I remember arriving at the National Trust’s head office in Queen Anne’s Gate a couple of decades ago to find senior management ashen-faced and frantically engaged in a damage limitation exercise. The previous day a visitor to Sissinghurst had tripped over two female gardeners in the shrubbery, partially clothed and in flagrante. My comment that the girls were merely being true to the spirit of the place wasn’t well received.
How times have changed. Now, instead of ignoring the complex sex lives of Vita and Harold and their pals, the National Trust positively revels in them. Last year a nationwide programme of events, ‘Prejudice and Pride’, celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Properties like Knole have their own web pages dedicated to exploring their rich LGBTQ connections. Artists in residence at National Trust properties are invited to respond creatively to their LGBTQ heritage. The process has shown the stately homes of England and their owners in an entirely new light, provoking predictable howls of outrage in some quarters.