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A row of Union flagsEarlier today I visited Greys Court, a National Trust property near Henley.

I’m never quite sure about the National Trust. Part of me thinks that it’s in the MacHeritage business: well maybe not MacHeritage, more ground-organic-Angus-beef-seasoned-with-herbs-from-the-kitchen-garden-and-a- hint-of-balsamic-vinegar-all-served-on-rolls-made-from-stone-ground-flour-and-baked-in-ancestral-ovens-Heritage.

National Trust - Greys Court in the rain

National Trust – Greys Court in the rain (quite a lot of rain, actually)

And then there’s the way that visitors and volunteers always seem to speak in a reverential hush, as if they were negotiating some kind of sacred space with room stewards acting as guardians of shrines to the tastes and conspicuous wealth of former (and sometimes current) occupants. No doubt all these grand houses with their paintings, fine furniture and exquisite collections of Chinese porcelain are part of somebody’s heritage, but is it   national heritage? Do they add to anyone’s sense of national identity?

A row of Union flags

Is it just about wandering round the grounds, indulging a passion for fine gardens and looking at beautiful things? I enjoy all these and take a real pleasure in the often exquisite craftsmanship on display, but there’s no gut feeling – no sense of a visceral connection to the place or the people who lived here. I suspect that the clue is in the reverential hush and that the heritage being preserved is the concept of class hierarchy and social deference.