Posts Tagged ‘North West Sussex Electricity Board’

Private Eye on Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd and the Resurgence of the Aristocracy

April 11, 2015

One of the reviews in the collection of pieces from Private Eye’s literary column, Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion, is of Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd’s The Field Book of Country Houses and their Owners: Family Seats of the British Isles from 1988. Massingberd’s a true, blue-blooded aristo, who wrote a ‘Heritage’ column in the Torygraph. In the book, he made it very clear that he stood for a return of the aristocracy, their power and prestige, after years of Socialism as a ‘social restoration’ under Maggie Thatcher. It’s a view that Private Eye took issue with, and put the boot in accordingly.

Despite being nearly thirty years old now, the review’s still relevant. Cameron is a toff leading a cabinet of toffs – George Osborne, the scion of the baronet of Ballymoney, Nick Clegg, and IDS, who is himself a great landowner, even if he isn’t a member of the titled aristocracy. It is a government that has consistently defended and promoted the interests and power of the rich against those of the poor, and made very sure that the rest of us are kept under their heel.

Their welfare reforms, and the massive curtailment of workers’ rights under the Tories have meant that people with a job now live in fear of being laid off, while those fortunately enough to get jobseekers allowance are effectively treated as helots – state slaves – by the self-described ‘creators of wealth’, who then compete for gaining their free labour on workfare.

It’s a restoration of the old feudal order of serfdom, but under the guise of preparing the unemployed for the labour market, and making them sturdy, self-reliant individuals. As the business leaders imagine themselves to be, all the while they’re demanding more tax breaks and subsidies from the government.

And UKIP are no alternative. They’re further to the Right than the Tories and Lib Dems. The vice-chairman of the Kippers in Wales was a member of the Traditional Britain group. These stand for the restoration of the feudal order, the destruction of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, no immigration and positive no Muslims.

The Eye’s review, then, is a pretty prescient description of the attitudes and motives behind this government, nearly three decades later.

Nob Value

Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd has one great qualification for his line of work. When the toffs he writes about – Cruwys of Cruwys Morchard, Dymoke of Scrivelsby, Fetherstonehaugh-Frampton of Moreton, Houison Craufurd of Craufurdland, Foljambe of Osberton, Steuart Forthringham of Murthly – hear that he is on his way, they must feel pleasantly reassured. For Montgomery-Massivesnob is the only hack in the business with a name as ludicrous as theirs.

It has been the making of him. Massivesnob is no detached architecture critic or social historian. He is himself of the class he portrays: his articles are themselves exhibits in the show, if not the main turn. It is useless to wonder whether or not he realizes that this is why the Telegraph employs him. So much reflection is not in the nature of a nob.

Massivesnob writes a column in the Torygraph called ‘Heritage’. This is the persuasive sales word of our time, signifying anything old and agreeable which might form the basis of a day trip. We have even been encouraged to think that there is such a thing as, contradiction in terms, a ‘national heritage’. Somehow we have accepted that being herded around big houses, behind ropes, by self-important matrons means that we are ourselves the true legatees of the aristocracy.

Massivesnob, quite rightly, has no time for this confidence trick. When he says ‘heritage’ he means it: the inheritance of a name and of a house together, by a private family. He has conducted a long campaign to disabuse us of our belief in a ‘national heritage’ and to reassert the rights of the squirearchy. (His insistence on this has, doubtless, been a reaction to his own family house having been made over to the National Trust before his birth.) And he is admirably purist. These reprinted articles from the pre-lifestyle Field are not about great houses – or interesting people. True squires, they have no other distinction than their success at transmission.

That Massivesnob is now in demand to write similar pieces as a ‘Heritage’ column in a national newspaper says something about the times. For years he snuffled away at family trees as the editor of Burke’s Peerage, scribbling too for the country magazines. he joined the Torygraph as obituaries editor. But now his pieces have become more than antiquarian. Hymns to private property are apropos. The landed are richer than they have ever been in their lives – and even council-house buyers are beginning to feel happier about family seats.

Not that any of this is made explicit. Massivesnob’s appearances in print are winningly slapstick. His own ancestors invariably feature – usually his feminist great-grandmother, who tragically turned the family pub, the Massingberd Arms, into a temperance house. And his ‘robust digestion’ also stars, as he caps each visit by putting himself outside ‘a couple of jumbo cold bangers and a glass of iced lemon tea’, or a large helping of treacle tart. The words ‘ravishing’, ‘luscious’, ‘exquisite’ and ‘engagingly feudal’ exhaust his adjectival resource. Two obsessions recur: Lincolnshire, ‘the still undiscovered Lincolnshire’, and cricket, as played between the big house and the village.

The appearance of this buffoon must be entrancing to the proprietors of what he enthusiastically calls ‘the dimmer sort of seat’. Here is someone who sincerely thinks nothing in the world so fine as ‘the proud distinction of being, say, Fulford of Fulford, Fursdon of Fursdon, Kelly of Kelly or Spurway of Spurway’, who, quite fantastically, is as gratified as they are themselves by their own existence.

Any further qualities are beside the point, though squirearchical accomplishments are loyally applauded. Burrell of Knepp Castle’s appointments ‘have included the chairmanship of the North West Sussex Water Board’; Staunton of Staunton is ‘an enthusiastic beagler’; Sir Anthony Milbank of Barningham is ‘an enthusiastic Gun and enjoys fishing’; while Robert Scrysoure Steuart Forthringham of Pourie and Murthly is a wizard with a bow and arrow.

Clearly the social system that supports such accomplishments must be maintained. As Cookson of Meldon, owner of a measly 5,000 acres, somewhat laboriously explains: ‘If the people of this country wish houses such as Meldon to continue to exist as part of the heritage – especially when the occupants are of the family for whom the house was originally built – then more consideration must be paid to them financially to help keep the system in being.’

Absolutely. And it will be, partly because the National Trust, ostensibly a democratic movement, has transformed public perception of what big estates represent. The houses were the pretty part of the whole social organisation; they are the only part now on view; the system itself is thus glamorized by them. For himself, Massivesnob is quite unembarrassed to state that the fortunes of the Hobhouses of Hadspen were founded on slavery.

Conveniently for the National Trust, those who traipse round the houses, or buy picture-books like this, do so in order to fantasize about themselves as owners, not as scullions. Massivesnob, more lucidly, responded to the ‘euphoria’ of the budget earlier this year with an article looking forward to the return of servants, jovially reminiscing about the days when drunken gamekeepers could be shot.

The ‘heritage’ mania has softened us up for a return to inherited wealth. Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd may be a richly Wodehousian figure, but his book, lauding the privately owned, is symptomatic. It is the correlative to Peregrine Worsthorne’s recent articles about the desirability in short of ‘a social restoration’. Come the day, of course, Massivesnob knows where he will be – in his seat again. But the fans of his snufflings seem curiously unaware of where that leaves them: which is sat upon.