Monday, 2 June 2008

An Uncertain Future for Dartington

I was in Devon for about 24 hours last weekend, visiting friends of long standing. These visits usually involve a bit of ‘culture’ and lots of pubs.

This time the culture was almost all in gardens, as it was the National Garden Scheme Open Gardens weekend at Bovey Tracey where I was staying. We did slip into the Great Hall at Dartington on Sunday morning, where we learnt about its first owner, John Holand, who was a half brother of Richard II. The estate was given to him in 1388 and the size of the Great Hall, which still survives with its minstrels’ gallery, and is often used as an event venue, gives an idea of how grand it was.

Ownership changed to Champernowne family in the 16th century. They held the estate right up to 1925, when it passed to Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst. They set up the Dartington Hall Trust, and enthusiastically researched the history of the estate so that we owe much of our present knowledge to them.

I’m quite fond of Dartington. My mother told stories of being in service there in her youth, and I enjoy the peaceful ambience in the magnificent gardens. So I share the anxiety of locals who have recently learned that its College of Art is to close as it has been merged with a local university. Noone seems to know how this will affect the buildings and the gardens, and the trustees are not being publicly forthcoming.

I wonder if we will see the death of its famous Literary Festival. It is still due to take place this year and you can find it here. I note that my college pal, Mavis Cheek, will be speaking about her new novel, Amenable Women.

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