2.3 After the Second World War

After the Second World War, individuals and institutions alike had considerable difficulty in financing the maintenance and reconstruction of historic buildings. This problem had been seen coming, 'even in the 'twenties their [Country Houses] uncertain future in a rapidly changing economy gave concern. As early as 1923 the National Trust had in vain pressed the Chancellor of the Exchequer to introduce legislation whereby the owners of historic buildings should receive tax concessions to enable them to meet the high costs of maintenance' (Fedden 1968, 42).

For the National Trust, their Country Houses Scheme came to guide their acquisition policy, and in a majority of cases houses were given with an endowment of land or a sum of money for their upkeep (Fedden 1968, 44). This increased interest in interpretation of larger houses was partially driven by conceptions of the value of this group of buildings in particular to the heritage of the country, 'to save the Alfriston Clergy House and Buckingham Chantry Chapel had no doubt been valuable; to preserve a Knole or a Petworth was another greater matter. The Trust, in its new role, was to become the surveyor of vast mansions, the curator of extensive collections and the foremost gardener in the country' (Fedden 1974, 44).

The historic environment was being studied increasingly. Medieval archaeology was gaining credence as a subject (Gerrard 2003). The work of W.G. Hoskins brought into focus the value of landscape in helping to understand changes in past societies, with a particular focus on the medieval and post-medieval periods (Hoskins 1955; Johnson 2008). Likewise, archaeologists were actively working to increase public interest in the subject (Hudson 1981, 99-100). Specialist societies were being formed to share knowledge, such as the Vernacular Architecture Group (formed 1952), the Medieval Village Research Group (formed 1952), the Civic Trust (formed 1957), and the Society for Medieval Archaeology (formed 1957). The Buildings of England guides of Pevsner published 1951-1974 spurred further popular interest in visiting historic buildings, as did the growing genre of travel guide books (Vaughan 1974).

As interest in the historic environment and historic houses grew, the National Trust were able to take advantage and acquire many buildings. Before 1945 the Country Houses Scheme had enabled twenty-three country houses to be acquired; before the end of that decade another nineteen were added. In the first half of the 1950s twelve country houses were acquired, and another twenty-one were taken on between 1956 and 1960 (Worsley 2002, 19).


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