A medieval manor house which was owned by the great-grandmother of Lady Jane Grey is to be closed to the public by the National Trust to allow it to be permanently rented as holiday accommodation.
Shute Barton, in the village of the same name near Axminster, Devon, dates from the 14th century and was owned and lived in by Cecily Bonville, whose family built the property.
Her great-granddaughter, Lady Jane, was Queen of England for nine days in 1553 before she was executed. It is believed she may have visited the property.
The five-bed manor boasts one of the largest fireplaces in England. Although already operating as a holiday rental, it remained open to the public for four weekends a year.
But in a letter seen by MailOnline, National Trust bosses have told volunteers that the property is to be closed to visitors to allow it to operate ‘solely as a holiday cottage’.
The property’s website says it is available to rent for nearly £1,000 for three nights in April. That price increases to more than £3,700 for a seven-night stay in September next year.
The move to rental-only is part of a cost-cutting drive which will also see three other historic properties in Devon – Overbeck’s, A La Ronde, and Loughwood’s Meeting House – shifted to a ‘booking only model’, meaning visitors will not just be able to turn up.
Historian Dr Bijan Omrani, who is also a Shute resident and is the acting chairman of the Parochial Church Council, said the closure of Shute Baron ‘does not make any sense’ and added that its closure put Britain’s heritage ‘at risk’.
The closure comes as the historian behind the National Trust’s ‘Woke Review’ to identify properties with links to colonialism today astonishingly accused the government of ‘weaponising history’ by trying to stop Left-wing academics ‘denigrating’ Britain’s past.
Medieval manor house Shute Barton, which was owned by the great-grandmother of Lady Jane Grey, is to be closed to the public by the National Trust to allow it to be permanently rented as holiday accommodation
Shute Barton, in the village of the same name near Axminster, Devon, dates from the 14th century and was owned and lived in by Cecily Bonville, whose family built the property. It boasts one of the largest fireplaces in England
‘Everyone is deeply hurt. It is such a part of community history and the only people who can see it now will be people who can pay to go there as a holiday let,’ he said.
Dr Omrani added that the Lady Jane Grey ‘would have visited Shute’ and so questioned a decision to close a house ‘with such important female connections’ at a time when the trust has previously spoken of its desire to promote diversity.
Shute Baron was built in 1380 before being extended by Cecily Bonville. According to the Trust’s website, it is one of the ‘most important old manor houses’ in Devon.
The property passed in to the ownership of Thomas Grey, the great-grandfather of Lady Jane, when he married Cecily.
The property was given to the National Trust in 1959 and until 2010 had tenants before it converted to a holiday house.
However, it remained open to the public until the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Lady Jane Grey was Queen of England for nine days in 1553 before she was executed. It is believed she may have visited the property
The property’s website says it is available to rent for nearly £1,000 for three nights in April. That price increases to more than £3,700 for a seven-night stay in September next year
It is popular with visitors and can ‘easily’ attract up to 300 people on weekends when it it is open.
Dr Omrani said: ‘There was a balance between the NTs need to make income and the ability of the public to get in and enjoy their heritage.’
He questioned the wisdom of a closing a property which is open so infrequently anyway, adding: ‘It just doesn’t make any business sense’.
‘I keep asking them questions about what’s the business case for this, and they’re just not answering. They won’t engage with the community at all,’ he said.
The historian said the church in Shute also makes ‘a few thousand a year’ by providing toilet facilities and tea and cake to Shute Barton visitors.
‘We face the loss of that. That really damages the church in the longer run,’ he said.
‘It’s a 13th Century church so the NT behaving like this is putting another piece of community heritage at risk.
In a letter seen by MailOnline, National Trust bosses have told volunteers that the property is to be closed to visitors to allow it to operate ‘solely as a holiday cottage’
Dr Omrani is the author of Caesar’s Footprints: Journeys to Roman Gaul and is the editor of the Royal Society of Asian Affairs
‘It’s just very high handed, it just shows no interest in the community. If they’re meant to protect buildings, there’s a web of community around these buildings that they’ve paid no attention to.’
Dr Omrani said that ‘around a dozen ‘volunteers would lose the roles they had in welcoming visitors.
The trust’s letter to the volunteers, which was received on Monday last week, highlights how heritage body has lost around £200million since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Almost every aspect of the Trust’s income has been affected by the COVID-19 crisis due to the necessary closure of houses, gardens, car parks, shops, cafes, and holiday cottages,’ the letter by David Ford, the general manager for the body’s properties in south and east Devon, warned.
‘Whilst some properties were able to reopen with limited offers as restrictions lifted between national lockdowns, the loss of a significant proportion of our unrestricted funds and the likelihood of serious economic recession means the outlook for the Trust remains very difficult.’
It has implemented a ‘reset programme’ which saw it announce 514 redundancies last year.
Speaking of Shute Barton, Mr Ward said the home would ‘in future operate solely as a holiday cottage and we will not be able to offer open weekends.’
He added: ‘We are very aware of the enormous contribution our volunteers have made in opening Shute Barton and so many of our other properties and how disappointing this news will be.’
The letter also referred to three other properties in Devon which will be affected in a ‘substantial’ way.
The Telegraph reported that the 18th-century 16-sided house A La Ronde in Exmouth; the Edwardian Overbeck’s house in Salcombe and the 17th-century Loughwood Meeting House, in East Devon, will be shifting to a booking only model as a result of the changes.
Accepting the need to make cutbacks, Dr Omrani said Shute Barton could have remained open with some ‘ingenuity’ but said the trust would not ‘engage’.
‘I agree that these are hard times for everyone but what they should have done was come and talk to the community that supported them and lets find a way to keep it open that works for the trust as well,’ he said.
‘With a bit of ingenuity we could do something. I’ve been trying to get them to engage and they just won’t engage with the community.
‘They write back saying ‘we don’t have time to do deal with your questions at the moment’.
‘The fact that they didn’t even consult with the community in the first place when they know that we’ve consulted with them for such a long time, it says that we just don’t matter to them,’ he added.
The move to rental-only is part of a cost-cutting drive which will also see three other historic properties in Devon – Overbeck’s, A La Ronde (pictured), and Loughwood’s Meeting House – shifted to a ‘booking only model’, meaning visitors will not just be able to turn up
A La Ronde, which was built in 1796, is located near Lympstone, Exmouth, Devon. The property is Grade I list England
The Edwardian Overbeck’s house and museum, in Salcombe, Devon, is another of the properties which will only be able to be viewed by booking beforehand
Dr Omrani questioned whether the closure was a ‘bellweather’ for a ‘national issue’ which could see the public lose access to historic properties all around the country.
‘The point is that if it’s just in East Devon and not national, then why us? It must be a wider national thing that there’s going to be a lot of cutbacks,’ he said.
Speaking of Shute Barton’s incredible history, Dr Omrani said: ‘Lady Cecily Bonneville built a major part of the house. Lady Jane Grey was Cecily Bonneville’s great granddaughter. We think she would have visited Shute. It’s got a dramatic history.
‘The village might look like a sleepy out of the way place but this was actually a really important centre for the Bonneville family who were important at the time of the Wars of the Roses.
‘The Trust is talking about trying to promote diversity, the perverse thing is the house where two great women of English history has played a role.’
‘This house with such important female connections is suddenly closed to the public.’
An online petition on Change.org opposing the closure which was started by Dr Omrani just two days ago has already had 535 signatures.
Shute resident Carol Miltenburg, who is also the clerk of the parish council, said of the closure of Shute Barton: ‘Everybody is very angry. We are upset. It’s wrong. It’s a sort of unilateral decision. The National Trust are wrong on it.
‘There’s been no consultation, no nothing. It was only open four weekends a year, so it’s not a great amount that they’re saving anyway.
Loughwood Meeting House, in East Devon, will be shifting to a booking only model
‘But it made a huge difference ot the church and people would come down. It had a surprising amount of visitors for how often it was open. They would get 200 or 300 in a weekend easily.’
A spokesman for the National Trust said: ‘Except under the most exceptional circumstances, National Trust places will re-open to visitors as soon as Government guidance allows this.
‘The vast majority of our most-visited places will re-open once lockdown restrictions have been lifted, and visitors will not see much difference, if at all.
‘At some of our smaller properties, we will have to adapt our opening arrangements and the ways we provide public access, for example providing pre-booked tours.
‘We are working through the detail of our plans and will be communicating them with our members and supporters as soon as we can.
‘Shute Barton has been a holiday house since the National Trust acquired it and will remain as holiday accommodation.
‘It was also open to the public for four weekends a year. We are in touch with Dr Omrani and will continue to work with the local community on how we can offer public benefit here.
‘A La Ronde and Overbecks garden will be moving to pre-booked visits, with opening times advertised on the National Trust website.
‘A solution will be found for opening Loughwood as it is only a single room small chapel. We will be sharing further information on our re-opening plans once we are clearer on government guidance.
‘Due to the financial impacts of Covid we will have to make savings of £100m each year across the organisation.’
The news comes after the trust was criticised for reviewing links between its properties and colonialism.
The Colonial Countryside project linked almost 100 properties to British colonialism and the slave trade, including Winston Churchill’s former home Chartwell House, Powis Castle, once owned by Clive of India, and the Bath Assembly Rooms.
Speaking in July, National Trust bosses had vowed to let visitors know about the ‘uncomfortable’ history of the stately homes following a 10 year study that found a third of the National Trust’s 300 gardens had slavery links.
But critics accused the ‘out of touch’ Trust of ‘woke virtue signalling’, ‘alienating’ fee-paying members and ‘shaming’ the descendants of people who had bequeathed their legacy to the nation through the charity.
On Tuesday, the leader of the Colonial Countryside project, Professor Corinne Fowler, spoke out as Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden prepared to use a meeting with 25 heritage organisations to urge them to adopt a ’rounded’ view of Britain’s past that does not focus excessively on the empire.
She told the Guardian her work was ‘absolutely not political’ as she accused Tory politicians of trying to ‘weaponise history’ .
She added: ‘When you try to interfere with academic freedom in the name of free speech, you’re steering the country in a dangerous direction.’
Who was Ldy Jane Grey and what is her connection to Shute Barton manor house?
Who was Lady Jane Grey?
Often described as one of the most tragic figures in Tudor history, Lady Jane Grey was a grandniece of Henry VIII and first cousin once removed of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
She was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey and his wife, Lady Frances Brandon.
Through her mother, she was also the great-granddaughter of Henry VII.
Lady Jane had two younger sisters, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary.
Often described as one of the most tragic figures in Tudor history, Lady Jane Grey (depicted above by a young Helena Bonham Carter in 1986 film Lady Jane) was a grandniece of Henry VIII and first cousin once removed of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I
When the 15-year-old king Edward lay dying he nominated Jane as successor to the Crown in his will, ahead of his half-sister Mary.
But Lady Jane had the shortest reign in England’s history, from July 10 until July 19, 1553, when the Privy Council then proclaimed Mary as Queen.
Jane was then imprisoned in the Tower of London. She and her husband Lord Guildford Dudley were both charged with high treason, found guilty and sentenced to death, though their lives were initially spared.
She was still a teenager at the time of her death on February 12, 1554, and was posthumously viewed as a protestant martyr.
Her father, the Duke of Suffolk – the son and heir of Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset – was also found guilty of treason and executed days after his daughter was beheaded.
What was her connection to Shute Barton?
On her father’s side, Lady Jane was the great-granddaughter of Cecily Bonnville (30 June 1460 – 12 May 1529), whose family built and owned Shute Barton manor house, near Axminster, in Devon.
During her lifetime, Cecily turned Shute Barton into a grand Tudor residence.
Shute Barton’s ownership passed to Thomas Grey, Lady Jane’s great-grandfather, when he married Cecily.
Given that the property was still in the ownership of the Greys during Lady Jane’s lifetime, it is believed she may have visited it.
Historian Bijan Omrani, who also lives in Shute, believes this is the case.
On her father’s side, Lady Jane was the great-granddaughter of Cecily Bonnville (30 June 1460 – 12 May 1529, pictured above), whose family built and owned Shute Barton manor house, near Axminster, in Devo
Why is Shute Barton significant?
The manor was originally built in the late 14th century before being expanded.
It is regarded as one of the most important manor houses of the Middle Ages which is still in existence.
The original home, which was built by Sir William Bonville, survives but has been expanded and altered.
During the Wars of the Roses, Lord Bonville was in conflict with Thomas de Courtenay, the fifth Earl of Devon.
Their forces fought at the Battle of Clyst Heath in 1455, at which Bonville was defeated. Shute Barton was then raided and pillaged.
Bonville’s only surviving relative was his grandson’s six-month-old daughter, Cecily Bonville.
She ended up as heiress to Shute Barton before she married Sir Thomas Grey.
However, the manor passed from the Greys in the 16th century, after Lady Jane was executed.
The surviving Greys were forced to sell the home to the Pole family.
Shute Barton was given to the National Trust by descendants of the Poles in 1959.