In Avebury, even the history has history. It is a community, not just a relic. When the Manor House came to them via bankruptcy there was a dilemma: how could the Trust reflect the spirit of place and further develop public affection for it?
The response to this problem had to be both long term, imaginative and unconventional to succeed: much like its most famous resident archaeologist Alexander Keiller. He is rightly credited with the restoration and preservation of Avebury having sold this priceless World Heritage Site to the National Trust for a fraction of what it had cost him to find and resurrect the stones from their buried locations. A man of contradictions: he liked fast cars, but had the patience to seek to restore Avebury over a period of decades. He was married several times, but his commitment to archaeology never wavered.
When the National Trust took on the Manor House it was empty – the layers of history including that of the Keillers were stripped back to the bare bones of the building. However, in partnership with the BBC they have created something exceptional – an expression of the personalities and life of the place in different times and expressions of what that meant for the occupants. Today it is a place of exact historical detail, such as the hand painted Chinese wallpaper, but also of fun and warmth – you can even climb on the beds (if you take your shoes off) or play billiards as takes your fancy. Feel the urge to nose around the desk drawers? Go ahead.
Outside, among the stones, a wide populace feel equally welcome. A World Heritage site, it does not feel like visiting a local landmark, but a place where timelines run and cross the past present and future converging with none in particular having precedence. But it’s also home to sheep and a good spot for a picnic or hide and seek, yet more surprising .
Artist Samantha Thulin captures the spirit of the place simply by observing in paint what she sees and feels about Avebury. There is an elegant simplicity in her response which is not bowed down with gravitas and yet clearly shows affection for those ancient stones. Just as in the Manor House, we are met with warmth: the historical significance of the place is not lost but the aim is clearly to help you to develop a great affection for the place. So too, in Samantha’s paintings I see an invitation to participate – to see her paintings not as just as isolated cultural artefacts, but as a gateway to the landscapes she loves and to share that affection. She sketches in all weathers, undeterred by rain and ensures that what she sees incorporates changing light, textures and colour.
Affection is a great starting point for sharing the significance of place. People do not damage places they love, they seek to discover and celebrate those places and protect them. As, importantly, they welcome others to get close enough to share that affection. So look around you – what is special about where you live? Can you gather support; articulate that in words and image into your Neighbourhood Plan a vibrant community where past present and future meet in ways which are sympathetic both to the needs of our heritage, working landscape and the needs of generations to come?
Your home neighbourhood, town or village may not be officially regarded as a world heritage site, but it is part of your heritage and your community’s story. If you can share how you see it with affection and grow that love among others you too will help to ensure there are special places, forever, for everyone. Here are some resources to get you started. Feel free to share with anyone you know starting the Neighbourhood Planning journey in their community too.