I have been a member of the UK’s National Trust (NT) for several years and have visited most of the properties within a day’s drive of where I live, and a number beyond. The charity, founded in 1895, owns land, buildings and gardens in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, maintains them and makes them accessible to the public. There is usually a charge for entry, but members pay an annual or lifetime fee, which gives free admission to all NT properties.
The NT owns stretches of coastline and countryside, where they are committed to conserving the natural landscape and indigenous wildlife. The buildings which they own are of great historical, architectural, cultural and horticultural importance. Almost all were built, extended and inherited by the rich. Many of the former owners just happened to be born to the right parents. It is natural to reflect when visiting such places on the economic and social systems which allowed so few to live in such luxury, while the lives of the many were solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. This view can be countered by realising that, while these piles with their appurtenances commemorate those who had the money to build them, they also commemorate the anonymous craftsmen and labourers who did the work. And, to be charitable, if these places had not been built, we should not be able to enjoy them today, even if their founders had no such purpose in mind.
Here’s a selection.