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Challenging Histories public programme 2017–19

The Jurors by Hew Locke, Runnymede, Surrey
The Jurors by Hew Locke encourages visitors to debate the meaning of justice | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Challenging Histories was a pilot programme that explored some of the more hidden aspects of our places between 2017 and 2019. Each year we focused on a different theme that reflected national anniversaries and public debates. Through exhibitions, events and story-telling, we explored how these overlooked histories have shaped how we live now.

Exploring and challenging our histories

In 2019, 200 years after the Peterloo Massacre, we looked at places where people fought to express and contest their political and social rights. In 2018 we shone a light on women’s history and suffrage and in 2017, as well as launching our Challenging Histories programme we explored our connections to LGBTQ heritage.

We’ve learnt a lot from this work. Please explore the links below for further information and resources. We’ve adopted the learning into our approaches to curatorship, programming and partnership working.

2019 – People's Landscapes

In 2019 we showcased places in our national landscape which are important symbols of passion and protest. We commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre and we explained how the reverberations of this critical moment in democracy can still be felt.

Through events and exhibitions, we told the remarkable stories of those who fought for the rights of ordinary people and the sites that remain places of modern pilgrimage today.

Kinder, Edale and the Dark Peak, Derbyshire
Kinder, Edale and the Dark Peak, Derbyshire | © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Marching for access to the outdoors

The 1932 mass trespass of Kinder Scout, Derbyshire, is marked every April when a group of ramblers revisit the route across the moor. It's a reminder of how lucky we are to enjoy the freedom of access to the outdoors we have today.

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2018 – Women and Power

In 2018, 100 years since women first gained the vote in the UK by shining a light on women's history and the fight for suffrage at our places.

Campaigning for women's suffrage

Some of our places have strong connections to women who influenced the suffrage movement. Gunby Hall in Lincolnshire was home to the women’s rights campaigner Emily Massingberd. Cliveden in Berkshire was home to Nancy Astor, the first sitting female MP and Bodnant House in Conwy was the home of Laura McLaren, the founder of the Liberal Women’s Suffrage Union.

Opposing women's suffrage

We also have connections to some key figures on the other side of the debate: George Curzon of Kedleston Hall was president of the National League for Opposing Woman’s Suffrage.

2017 – Prejudice and Pride

At least 25 of our places were home to, and shaped by, people who challenged conventional ideas of gender and sexuality. 50 years after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, we explored our LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) heritage with a programme called Prejudice and Pride.

The following are just some of the places that were involved in Prejudice and Pride, working with University of Leicester’s Research Centre for Museums and Galleries to better understand these stories. Staff and volunteers took part in a training programme looking at how and why to better acknowledge this LGBTQ history. This learning was shared with the university and heritage sector in a conference in spring 2018.

The Saloon at Kingston Lacy with a high coved ceiling, fireplace, carved wood doors, framed paintings and furniture around the room
Discover the internationally important art collection at Kingston Lacy | © National Trust Images / Andreas von Einsiedel

Art and exiles

Kingston Lacy in Dorset was profoundly shaped by William Bankes, who fled England in 1841 to avoid prosecution for same-sex acts. He had no choice but to leave England and the home he loved but he continued to send back works of art and treasures – the collection which can be seen and enjoyed by visitors today.

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Tackling historic issues that resonate today

We look after hundreds of places, from stone circles and beaches to mansions, moors and workhouses. With millions of objects in our collection, from the everyday to the unique, and archives of photographs, maps and letters, we have an opportunity to tackle stories found at more than one place to show how they fit into our nations’ tale.

Working with public anniversaries and commemorations, enables us to play our part in a wider debate on issues that have their roots in the past, but are of continuing relevance today.

Researching with academic experts

We work with academics and other specialists to uncover these stories. All new research helps us explain our places better to visitors and share our findings.

Volunteer examining a book as part of conservation work in the library at Greyfriars' House and Garden, Worcestershire

Research at the National Trust

We're an Independent Research Organisation recognised by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Our research takes place in many forms – from the PhDs we sponsor and practical testing of new conservation techniques to the hundreds of research projects we collaborate in or host at places in our care each year.

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Walkers on the path up to Kinder Scout, Edale, Derbyshire

People’s Landscapes 

Discover how we commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre with People’s Landscapes, a series of events and exhibitions sharing stories of passion and protest.

Kirsty Wark, wearing headphones and a multi-coloured animal-print shirt, sits in front of a microphone during the recording of the Women and Power podcast series.

Women and Power podcast series 

Listen to the Women and Power podcast series, presented by journalist and broadcaster Kirsty Wark, and discover the stories behind the women's suffrage movement and how some of the special places in our care are connected.

The 5th Marquess of Anglesey, Henry Cyril Paget, posing on a chair in fancy costume, with winged helmet and adorned in jewels.

LGBTQ podcast series with Clare Balding 

Listen to our podcast series with Clare Balding, exploring the lost and hidden LGBTQ stories from some of the special places in our care.

The dovecote in the walled garden at Felbrigg, shown with the lily pond in the foreground.

What are Trusted Source articles? 

Find out more about our Trusted Source articles, which were created in partnership with the University of Oxford, and explore topics related to the special places in our care.

PhD student Cecilia Bembibre pictured doing some conservation work on a book which is beneath a glass dome at Knole in Kent, as part of the 'Secrets of the National Trust' television show with Alan Titchmarsh.

Why does the National Trust do research? 

Learn how research helps us understand changes in the world around us, learn more about the places in the Trust cares for and find practical solutions to conservation problems.

A collage image containing three artworks: a painting of Teresia, Lady Shirley by Van Dyke at Petworth House; an oil painting of a young coachman at Erddig; and a photograph of the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar at Polesden Lacey.

Addressing our histories of colonialism and historic slavery 

Read our report on colonialism and historic slavery in the places and collections we care for and discover how we’re changing the way we approach these issues.