Posted: 19.02.21 at 11:26 by Philip Evans
The National Trust is permanently closing one of England's most historic manor houses to the public - Shute Barton, near Axminster, without consulting the local community.
The news leaked out this week when the Trust wrote to sack the volunteers.
Shute Parochial Church Council has criticised the plans to close the 14th century building to day visitors on four weekends a year and maintain it only as holiday accommodation.
Shute Barton is considered to be one of the most important non-fortified manor houses of the Middle Ages still in existence, having been built about 1380
Villagers fear the loss of visitors will affect other parts of the community, including the church, which benefits from people who come to visit the National Trust manor.
Shute Barton has strong links with Lady Jane Grey, the "nine-days queen of England". Parts of it were also built by one of the greatest English women of the Middle Ages, Lady Cecily Bonville.
It is thought to have the largest fireplace in England, bigger even than that at Hampton Court Palace. There is also a lost medieval garden associated with the house.
The closure is putting the future of the neighbouring 13th century church (St Michael's) in jeopardy. The church as able to pay for repairs by selling teas and cake to visitors to the National Trust property. The closure of Shute Barton stands to lose the church thousands of pounds every year.
Dr Bijan Omrani, chairman of Shute Parochial Church Council, said: “A David and Goliath struggle is in prospect. The closure is a terrible blow to this rural community.
“Shute is a small village but will be campaigning by any means to overturn this high-handed and arrogant decision. Legal action has not been ruled out. The National Trust has refused to make any proper comment to us yet about this.”
Shute Barton is advertised on the National Trust website as a five-bedroom luxury manor house providing accommodation for up to ten people at a cost of £1,169 for three nights.
Also under threat is Loughwood Meeting House, near Dalwood, one of Britain’s earliest surviving Baptist meeting houses, where services are still held twice a year.
The first known record of the chapel is in 1653 when a Baptist parish from nearby Kilmington sought an isolated place to worship.
The National trust has lost £200 million since the start of the pandemic and must reduce its running costs by £100 million a year for the next few years. Last May it laid off 514 staff as properties, shops and cafes were all forced to shut.