The strong public support is shown in the amount of gifts and legacies (20 percent). Only 6 percent comes from entrance fees; members are admitted free. Nothing is ever raised from the sale of assets, since all trust property is inalienable. The property cannot be taken from the trust nor sold by it without specific act of Parliament. This can be a mixed blessing for any portfolio. But in the trust's case the advantages heavily outweigh the disadvantages; it behooves the trust to continually raise the standards of its criteria in the acceptance of properties offered to it.

The organization to administer this massive collection of assets is surprisingly slim.

The country is divided into autonomous regions supervised from a London head office under the chairmanship of Dame Jennifer Jenkins. Her recent appointment follows 10 years as chairman of the Historic Buildings Council -- a job that qualifies her as well as anyone to carry the National Trust forward in its role as a major protector of the heritage. The National Heritage Memorial Fund

The National Heritage Memorial Fund is government funded, but is an independent organization. It acts as a merchant bank for the national heritage. Established in 1980, it channels government funds to areas of the national heritage in immediate danger. But it does not involve itself directly in the running of properties. The English Heritage Commission

In 1984, the English Heritage Commission took over the running, conservation, and maintenance of most of the historic buildings and archeological sites that were previously the responsibility of Britain's Department of Environment. It is funded by the government; but, in much the same way as major British museums, it has been detached from direct government control. The commission increases its revenue by recruiting members and by trading through its gift shops. It has, in fact, taken on a similar appearance to the National Trust, in that it increases its stock of properties by staging rescue operations when the cause is deserving and it has the necessary funds.

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