Nature, beauty, history – for everyone – National Trust announces highlights of its plans for 2023
- 27 January 2023
Director General Hilary McGrady on the 2023 programme: “There’s so much for people to explore at the National Trust this year. From celebrating great people at the places that inspired them, to revealing beautiful objects and stories from across the Trust in a brand new BBC series, we want to offer as many people as we can the chance to experience nature, beauty and history, in the spirit in which we were founded. Our ambitious conservation programme also continues, and we’re continuing to help nature thrive. From beavers and blossom to Sir Joshua Reynolds, there’s something in our 2023 programme for everyone.”
Building on the 2022 success of the Forthlin Sessions, which brought live music back to the childhood home of Paul McCartney in Liverpool, this year the Trust is celebrating new talent at Sir Isaac Newton’s home of Woolsthorpe Manor.
Woolsthorpe has long been a place of pilgrimage for science fans and a source of inspiration for generations of big thinkers. In 1666, Newton, then aged 23, was sent home from Cambridge due to the outbreak of the Great Plague. His enforced lockdown at Woolsthorpe afforded him time to develop his theories. During this year of wonders, the famous incident of the apple falling from the tree in the garden of Woolsthorpe is believed to have happened, becoming the inspiration for Newton’s law of universal gravitation.
More than 350 years later, from diagrams doodled on walls and formulae scribbled on scraps, to that apple tree in the garden and the hole in the window shutter casting a rainbow of colours, the Trust is harnessing this spirit of genius and wonder. In 2023, a ‘Year of Wonders’ programme will encourage all ages to explore their own curiosities and creative thinking. It will shed light on creativity that emerged from our own lockdowns, and offer a prize for young talent to help foster the next generation of thinkers and innovators wherever they are.
A major anniversary; this year is 300 years since the birth of Sir Joshua Reynolds, first President of the Royal Academy and the leading English portraitist of the late 18th century. The National Trust has the largest collection of works by Reynolds in historic house settings in the UK. Four of his magnificent paintings at Petworth, Knole, Saltram and Wimpole will be conserved. The Trust is hoping that this project will not only significantly improve their appearance but also shed new light on the stories behind them.
Reynolds’ work ‘Studio Experiments’ will be the starting point for a major exhibition at Petworth House from 6 March - 24 September. Explorations in Paint is a specially curated exhibition from the Royal Academy of Arts that brings together artworks by current and recent Royal Academicians, all exploring the possibilities of paint and its expressive potential.
Conservation and restoration
As one conservation journey begins, another ends: the longest in the Trust’s history, at a mammoth 24 years. Brought to Hardwick after Bess, Countess of Shrewsbury went on a shopping spree in the early 1590s in London, the set of 13 Gideon tapestries that line the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall have been painstakingly conserved for more than two decades. Each tapestry has been worked on for over two years by expert textile conservators. Conservation on the 13th and final panel will be completed in late spring and by summer 2023, this extraordinary set of Elizabethan tapestries will be reunited in their original home.
Over the next three years the National Trust plans to spend £210.9m on conservation work. Major projects in the pipeline include eight roofs, such as Barrington Court in Somerset and Tredegar House in south Wales. Four walled gardens, including Wentworth Castle Gardens, and two staircases, including Montacute House, are also receiving work. Both Wentworth Castle Gardens and Montacute House will be completed in 2023.
Exhibitions and occasions
A selection of the many and varied exhibitions taking place at Trust places in 2023:
- Mottisfont, Hampshire, will host an exhibition of sketches by popular cartoonist Norman Thelwell from 21 January - 7 May 2023.
- Also showcasing cartoons, this time of Sir Winston Churchill, is his family home at Chartwell, Kent. ‘A Cartoon Biography’ of Sir Winston Churchill highlights the life and legacy of Britain’s most recognisable political figure through the satirical eye of Punch Magazine from14 January – 5 March 2023.
- At Killerton, Devon, Thirsty for Fashion (11 February – 5 November 2023) draws from the fashion and dress collections at Killerton to highlight examples of techniques used to repair, remodel, reuse and rewear clothing from the 18th century to the present day.
- Internationally renowned fine artist and textile designer Kaffe Fassett brings his colourful exhibition to Powis Castle, Wales, in 2023. Colour with Kaffe: a textile exhibition begins on 15 February and ends on 21 July 2023.
After a closure of two years for essential compliance and conservation work, Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire will re-open its doors in summer 2023, following completion of this £2.3m project. In July the historic rooms will open, followed by the art gallery in September, when Inspired by Italy is on display until spring 2024. This year, work will also begin on the next phase of the Andy Sturgeon garden vision - the Mediterranean Garden.
National Trust places will be open to mark the coronation of His Majesty King Charles in May, as people come together for this important and joyful national moment. The charity will also be supporting the Palace’s Big Help Out initiative.
Land and Nature
A bigger-than-ever Blossom campaign will bring nature and beauty directly to people across the nation, from rural corners to urban heartlands with new plantings and projects to return blossom to Manchester, Swindon and Birmingham. Poet Laureate Simon Armitage will pen poems inspired by blossom, to celebrate the coming of spring, while visitors to Trust places will be able to enjoy blossom-related activities on site. The Blossom campaign is designed to help people connect with nature wherever they are.
In 2023 several pioneering projects funded by the Green Recovery Fund 2 will reach milestones. In the Shropshire Hills, the Stepping Stones project has created or restored more than 180hectares of hay meadow and more than 60hectares of heath; connected by 5km of improved roadside verge and 3km of restored hedgerows. In total, more than 10,000 trees and hedgerow whips will have been planted by the end of March 2023. While in Exmoor, the first stage of a major project to reconnect the river with its floodplain to provide new homes for wildlife and resilience against floods and drought begins this spring.
2023 also promises some exciting developments for wildlife. At Wallington in Northumberland, beavers will be released to enhance biodiversity and help mitigate the risk of flooding on the estate.
Taking action against climate change will continue to be high on the agenda for Europe’s largest conservation charity in 2023. The Trust is investing £65 million over the next eight years in reducing fossil fuel use at its 100 highest-emitting buildings and generating more renewable electricity to off-set the remaining emissions from its other buildings. The scheme is part of the Trust's efforts to reach net zero by 2030 and is fundamental to protecting the land, buildings and collections in the Trust’s care. This year, work begins at Quarry Bank Mill, which is the largest user of natural gas within the Trust. The three-year project here will significantly reduce the gas used for both heating the property and also powering the machinery within the mill itself, saving over 80 tonnes of carbon emission a year.
The National Trust will keep making progress against its commitment to establish 20 million trees by 2030. A tree nursery the charity has established in Eryri, Wales will this year begin growing rare trees like black poplar, juniper, and local elm. Drought-resistant species that will be more adaptable to changes in weather and climate, such as hornbeam, are also being cultivated. Establishing tree nurseries around the UK supports the Trust’s drive to plant the right trees in the right places, using only locally-sourced seeds and mitigating the carbon footprint of transporting saplings. 2023 tree and hedgerow-establishing activities will also continue the legacy of the Queen’s Green Canopy, such as the 330 trees being planted in Hinton Ampner’s historic parkland from January to March.
The National Trust was founded so that everyone could benefit from access to nature, beauty and history and that ethos is as important today as it was more than 125 years ago.
The National Trust will continue to take part in National Lottery Open Week (March) and Heritage Open Days (September) so people who might not otherwise be able to access places in the Trust’s care can enjoy them free of charge.
After investing £3 million in improving facilities and infrastructure to support people with physical access needs last financial year, the Trust is investing the same amount this coming year. At Orford Ness, for example, a new landing craft will provide visitors with step-free access to this remarkable corner of the Suffolk Coast for the first time. In addition to infrastructure improvements, the Trust is working with RNIB to explore how signage can be more accessible to blind and partially sighted people, by testing new technology Navilens at Saltram.
At the start of 2023, 169 apprentices are enrolled across the Trust in programmes covering a range of skills including stonemasonry, countryside management, gardening, IT, hospitality and architectural joinery. This is the highest number of apprentices in the Trust’s history, which expects to enrol a further 160 apprentices this year, with new qualifications including curatorial and archaeology on offer. At Coleshill, Oxfordshire, a Heritage and Rural Skills Centre will open in May, to support the preservation and promotion of these special skills.
People’s Plan for Nature
The People’s Plan for Nature aims to be the UK’s biggest ever conversation about the future of nature. It includes a People’s Assembly for Nature where 100 people representing the UK population come together to generate a public mandate for the protection and restoration of nature in the UK. The results of the plan will be published this year as part of a UK nature campaign launching alongside new BBC natural history documentary ‘Wild Isles’. The People’s Plan for Nature is powered by the National Trust, the RSPB and WWF.
2023 marks 75 years since Lawrence Johnston gave Hidcote, now a Grade I listed garden, to the National Trust, becoming the first garden-only property in the Trust’s care. Hidcote, a world-renowned Arts and Crafts-influenced garden, is being restored to the original plans and vision of the garden’s creator Lawrence Johnston. Exhibitions will celebrate Hidcote as a garden that continues to attract, inspire and influence people from around the world.
Prior Park Landscape Garden in Bath reopens on 11 February following a significant restoration project to restore the historic dams that sit below the iconic Palladian Bridge and enable water to flow between the three lakes.
Thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, National Lottery Community Fund, Landfill Community Fund and other major donors, restoration of the two-acre Kitchen Garden at Florence Court, Northern Ireland is nearing completion. A dedicated team of staff and volunteers are returning the garden to its 1930s arrangement, recreating it at its most productive and reinstating two glasshouses where the original glass structures once stood. The Kitchen Garden glasshouses are in place and final touches are being added by the teams. The Kitchen Garden officially reopens in April.
On your screens
From the makers of the V&A Secrets of the Museum, a brand new six-part BBC series airing in spring will explore the hidden world of the National Trust. Treasures of the National Trust will shed light on delicate conservation, fascinating historic stories, and spotlight the staff and volunteers at its core. And later this year, Matt Baker's Farm of a Lifetime (working title), an eight-part television series that will follow the special selection process of finding the new tenant for Gallows Hill Farm on the Wallington Estate in Northumberland, airs on More4. The series is produced by Big Circus Media.
100 Books From the Libraries of the National Trust is published on 6 April 2023 and spotlights treasures from the more than 400,000 books in the Trust’s care, from the first book ever printed in Antarctica to Virginia Woolf’s handwritten manuscript for her novel Orlando. In September, 60 Remarkable Buildings will profile unique and, in some cases, groundbreaking buildings from the more than 500 historic places that the National Trust looks after.