‘Urgent and comprehensive’ review into the decline of bees welcomed by the National Trust

The National Trust strongly welcomes today’s announcement by the Government to carry out an “urgent and comprehensive” review into the decline of bees. This review needs to consider both the honeybee and all our native bees – such as bumblebees, mining bees and mason bees.

Honey bee foraging at Belton.  Pic credit Simon Croson

Matthew Oates, a national specialist on wildlife for the National Trust said:
“We wholeheartedly welcome the decision for a review leading to the production of a national pollinator strategy. This is needed urgently if we are to turn around worrying declines in bees and other pollinators. They play a critical role in the health of the environment and in the production of our food.

“We believe the review and strategy should be grounded in the ‘precautionary principle’ in areas where scientific evidence is currently lacking or inconclusive. The review certainly needs to include Neonicotinoids, which have recently featured highly in the news, but it also must look at other pesticides and herbicides as there may be a cocktail factors impacting on bees and other insect pollinators.

“Although the review needs to concentrate on agriculture it must go wider. It may be possible to find some simple and rapid win-wins, for example rationalising summer road verge trimming which would benefit pollinators.”

Disorderly spring, a fly in the face of winged insects

Cold, unsettled and often chaotic weather has led to a difficult time for the nation’s wildlife in the first half of 2013 according to experts at the National Trust.

A slow cold start to the year saw many spring plants flowering for much longer than usual, but warmth-loving winged insect numbers have really struggled, which could lead to food shortages for birds and bats and have a knock on affect for plant pollination.

Matthew Oates, a naturalist at the National Trust, said: “This year winter was loath to let go. All of this has meant that spring got seriously behind and was the latest since 1996; with bluebells still in bloom in early June and many butterflies were very late to emerge.

 “Some aspects of spring failed altogether – with frogs and toads struggling to breed in ponds which remained frozen.

 “Summer is now running two to three weeks late but may yet come good.”

Britain had a ten day spell of severe cold in late January followed by a cold but dry February, which led into the second coldest March on record for five decades

March produced frosts most nights and snowy spells around the 12th and 22nd.  April began with a bitter, incisive wind, but was then mixed, including a ten day warm spell which ended on the 24th. The month then concluded with a cold frosty spell.

After a most promising start May failed to deliver.  Though both bank holiday weekends were sunny and fairly warm, in stark contrast to the rest of the month, which was cold, cloudy, and periodically wet and windy.

Frosts occurred in many areas right up to the month’s end, burning off bracken fronds and young leaves on ash saplings.

June began and ended well, but was at best indifferent in between, and was often very windy, and had many cool nights.

 Flowering plants, both in the garden and in the wild, are now rather behind the norm. Dogwood and Elder, in particular, are flowering unusually late, whilst in gardens many lilacs are still flowering in late June.

wildlife&weather-spring2013

Wildlife winners so far in 2013:

  • Some plants had amazingly long flowering seasons, notably snowdrops, which flowered from mid January into the second week of April, and daffodils, which persisted well into May.
  • Primroses began late but lasted late into the third week of May, dandelions peaked two to three weeks late, in early to mid May, but spectacularly, and bluebells came rather from nowhere to peak in most places during the third week of May, over three weeks late.  There was also a fantastic flowering of Birdseye Primrose at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales.
  • 2013 has been a superb year for rookeries. Rooks keep their own time and are not moved around by early or late springs. Trees leafed up very late so rookeries were visible for an extended period. Young rooks seemed to be everywhere in early June, suggesting a successful breeding season, perhaps linked to rich pickings amongst unusually high amounts of spring ploughing.
  • Record number of sandwich terns nesting at Blakeney on the north Norfolk coast.
  • Buttercups are in abundance this year with a wonderful flowering in early June, perhaps because they all came at once.
  • Craneflies (daddy-long-legs) have been unusually numerous, perhaps as beneficiaries of last year’s wet ground conditions.

 Wildlife losers so far in 2013: 

  • Winged insects are more influenced by the vagaries of the weather than other elements of our wildlife. Butterflies have been very scarce, which is hardly surprising as last year was the worst butterfly year on record. Butterflies are now emerging two to three weeks later than in recent years, though still a little earlier than in some late springs of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
  • Moths have perhaps been scarcer than the butterflies, unsurprisingly as the nights have been too cool, wet or windy for moth activity.
  • Other insects have appeared late, and in pulses which have quickly been blasted away by poor weather.
  • Mason and mining bees were knocked out early by poor May weather.  They are important pollinators.
  • Birds may have had a very difficult time due to food shortages and cold nights. Summer migrants, like warblers, are largely insectivorous and arrived on time to a countryside devoid of flying insects. Martins, swallows and swifts are struggled to find airborne insect food, which disappears when the weather’s particularly cold.
  • Hibernating mammals, notably bats and hedgehogs, had to stay inactive long into the spring due to the cold, but seem to have come through alright.  Dormouse, however, may have suffered in the challenging conditions.
  • Lack of typical foods are driving creatures to other sources- Oystercatcher egg numbers suffered badly due to increased predation from gulls this spring.
  • The bitter northeast wind at the turn of March led to the death of many seabirds along the east coast of Scotland and northern England. Some 3,500 puffins died in a horrific ‘puffin wreck’, seemingly of starvation, along with guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and shags.
  • 2012 may have been year of the slug, but multiple late spring frosts may have depleted their numbers in advance of summer 2013.

 Looking ahead to the second half of 2013:

  • There is likely to be plenty of holly berries at Christmas as the hollies flowered and were pollinated in good early June weather.
  • Later flowering apple varieties could be very successful this summer for the same reason.
  • Watch out for high numbers of Cabbage whites in late July and August, weather permitting.  There was an unusually high number of Large Whites during May and June, which could well lead to a bumper high summer brood.

Matthew Oates concludes: “Human health, tourism and recreation, farming and horticulture, beekeeping, cricket, childhood and especially our wildlife are all now crying out for a long hot summer.  We are well over due a good British summer.”

National Trust welcomes Government decision to retain Environment Agency and Natural England

The National Trust welcomes the Government’s decision to retain the Environment Agency and Natural England as two distinct bodies under an approach that seeks closer working and collaboration between the two.

Avoiding further structural disruptions is welcome at a time when there is so much that needs to be achieved to improve the state of our natural environment.

Yesterday’s additional cuts to Defra’s budgets means that the job for these agencies is all the more challenging – coming at a time when a new CAP deal has just been reached – creating new challenges for our farmed environment – and an array of infrastructure plans and projects are being announced.

Dr Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director for the National Trust said: “We believe that the Government should now strongly recommit to the broad agenda it backed in the publication of the Natural Environment White Paper two years ago, by ensuring that the proposed Environment Agency and Natural England joint delivery plan is grounded in this. We think this should also connect in the management of the public forest estate.

“By working together, we believe that Defra’s agencies can and must create a stronger vision for the future of the nation’s vital environmental infrastructure, from the centre of our cities to the seas around our shores.”

National Trust reaction to Common Agricultural Policy deal

Patrick Begg, the Trust’s Rural Enterprise Director said: “There was so much to be won by being bold about the long term future of agriculture in Europe, yet the final settlement feels like a backward step. The Commission rhetoric at the outset was encouraging: more public benefit for public money, we were told and a deeper commitment to protecting finite natural resources. Yet the deal announced today makes it harder, not easier to reward farmers and land managers for the provision of fundamental public goods. Our ability to lay the foundations of a sustainable farming industry – healthy productive soils, clean water, cultural landscapes and public access – has been seriously undermined.”

“There’s less money to go around as a result of today and a risk that the message to land managers is ‘carry on farming as before’. Our Government needs to show real leadership in Europe and send a clear signal that environmental sustainability has to be put at the heart of farming in the UK. It’s critical that Owen Paterson uses his discretion to shift as much resource as possible from Pillar I to Pillar II. He needs to back new agri-environment schemes, open to as many farmers as possible, and that set a high bar for quality farming and are based on safeguarding and improving our precious soils, water resources, landscapes, and wildlife.”

The National Trust owns 200,000 hectares of farmland (80 per cent of its total land ownership) and has 2,000 farm tenants.

22,000 people celebrate summer solstice at Stonehenge and Avebury

Over 22,000 people gathered to celebrate the coming of the summer solstice at National Trust Stonehenge Landscape and Avebury on Friday morning. The weather surpassed all expectations to create a beautiful sunset and clear evening, however low cloud came in over night obscuring the sunrise at 4:52 am.

Within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, the National Trust manages 827 hectares (2,100 acres) of downland surrounding the famous stone circle. The stone circle itself is owned and managed by English Heritage.

Jan Tomlin, General Manager of Stonehenge and Avebury mentioned:

“We celebrate solstice twice a year in this country, both in June and December.

“Our role at Stonehenge is supporting English Heritage who expected something in the region of 30,000 visitors to come across our land.”

“We have a whole team of volunteers to help people get across the land safely and to make sure they have the best evening possible.”

Meet some of the National Trust team making the Stonehenge summer solstice possible this year.

National Trust’s top twenty butterfly sites

One of the National Trust’s wildlife experts Matthew Oates is celebrating his 50th season of butterflying in 2013.  He has handpicked his top twenty National Trust sites for spotting these symbols of summer.

Matthew Oates and 50 years of Butterfly watching

Matthew Oates and 50 years of Butterfly watching

Commenting on the reason that butterflies have such a widespread appeal Matthew commented: “Butterflies are one of our most enduring symbols of summer, and they are important indicators of the health of our environment and of the ways in which climate change is impacting it.   I’ve chosen twenty of the best National Trust sites where the grace and beauty of butterflies during their brief but colourful lives can be enjoyed by everyone.

Matthew’s top twenty National Trust butterfly sites are:

  • Afton, Compton and Brook Downs on the Isle of Wight – Blue is the hue, as the sky-blue and electric-azure of the Chalkhill and Adonis Blues set the Downs aglow for a few fleeting weeks in August. Clouded Yellows are usually frequent in late summer.  There is also an Adonis Blue brood in June and lots of Small Blue too.
  • Arnside Knott on the Cumbria/Lancashire border – One of only two places in England for the Scotch Argus, which is dusky black with red border spots and flies during the end of July and beginning of August.  Also a top site for the rare and declining High Brown Fritillary, big, bold and fast flying in July.   In June you can see the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Northern Brown Argus.
  • Ashclyst Forest in Devon – Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary fly in the open spaces in June.  In July and August, Ashclyst turns in to a butterfly forest teeming with white Admirals, Silver-Washed Fritillaries and Purple Hairstreaks.
  • Ballard Down at Swanage – The chalk ridge behind Swanage is one of the finest places for an array of butterflies, including the Lulworth Skipper which flies in July and August only on the Purbeck hills.  Chalkhill Blue, Adonis Blue and Dark-green Fritillary also abound, and you can also see migrant butterflies like the Clouded Yellow here.
  • Barrington Court Garden in South Somerset – Seriously good for butterflies in late summer.  The organic walled kitchen garden is, perhaps unfortunately, great for Cabbage Whites!  Buddleias, Michaelmas Daisies and Hemp Agrimony attract myriad Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock for nectar.  In autumn, numerous Red Admiral, Comma, Speckled Wood and Small Copper get intoxicated on fallen fruit in the orchards.  We have even recorded the excessively rare Long-tailed Blue here.
  • Bookham Common in Surrey – In mid-July Bookham plays host to the regal Purple Emperor, the UK’s greatest butterfly. It takes a little guile to track them down but it’s worth it.  The wood is also great for White Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary.  The rare ‘Black Admiral’ – colour form of the White Admiral – occurs.
  • Calstone Combes and Cherhill Downs on the North Wiltshire chalk – Escape to one of the Trust’s secret butterflying hot spots, in search of Marsh Fritillary and Green Hairstreak in early June, Dark-green Fritillary and Chalkhill Blue in July and abundant Adonis Blue in late summer.
  • Cissbury Ring on the South Downs in West Sussex – Look out for four showstoppers on Cissbury Ring’s downland in July and August: the Chalkhill Blue, Adonis Blue, Dark Green Fritillary and the Marbled White.
  • Coleton Fishacre Garden in Devon – The definitive wildlife garden, in a sheltered combe on the Devon coast near Dartmouth.  In spring, Orange Tip, Green-veined White, Peacock and Holly Blue abound.  This garden is seriously good for butterflies in August and September: migrant Clouded Yellow, Red Admiral and Painted Lady are frequent, Common Blue and Marbled White breed in the grassland, Wall Brown patrols the banks, and the common butterflies are everywhere.  Essential visiting.  Rare vagrant butterflies such as the Monarch can appear here.
  • Collard Hill in mid Somerset – The only place in Britain where people are freely able to see the rare, reintroduced Large Blue butterfly – now is the best time to go.  Marbled White and Brown Argus also occur, and in late summer the elusive Brown Hairstreak can be tracked down here.
  • Compton Chine on the Isle of Wight coast – Usually the best place for the rare Glanville Fritillary, the Isle of Wight’s special butterfly, in June.  Also Wall Brown and Common Blue.  And a lovely bathing beach too.
  • Denbies Hillside on the North Downs in Surrey – This is the place to see the dazzling Adonis and Chalkhill Blues in July and August, so dense in numbers you have to watch each step.  Grizzled and Dingy Skippers fly in early summer, and there are Silver-spotted Skippers in August.
  • Heddon Valley in Devon – It’s the Fritillaries that shine in this wooded valley in July and August: with numerous High Brown, the Dark Green and the Silver-Washed fritillaries, all mixed up together.
  • Horsey in the Norfolk Broads – In June you may catch a glimpse of the rare giant Swallowtail over the reed beds along the edge of the mere, from the footpaths.  Orange Tip, Green-veined White and Wall Brown abound.  The nearby dunes are terrific for Grayling, Dark-green Fritillary, Small Copper and Common Blue in July and August.
  • Ibsley Common in the New Forest – The Forest was the home of Victorian butterfly collecting.  These heaths on the Forest’s western fringes are superb for the tiny Silver-studded Blue in July and Grayling and Small Copper during August.
  • The Langdale Pikes in Cumbria – The ultimate butterfly challenge – finding the elusive Mountain Ringlet high on the fells in late June or early July.  The humble Small Heath is the only other butterfly you will see up here, though the day-flying Wood Tiger moth counts as an honorary butterfly.  Those of weaker disposition should try the slopes above the Honister Pass youth hostel.
  • Murlough Nature Reserve in County Down – In the golden sand dunes of this beautiful stretch of the Northern Ireland coast you’ll come across Marsh Fritillary and Wood White in June, and the Dark Green Fritillary from July to mid-August and the feisty Small Copper throughout July, August and September.
  • Rodborough Common in Gloucestershire – It’s the iridescent azure beauty of the Adonis Blue to watch out for at Rodborough in August, back on in the Cotswolds after 40 years’ absence. Dark Green Fritillaries, Brown Argus, Small Blues and Chalkhill Blues can also be spotted on the common.
  • Watlington Hill in the south Chilterns – For years one of the best places for Silver-spotted Skipper, speeding low over the short grass in August.  Also, Chalkhill Blue, Brown Argus and Marbled White.  And great for watching Red Kites soaring.
  • Welshmoor Common on the Gower Peninsula in south Wales – A great place for Marsh Fritillary and the rare day-flying Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk moth in June.

For a great selection of butterfly walks on National Trust land go to http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk or type in ‘butterfly walks’ into the search engine.  You can follow Matthew on twitter at http://twitter.com/NTMatthewOates

Amend the Planning Bill – news from Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has stunning special places: the cliffs and beaches of the North Coast, Fermanagh’s lakelands, the Mountains of Mourne, the Sperrins, cities like Belfast and Derry with their fine architecture and the country’s only World Heritage Site – the Giant’s Causeway.

Such places could be under threat from a Planning Bill which is currently going through the Northern Ireland Assembly. Together with other a range of organisations, we are supporting the ‘Amend the Bill’ campaign to call for politicians to make changes to protect some of the country’s most special places for generations to come; and to deliver a better planning system for everyone.

Amend the bill header

So far more than 4800 messages of support have been sent to politicians across Northern Ireland.

Heather Thompson, National Trust director for Northern Ireland said: “The Planning Bill contains two clauses which focus on economic development which could result in planning applications which aren’t in the best interests of communities and the environment, being approved. We should all welcome the introduction of a more effective system of planning. However we need one that ensures a fair and balanced approach to economic, environmental and social issues, and supports economic development which takes all three into account.

“The Bill also presents an ideal opportunity to bring in protection for World Heritage Sites and their settings in Northern Ireland, which includes the Giant’s Causeway and the countryside immediately around it.

“With the Bill currently in front of the Northern Assembly, it is vital that people speak up now in order to protect our special places for everyone that enjoys them today as well as future generations.”

The Planning Bill reaches an important milestone when it goes to Consideration Stage on 24 June 2013. At this point it is debated on the floor of the NI Assembly.

You can join the discussion on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AmendTheBill and follow us on twitter at @AmendTheBill. There is also a campaign blog with more detailed information at http://www.amendthebill.wordpress.com

Residents from outside of Northern Ireland can also register their support by emailing info@amendthebill.org

An online tool has been set up for NI residents at http://www.amendthebill.org.uk (a NI postcode is needed to use this tool)

Alan Power sets off on a motorbike tour of historic Gardens

With his trusty 1958 Norton motorcycle and a passion for historic gardens, Stourhead’s head gardener is setting off for a three month tour of some of the best gardens of England, Ireland and Wales.

Alan Power, Head Gardener at Stourhead, Wiltshire.

Alan Power, Head Gardener at Stourhead, Wiltshire.

Well known for his expertise and love of the landscape garden which makes Stourhead world famous, Alan is keen to see and learn more about some of the other great gardens and has taken time off from his beloved Stourhead to fulfil his ambition. Also a motorbike enthusiast, he is using his classic Norton racing bike for the trip – as well as his more modern BMW S1000R. The aim of the trip is to see – and learn from – some of the many great historic gardens in the British Isles, and bring back ideas for the National Trust’s garden at Stourhead. Alan commented:

“There are so many wonderful places out there, and marvellous people looking after them,”

 

“I never have time to explore other gardens in the way that I would like to, just to see what they are and enjoy discovering something. Often we go to places with an agenda but this time I am planning to just arrive, have a good coffee in the restaurant and a wander round and discover things.

 

“I still love the reaction that I get when I walk into Stourhead so it would be good to see what reactions can be found in other historic gardens, learn how they came into being and see if there are any tips and lessons I can pick up to bring back to Stourhead.”

 Alan doesn’t intend to be alone on his trip. He is hoping to be followed by some of the many fans of Stourhead by recording his travels on twitter on @alanstourhead and also on the National Trust Stourhead Facebook page. He hopes to post photos and even some short videos of his adventure. He will also spend a little time filming a garden series for the BBC.

As well as picking up some gardening tips, followers will also be able to share his love of motorbikes. A trip to the National Trust’s Stowe landscape garden may just include a diversion to nearby Silverstone with a chance to take a track bike around Stowe corner.

Pride of place. Alan's 1958 Norton and BMW S1000R

Pride of place. Alan’s 1958 Norton and BMW S1000R

Weekly Witter: On our menu with Clive Goudercourt

Changes are happening in a National Trust café near you. With the introduction of our new food policy, expect something fresh and local at your special place soon. Clive Goudercourt takes time out to tell us more about his part in the new food initiative.

Who are you?

Clive Goudercourt- Development Chef for the National Trust

What does a development chef do?

Clive Goudercourt- Development Chef for the National Trust

Clive Goudercourt- Development Chef for the National Trust

A lot of it is around developing recipes and menus that can be utilised by property teams, the cafes and outlets. There’s a lot of engagement in it as well, listening to teams and customers, what the best sellers are, the best sandwich style, that sort of thing. And then looking at recipes that we currently use and see what way we can adapt them to make them more attractive in terms of value to customers with the aim to make it a more enjoyable experience.

What is the new food policy and what’s different about it?

What’s different about it is at the moment there’s a whole team driving this policy, with a greater skill base about how we can drive our core food strategy forward. Its about giving customers what they want, but also doing that in a way that’s in line with the Trust’s values and beliefs around food. So procurement, production, utilising English produce, things like that.

What do you hope to achieve through the new food initiative?

I hope that we can use more local products and utilise more local producers of food. Showcasing farmer’s work produced on NT land or in NT properties. A really good example is Jeremy Benson (one of our tenants in Gloucestershire), whose juice drinks are now in every Trust outlet. Another great case includes the Wimpole estate in Cambridgeshire, where they produce huge amounts of produce at the farm on the back of a large investment going into the local land.

Ultimately what id like to achieve is all about our catering outlets serving and selling food that our customers find very enjoyable, and hopefully encouraging them to come back for more so that our restaurants and cafes become more of an integral part of the visit to a NT property. I want us to have a compelling offer, representing great value out of the food we make in the kitchens on premises.

The home farm at Wimpole, Cams

The home farm at Wimpole, Cams

Do you have a favourite NT Cafe? What’s your special place?

I love them all for different reasons; I still have a long way to go in getting round them all. The project that I’ve been working on for the past year has been taking me around 8 or 9 different places. The combination of things I appreciate the most are the location of the property, the environment of the kitchens and the teams that work in there. I don’t really have a favourite place, however if I had to choose it might be the place I originally started work with the National Trust, which is Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire. It’s my local place and being where I started it holds special memories for me.

What’s the best thing about working at the National Trust?

The best thing about working for the National Trust for me is the diversity of the teams, you can visit two properties close to each other but be completely different in what they do and offer. From big cafes in stately homes to remote ones in the peak district of Derbyshire, to tiny little ones in the middle of a town centre, I just think its such a diverse business in catering that we’ve got. Being a part of that and actually being a part of this new food policy at a time where we’re starting to drive it forward and make a difference with the teams we work with is terrific. For me it’s the combination of people, places and the ethics behind what the Trust stands for when it comes to food.

You can discover more about the Trust’s enticing new food policy in the summer edition of the National Trust magazine, including news about the involvement of Michelin starred chef Angela Hartnett, and a recipe for a sumptuous summer salad.

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Weekly Witter: The Behrends and art of the First World War

The National Trust has a varied and stimulating schedule of events planned for the commemoration of World War I. It has given me the opportunity to look at our painting collections and their relevance to the Great War, although actually we have very little Modern British art in our properties. This is mainly because the families who donated or bequeathed their estates to the Trust simply weren’t in a position to commission avant-garde works of art at a time when everyone was living in straightened circumstances. Houses had been requisitioned as hospitals, servants were laid off and rationing was in force. Moreover, these aristocratic families were compelled to prioritise maintaining the fabric of their vast houses over the commissioning of works of art.

There is one stellar exception in Trust collections, which is arguably one of the greatest glories of art in Northern Europe, and one of the most magnificent examples of Modern British mural painting. Sandham Memorial Chapel was painted by Stanley Spencer, and records his personal wartime experiences, which are notable for their domestic rather than combative emphasis. The paintings will play a major role in the Trust’s events schedule later this year (watch the press for further announcements!).

“The chapel was described as ‘one of the most enlightened acts of patronage that ever happened to an artist’.”

The chapel was funded by John Louis (1881-1972) and Mary (1883-1977) Behrend, who did not hail from an aristocratic pile, but were distinctly ‘non-Establishment’. They are the forgotten heroes of the Modern British art scene and played a huge role in nurturing creative genius in all the arts, from music, to literature, to painting. The chapel was described as ‘one of the most enlightened acts of patronage that ever happened to an artist’, and yet the Behrends have been largely forgotten in the mists of time, in favour of some of the more self-publicising patrons. They are important because they had the money, the taste and the courage, which was a powerful combination.

Spencer at Burghclere

Spencer at Burghclere

“It was indeed an exceptional partnership and atypical of the usual patron/artist dynamic; for example, Mary insisted that they did not commission the chapel – rather it was all Stanley’s idea.”

John Louis came from a rich Jewish family, which had made its money from dealing in cotton seed in Egypt, chartering ships on the Baltic exchange in London, and milling rice, which was sold in large Hessian sacks stamped with the name BEHREND. He and his wife Mary built up a considerable collection of pictures of diverse subject-matter and style, many of which were by Spencer himself. They also owned works by Henry Lamb, Walter Sickert, Victor Pasmore, Edward Burra and Augustus John, to name to few. Many of their pictures now hang on the walls of national museums. Their main residence was the Grey House at Burghclere, the same village which houses the memorial chapel. This became a convening point for the many artistically-minded friends, of diverse disciplines, that they had made. Set against a backdrop of walls densely-packed with paintings, they hosted the likes of Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, Henry Lamb, Marie Rambert, Eric Newton, as well – of course – Stanley Spencer.

The Behrends found creativity exciting and alluring. How else would they have otherwise dealt with what was a fairly complicated relationship with Stanley? They had no formal contract, and endured the ups-and-downs of the process with unfailing good grace. I have recently found some letters written by Mary towards the end of her life in which she comments on the longevity of her relationship with Spencer. It was indeed an exceptional partnership and atypical of the usual patron/artist dynamic; for example, Mary insisted that they did not commission the chapel – rather it was all Stanley’s idea. What has become clear during my research on the Behrends is that by the time the chapel was being created, they were not nearly so well-off as they had been. On the death of his father and uncle, John Louis only inherited one third of the family business. The family were smarting from his conversion to Christianity when he married Mary. In light of this, both ideologically and financially, the chapel was doubly courageous. After the war, the Behrend rice mills were sold and the Behrends lived in considerably straightened circumstances. The chapel became increasingly expensive to maintain, and it was given, with an endowment, to the National Trust in 1947. Their fortune may have dwindled, but they left a far richer legacy in the brave, outlandish and beautiful ‘Holy Box’ that is Sandham.

  •  Amanda Bradley, Assistant Curator of Pictures and Sculpture
  • The Weekly Witter is a regular mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about what’s on their minds at the moment.