Exhibitions celebrating the nation’s art treasures have a habit of backfiring. Within 50 years of the great Art Treasures of the United Kingdom show held in Manchester in 1857, for instance, around half the works of art exhibited in this inadvertent shop window had been sold by their owners and had left the country. What strapped-for-cash country landowner, hit by the agricultural depression of the 1880s, could resist the newly bulging chequebooks of the German museums and the equally bulging American plutocrats? Not least when a loan to an exhibition had proved to the family that it could, after all, live without its greatest heirloom.
We ignored the ‘No Entry’ sign at Smithfield hog factory, near Szczecinek, west Pomerania, in northwest Poland. Clambering over wire barriers, we wrenched open the ventilation shaft of one of three vast concrete and corrugated iron sheds. Inside, 5,000 squealing pigs were crammed into small compartments. Outside, effluent from concrete cesspits had overflowed, sending a small stream into the lake below.
He may have caught your eye at the Freshers’ Fair for first-year undergraduates, held in the examination schools on the High Street. He was signing up for the rugger club and the law society; he was a tall, athletic student wearing a navy jersey, chinos and black loafers. Or he may have caught your eye elsewhere over the past three decades, for the tall figure at the Freshers’ Fair was none other than the Hon.
For the greater part of the last two centuries it was axiomatic that three great institutions upheld a large part of the structure of our national life. These were the monarchy, the established Church and the Conservative party. In different ways all three were expressions of identical values: loyalty, decency, tolerance, service, respect for tradition. They all taught that the individual matters far less than the whole.