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Sir John Smith's houses

Landmark Trust Houses

One Saturday afternoon I lay on my stomach and daydreamed through the Landmark Trust’s handbook, imagining I was staying at the Bath House “in its deep woodland setting, so near to the Forest of Arden,” with the dome of its upper room “hung with coolly dripping icicles” and the walls “frosted with shells.” If I grew tired of living in the Augustan age, I could go back in time to a lost village in Suffolk. Having crossed the ford, left the car 400 yards from the house, and moved my bags with the wheelbarrow helpfully left by the Trust, I lived in the 13th century medieval manor hall and ate at a trestle table. I could have companions of my choosing in both these houses, but if I wanted a party, I would travel to the Auchinleck House in Scotland. Dr Johnson argued politics in the library with Boswell’s father, who built the house with a view across to Arran. It is ideal for children since they are easily lost in it, and there is nothing nicer if you are a child – or an adult.

I did not know that all these houses had been saved from decay and destruction by Sir John Smith. The National Trust preserved the great houses. Sir John founded the Landmark Trust in 1965 because “many minor buildings, put up with thought and care by skilled, intelligent people long ago, were disappearing all the time". (Telegraph)

He also aimed "to rouse people's interest in their surroundings. . . in space and time". So the Landmark Trust rents out historic houses for weekends and holidays.

It is a tribute to the British people that they built so many charming buildings, and a tribute to Sir John that he gave them the attention and money they needed to survive. His most expensive project was rescuing the island of Lundy – “one of those simple places where you can hear earth's voices as they are; where you can slow down and consider what you are doing."

To accomplish his mission Sir John established the Manifold Trust, a charitable investment. Given the expense of restoration the trust fortunately produced "a cataract of gold", and people began donating cherished houses as well.

Sir John recently died. He is remembered in the Telegraph. He did not “save the world”. He decided to save part of it, and he did.