Reflections on Jewish Stories and the National Heritage

On the 19th December 2019, the National Trust hosted a one-day workshop in partnership with the Jewish Country Houses project on Jewish Stories and the National Heritage at Polesden Lacey in Surrey.

National Trust staff from across the country spoke about the Jewish histories of their places, including Mottisfont, Willow Road, Polesden Lacey, Mount Stewart, Ormesby Hall and Birmingham Back to Backs. They reflected on the challenges of identifying and articulating the Jewish contribution to our national heritage, and we were joined by speakers from Château de Seneffe in Belgium, Willesden Jewish Cemetery, Gunnersbury Park and Museum, and Birkbeck University. The workshop sparked fresh reflection on Jewish histories found across the Trust, from Jewish house owners to collectors, and explored the painful stories of anti-Semitism connected to some of these places.

Curator Jonathan Wallis spoke at the event about anti-Semitism at Ormesby Hall. He reflected on his research into these stories, and on the value of the workshop:

“When I agreed to speak at this seminar about the connections that Ormesby Hall had with Nazi Germany I was unsure exactly what the story was that I was going to tell or if it would be relevant to the rest of the seminar. In their desire to avoid another war the owners of Ormesby Hall, just outside Middlesbrough, decided in the early 1930s that it was worth trying to build a new relationship with Germany. In doing this they were exposed to anti-Semitic opinions. There was certainly a story to tell and something that could form the basis of a conversation.

Within the properties where I work I do not know of any really strong Jewish stories; however, this seminar has opened my eyes to a host of possible stories and connections which may lie just under the surface. A house does not have to belonged to a Jewish family to have stories to tell. I will now start to ask different questions which may open doors to new and stories about the beliefs, prejudices and political understanding of those people who are involved in our places, the owners and their friends and workers, as well as the artists and crafts people who built and furnished them may all have a relevance to the Jewish community both in Britain and further afield.

The main thing that I will take away from the seminar, especially the keynote talk on anti-Semitism as heritage from David Feldman at Birkbeck University, is just how relevant this all is today and how the way that we talk about Jewish History is important within today’s society.”


The full programme for the workshop can be seen here


Hannah Kershaw,

Research Coordinator, National Trust