Big birthdays should be a time for celebration and this year The Landmark Trust are celebrating their 50th anniversary in style. Launched in 1965 by conservationists John and Christian Smith, the charity preserves buildings of architectural and historic interest by restoring them for self-catering stays.
And because Landmark Trust properties have been saved for the nation as a whole, the charity will be celebrating its 50th birthday with 50 free open days at 25 Landmarks across England, Scotland and Wales. Highlight of Golden Weekend on 16/17 May will come at 3pm on Saturday 16th when hundreds of musicians will perform a specially commissioned piece of music composed by award-winning composer Kerry Andrew.
“We have open days every year so that as wide a public as possible can enjoy our buildings”, explains Caroline Stanford, Historian and Head of Engagement for the Trust. “It’s really important to us that the communities around our buildings feel a connection with the properties, not just the guests who stay there. But on Golden Weekend, almost everyone in the country will be within 50 miles of a free Landmark.”
Many of the properties are quirky – gatehouses and castles, lock-keeper’s cottages and water towers. There’s a small 19th century prison, a coastal gun battery and even a station. Each one is different and all are special, yet most would have been demolished long ago without the intervention of the Landmark Trust, who have often stepped in where other conservation charities could not.
When the first edition of their handbook was published in 1967, there were just six buildings available to rent and visitors were asked to bring their own sheets and towels. Fifty years on, the sumptuous brochure contains almost 200 properties, an open invitation to step back in time and relax inside your own piece of history.
Every Landmark property is equipped with modern comforts, white bed linen and towels, and a fully-stocked kitchen. But the entertainment is down to you. There’s no television, telephone or WiFi – just a selection of books, fact and fiction, specially chosen for each property.
Each property has its own personal history book that tells the story of the people who built the property, its occupants, and recent restoration. A brief summary details the essential facts, but many visitors love to settle down and read the volume from cover to cover.
The atmosphere certainly seems to be addictive with many Landmarkers able to count their stays in double figures. And with two or three new properties ready to receive visitors each year, there is always somewhere new to try. This year will see the opening of Belmont, a Grade II listed seaside villa in Lyme Regis, which was once owned by John Fowles, author of The French Lieutenant’s Woman. And, in the autumn, St Edward’s Presbytery, a Grade 1 listed piece of A W N Pugin’s Gothic revival landscape in Margate, will open to holidaymakers.
Meanwhile, many worthwhile causes have already benefited from the Landmark Trust’s ‘50 for Free’ programme. The lucky recipients of 50 free spring breaks included representatives from Action for Asperger’s, Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, and Winchester Young Carers Project, and the programme will run again in 2016 – applications open in November 2015.