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Arundells: The former home of the Prime Minister who brought Britain into the European Community

The historic house of Arundells in the Cathedral Close, Salisbury is a special place for anyone interested in Europe’s history, as it was once the home of Sir Edward Heath (1916 – 2005), the Prime Minister who brought Britain into the European Community.  Sir Edward lived there from 1985 until his death in 2005 and the house contains his personal effects including antiques, an art collection, memorabilia from his political career and items associated with his hobbies of music and sailing.

The house also has a much older historical context dating back to the Middle Ages, having originally been a canonry and the home of Henry of Blunston, Archdeacon of Dorset who lived there between 1291 and 1316.  The house has been much altered over the centuries, its classical frontage dates from the time it was occupied by John Wyndham who acquired a lease for the property in 1718.  The house is called Arundells because it later became the home of James Everad Arundel, who married John Wyndham’s daughter Ann in 1752.

The contents of the house tell the story of Sir Edward Heath’s life.  There is a Steinway Grand piano in the Drawing Room, on top of which are a number of photographs of world leaders and royalty.  One of these photographs is of George Pompidou, who in 1971 was the President of France with whom Edward Heath negotiated the United Kingdom’s entry into the EEC (European Economic Community).  While Britain’s entry into the EEC – which is today known as the European Union or EU – would have been one of the most controversial policy decions of Edward Heath’s premiership during the early 1970s, he should also be remembered for the many other achievements in his life.

Edward Heath was born at Broadstairs in Kent in 1916 and later attended Chatham House grammar school in Ramsgate.  One of the paintings in Sir Edward’s art collection is called ‘Broadstairs’ by Sir Robert Ponsonby-Staples, where three women and a man are depicted looking out to sea towards the distant coastline of Belgium and France.  Perhaps he bought this painting because it reminded him of his childhood.  The painting poses a question about its former owner: did Edward Heath develope a fascination for Continental Europe as a boy because of his awareness of its closeness to his childhood home?  In another painting in Sir Edward’s collection called ‘Girl on a Jetty’ by Antoin Plee, a young woman is depicted standing on a jetty looking out to sea through a pair of binoculars.  In this painting the white cliffs of a distant coastline are visible on the horizon.  Perhaps the girl in this painting is in France looking across the Channel towards England?

During the 1930s Edward Heath attended Balliol College, Oxford as an organ scholar.  While a student at Oxford, he recognised the danger Adolf Hitler and the Nazis posed to Europe.  Although Heath was a Conservative, in October 1938 he campaigned on behalf of the anti-Munich candidate, A.D.Lindsay, Master of Balliol College, against the official Conservative candidate Quintin Hogg in the Oxford by-election.  Hogg supported Neville Chamberlaine and the Munich Agreement.  The Munich Agreement was seen as a capitulation to Nazis aggression, so Heath campaigned under the slogan: “A vote for Hogg is a vote for Hitler”.  (See Chronicle of the 20th Century, 1989, p.502)

During the Second World War he served as an army officer in the Royal Artillery.  After the war he became a civil servant with the Ministry of Aviation, before resigning from his job in order to stand as a candidate for Parliament for Bexley.  He served Bexly as an MP from 1950 until his retirement in 2001.  By the time of his retirement from the House of Commons, his constituency of Bexley had become Old Bexley and Sidcup.

During the 1950s and 1960s Heath served the governments of Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, and Sir Alec Douglas-Home.  His political career advanced from serving the government as a Parliamentary whip through to becoming the Minister of Labour in 1959.  A Cabinet reshuffle by Harold Macmillan in July 1960 gave Heath the job of Lord Privy Seal, which meant he was the spokesman in the House of Commons for the Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home.  Foreign policy under the Macmillan government was marked by the process of decolonisation, the Cold War, and an attempt to join the EEC.

In 1961 Macmillan gave Heath the task of negotiating Britain’s entry into the EEC, but by January 1963 President Charles de Gaule of France had blocked Britain’s entry to that organisation.  Throughout the negotiations of bringing Britain into Europe, Heath had the almost imposible task of trying to reconcile the trading interests of the Commonwealth with those of the European Common Market.  However, Heath recognised that Britain was no longer an imperial power, and the country would have to forge new relationships with Europe as well as former colonies.  He saw the new supranational organisation of the EEC would create common economic interests in Europe, which would make war less likely between the member states of the EEC.  It would not be until Heath became Prime Minister in 1970, that he would once again get the opportunity to negotiate Britain’s entry into the EEC, this time he would be more successful.

The signing of Britain’s entry into the EEC by Edward Heath in January 1972 could be viewed by history as the high point of his premiership.  Britain’s entry into the EEC is something that went well for a government which had to adapt itself to changing events and a number of setbacks.  Before coming to power in 1970, Heath had a fairly right wing free market policy agenda for government.  The Tory historian Robert Blake in his book ‘The Conservative Party from Peel to Major’ described Heath’s manifesto as follows: “The main themes were: lower direct taxation; less government interference; reduction in public expenditure; selectivity in the social services and a shift of the burden from the Treasury to the employers; legislation to restrain the power of the unions; and entry into the EEC.  Negatively its message was no less important; it said little or nothing about an incomes policy or a national economic plan.”

The first setback to Heath’s government was the death of Iain Macleod just a month after the Cnservatives had won the general election.  Macleod had just been appointed Chancellor, and was the man who would have put Heath’s economic plans into practice.  Another problem for Heath’s government came when Rolls-Royce went bankrupt in February 1971.  Ideologically the Tories did not believe in the government saving companies that were in difficulty, but Heath was a pragmatist recognising that putting the workforce of Rolls-Royce on the dole – along with the loss of skills and talent to the British economy – would be far more expensive for the taxpayer than government intervention.  The aero-engine division of the company was therefore nationalised by the Heath government, while the luxury car manufacturer was sold to a private investor.

An energy crisis which began in October 1973 would ultimately bring down Heath’s government.  When the OPEC nations cut oil production and raised the price of oil as a result of the Yom Kippur War, petrol prices in the United Kingdom rose while petrol shortages forced the British government to plan for petrol rationing.  For the government and the country the problem of the oil crisis was exacerbated by a coal miners strike in December 1973, which caused power cuts across the country as most power stations were coal fired in those days.  Edward Heath called a general election in February 1974 under the slogan “Who runs Britain?” He probably hoped the electorate would blame the miners for taking advantage of the oil crisis as a bargaining lever to get a better pay deal.  However, the Tories did not gain a majority in the election of 28th February 1973.  Heath was unable to form a coalition with the Liberals and had to concede defeat to Labour’s Harold Wilson a few days later.

After the election defeat of February 1974 Heath would never serve in government again.  Many commentators have written about the antipathy between Heath and Margaret Thatcher, who would succeed him as leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and as Prime Minister in 1979.  When Heath moved to Arundells in Salisbury in 1985, he would have been aware that Thatcher had no intention of offering him a ministerial post in her government.  However, in 1992 his lifetime service to the country was recognised when the Queen appointed him a Knight of the Garter and he became Sir Edward Heath.

Sir Edward Heath’s Will states that Arundells should be open to the public, for which purpose the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation was set up.  The first charitable object of the Trust as recognised by the Charity Commission is “the preservation and conservation of Arundells and its associated amenities as a building both of special architectural and historical interest being the home of Sir Edward Heath”.  The second charitable object of the Trust is “the preservation of the furniture pictures memorabilia and chattels ordinarily kept at Arundells (excepting such items the trustees consider inappropriate) and such of any other furniture pictures memorabilia and chattels as shall form part of the Charitable Trust and which the Trustees consider appropriate to preserve”.  The third charitable object specifically mentions that Sir Edward Heath’s papers should be administered, maintained and preserved.  Sir Edward would have realised that his papers not only told the story of his own life, but also that they were an important source for future historians of Britain’s post war history.  This may have also been the reason why he made the fourth charitable object of the Trust “the advancement of education by the facilitation and access to and the study and appreciation of Arundells and its contents by the general public”.

If Sir Edward had not pursued a political career, he could have easily made his living as a concert pianist or the conductor of an orchestra.  Sir Edward’s love of music is remembered in the fifth charitable object of the Trust, which is “the advancement of education of the public in the artistic appreciation of music by the promotion development or improvement whether at Arundells or elsewhere of the knowledge understanding and practice of all forms of music and the performance recording study composition instruction or training in all forms of music”.

Unfortunately since Sir Edward’s death in 2005, not all of the trustees have been committed to upholding Sir Edward’s wishes and the objects of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation.  Some of the trustees did not want Arundells open to the public.  The trustees applied to the Charity Commission for a scheme to sell Arundells and the contents of the house.  The trustees claimed that the cost of maintaining the house is greater than the income it can generate from paying visitors.  However on 26th September 2011 the Charity Commission refused the trustees’ scheme to sell off Arundells and its contents.  A report of the Charity Commission’s decision was published on the website of the Friends of Arundells which said: “the reviewer is not satisfied that the trustees have properly identified and explored the range of alternative ways of generating income”.

Arundells as an historic house would not be open to the public today without the tireless dedication of The Friends of Arundells, many of whom volunteer as guides, stewards and gardeners.  The Friends of Arundells have also fought to keep Arundells open to the public and the contents of the house intact.  They drew up a business plan to show how Arundells and its garden could increase revenue by drawing more paying visitors.  According to the plan, revenue could be increased by extending Arundells opening season and extending the opening days each week from four to five, as well as hiring out the grounds to film makers and hosting corporate events.

It is difficult to understand why the trustees are so keen to close Arundells when the main purpose of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation is to keep the house open for the nation.  It appears that some of the trustees would like to have the memory of the former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath erased from the public consciousness.  The story of Sir Edward Heath’s life is not just an important part of the history of the British Isles, but also belongs to the heritage of Europe and the world.  Arundells as a living museum in Salisbury could attract many visitors both from within the UK and overseas, who would want to understand more about the man who brought Britain into Europe.

Details of visiting times to Arundells can be seen at http://www.arundells.org while further details of the Friends of Arundells can be seen at http://www.thefriendsofarundells.org.uk .

This article can also be read at http://www.jolyonsreview.co.uk/Europe.html

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2012



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