One day in 1991 a Worksop solicitor telephoned the National Trust East Midlands office at Clumber Park to say that the Trust was to receive a significant bequest. The official who received the call was told, “I think you’d better have a look.”
Indeed, the £1 million value of the estate was not the most significant feature. When National Trust staff stepped over the threshold of 7 Blyth Grove, they immediately realised they were in a time-warp.
Mr William Straw and his brother Walter had lived in the house most of their lives, and since their father died suddenly in 1932, followed by their mother in 1939, hardly anything had changed.
Walter had taken over his father’s grocery business, and invested the profits in Marks & Spencer shares. William, after mother died, returned from his teaching work in London and kept house for his brother.
They kept to themselves without being reclusive: they bought the house next door and the plot across the road to avoid intrusion by keeping control of their immediate neighbourhood. Though he ultimately left the entire estate to the National Trust, William preferred to join the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire because the subscription was cheaper.
The National Trust duly opened the place to the public as a snapshot illustration of bourgeois lifestyle in early-twentieth century England. Walking round the cramped, cluttered rooms is a powerful experience – intriguing or depressing according to the visitor’s viewpoint.
Like most such time-warp historic sites, it has in fact been carefully renovated. My friend Jenny observed that the cupboard full of tins and groceries was in fact remarkably clean at the back.
An audio-file in the visitor-centre next door is of one of Walter Jnr’s shop-assistants who admired him for his integrity and describes him as “the most complete man I’ve ever known”.
Perhaps one or both brothers, and possibly one or both of their parents, were, as Dominic Lawson has perceptively remarked of Warren Buffet, affected by high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome.
There is a clip from One Foot in the Past (with spectacularly inappropriate background music) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yes9FztB1E.
Dominic Lawson’s observations about Warren Buffet are in a review of Alice Schroeder, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the business of life (Bloomsbury 2008), in The Sunday Times, October 12th 2008.
Visitor-information about Mr Straw’s House is at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-mrstrawshouse.