Restoring Britain’s Living Landmarks

For over 40 years The Landmark Trust has been rescuing and restoring unique and remarkable historic buildings, breathing new life into them and then letting them for inspiring holidays. The charity’s director, Peter Pearce, explains.

By Charmian Rex.

The Pineapple summerhouse near Falkirk
The Pineapple summerhouse near Falkirk

I’m a round peg in a round hole” were the opening words of Peter Pearce, who clearly loves every minute of his job. With a background as a land agent and agricultural chartered surveyor, he took up his current post in 1996 after working for the National Trust. “I can think of nothing better than putting life back into neglected smaller buildings which do not receive the same amount of care as larger buildings in the care of the National Trust”, he told me. “The original idea was the brainchild of the late Sir John Smith who had this vision that people might like to stay in historic properties and the rental would pay for their preservation and upkeep. In other words, everyone who stays in one is helping towards its destiny”.

Landmark now has 190 properties in its care, varying from banqueting houses and castles to tiny follies and towers and each one remarkable in some way – “the finest collection of historic buildings in the British Isles” in Peter’s opinion. All were in a dire state of neglect when taken under Landmark’s wing and funds were raised for restoration using high quality methods and materials. “So much so, that the word Landmark has now become eponymous with extremely high standards of restoration and renovation,” Peter explained. Interior furnishings are always carefully chosen to reflect the period of the building while ensuring they meet the standards required by modern-day guests. “We like our buildings to feel lived-in and not as if they were furnished and decorated yesterday”, Peter added.

The sizes of Landmark’s homes vary enormously, ranging from cosy, romantic hideaways for two, such as the delightful little pavilion with sensational views, Robin Hood’s Hut in Somerset, to larger, grander buildings like Gargunnock House in Scotland which can sleep up to 16 people, ideal for family celebrations. “And pricewise,” Peter pointed out, “Landmarks combine a special experience with value as over 47 per cent of our buildings can be booked for a total amount which equates to less than £15 per person per night at the quieter times of the year, and the average figure across all prices throughout the year is still only £38”.  “There is also great flexibility”, he added, “as they can be booked by the week, or for shorter stays, throughout the year.”

Landmark Trust Director, Peter Pearce
Landmark Trust Director, Peter Pearce

All Landmarks have a story to tell and many are linked to great characters in our history. Peter highlighted a few of his favourites. Guests can stay at The Grange in Kent, home of Augustus Pugin, designer of London’s magnificent Parliament building, the Palace of Westminster; or in the fabulous Goddards in Surrey, built by another great architect, Edwin Lutyens. “But in my opinion”, Peter said proudly, “one of Landmark’s greatest achievements was the acquisition of biographer James Boswell’s family home, Auchinleck House in Ayrshire that was an unloved shell, full of dry rot. We fully restored the building to its original 18th century glory and it was opened for guests in 2001”. Perhaps the most iconic of all Landmark Trust buildings is The Pineapple, also in Scotland. This elaborate summerhouse ‘grew’ its masonry pineapple dome when Lord Dunmore returned from serving as Governor of Virginia in 1777. “There sailors would put the fruit on the gatepost to announce their return home, but Lord Dunmore went one better and built his own”.

When I asked Peter to pick out an absolute favourite, he said “I always reply to this question by saying ‘it was the last one I visited’, but it happens to be absolutely true on this occasion”. He had just returned from Lundy and he is obviously very passionate about this tiny island off the coast of Devon where Landmark has restored no less than 23 properties of varying size. Here guests can stay in cosy cottages within The Castle, keep watch in The Lighthouse or enjoy a family celebration in The Barn.

“Another great story”, continued Peter, “features Clavell Tower, a folly built in 1830 on a clifftop in Dorset”. Erosion had caused the cliff to gradually crumble away, leaving the Tower perilously close to the edge. But did this deter Landmark? Not at all. The Tower has now been meticulously moved, stone by stone, 25 metres back from the precipice, ensuring that this building will last at least another 200 years of safety.

Many of Landmark’s buildings are, by their very nature, somewhat unusual and often quirky but, says Peter, “guests are quite prepared to put up with the odd ‘inconvenience’ which this might create. A perfect example of this is Swarkestone Pavilion in Derbyshire where the only way for guests to visit the bathroom from the bedroom is to walk across the flat roof from one turret to the other – and at The Ancient House, a medieval timber-framed building in Suffolk, guests are offered the services of a wheelbarrow to transport their luggage from car to house.”

A martello tower in Suffolk
A martello tower in Suffolk

And what does the future hold for Landmark? “We will continue with more of the same – it is a formula which works”, says Peter, “but we now hope to reach a wider audience as we have recently become a Quality Accredited Agency, which means our properties will be regularly inspected to ensure they provide exactly what we describe, to the highest possible standard. And this summer we are launching a new website which will make it much easier to search and reserve Landmarks”. Bookings will still be made over the telephone, however, as Peter feels it is important to discuss the individual eccentricities of the properties to ensure they are appropriate for the guests who wish to stay in them.

Finally, I asked Peter what he thought was the main ingredient of a holiday with The Landmark Trust that makes people return year after year. “I think it is the fact that guests feel a sense of place and a sense of ownership of their chosen property. It was part of Sir John Smith’s vision that they should be handed the keys and make the place their own for the length of their stay”.

Tel: (01628) 825925 or visit www.landmarktrust.org.uk

 

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