Richard White

explorations in place and time

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Enchantment and re-enchantment

to start the year lets begin here with a different map

blake pilgrimsprogress1

 asked what does re-enchantment mean to me…and it turns to a rant

I challenge the notion of re-enchantment!


To me re-enchantment speaks of an anthropocentric ecology reflecting modern western/enlightenment ideas of landscape, terrain and environment, implying a separation between human and nature, mind and body and cognitive versus embodied knowing.

Re-enchantment implies an action on something that is no longer enchanted and thus some kind of judgment that it needs to be re-enchanted. It resonates for me with a romanticisation of traditional cultures that conceals the impact of colonisation and other inequalities.

It embodies a nostalgia for an ‘enchanted’ past and enchanted registers of knowing. An attempt to reinstate an imagined way of being, a desire to uncritically reconstruct those old ways according to a vision of the past seen from the present.  Extending this notion of re-enchantment has the potential to obscure present day contradictions, injustices and the achievements of past struggles. Re-enchantment is the antithesis of becoming accountable.  Re-enchantment has the same set of problematics as ‘re-wilding’ proposals have in post industrial colonising countries of the Northern Hemisphere. Ecologies evolve, the designation and removal of ‘pests’ and predators and the nurturing of species as servants and as food for humans is part of the impact of our species in these times known as the Anthropocene. We may wish to review some kind of mitigation of our impact but in my opinion re-enchantment and re-wilding are all part of the same phenomenon trying to roll back a clock that can’t be rolled back (like Brexit!) it is a rhetoric that obscures rather than reveals.

and then the wise stops me in my tracks and says maybe The Anthropocene is the ultimate conceit of our species

…but if you want to talk about feral, count me in!

In short, I don’t really like the word ‘enchantment’. I do, however, recognise that an alertness and sensitivity to the spectral, living and non living things to the currently unknown and that which may never be known in the western academic tradition brings a richer experience of life. I join those who argue that in the Slow we find that enchantment has always been present, its just a different way of knowing.


The idea of enchantment embodied in re-enchantment however, implies some kind of magic or illusion, a mystical control in which knowledge is power held by someone or something other. I think of pantomime and fairy tales, as in Babes in the Wood where children are lost and eaten in the enchanted forest, or in the Wizard of Oz  where Lion falls asleep the enchanted poppy fields and almost doesnt discover his courage. There is a macabre element of a spell that needs to be lifted or resisted as in Bunyan’s allegory, Pilgrims Progress, where walking through the Enchanted Lands travellers are seduced to sleep forever never to reach the Celestial City and redemption.

and then the wise stops me again and says:

‘enchantment’ has value at least in countering the rational

We can recover linguistically from enchantment and the equally problematic western romanticisation of indigenous and colonised people’s ontologies by thinking and making work in terms of non modern sensibilities. It this I prefer to do, and believe that, in terms of walking arts, a phenomenological approach may be the way forward, becoming better attuned to our bodies and all our senses, developing intuition and sensibilities towards peripheral intelligence. Deep slow connected understandings. Becoming accountable through the corporeal activity of walking, developing responses to what we sense and learn and thereby becoming response-able as fellow creatures in this life on this planet.


What would  disenchanted be like?

I dispute the notion of disenchantment!

It would be interesting to explore the enchantment of the our surroundings and consider what such enchantments obscure or seek to obscure.

A (dis)enchanted space is what becomes if we inhabited it response-ably. Alert to its layers of time and life, responding to it as part of a connected sensing ecology. Aware of the enchantments and illusions whether they are of the Disney English Heritage variety or the romanticisation of old ways. Even field boundaries tell a stories of enclosure and clearance, power and dispossession. Aware of human ownership and contested territory as well as the power of things, the voice of the waters and the surveilled space of the raptor. A space sensing its temporal, spatial and affective intra-connectedness.

I’ll go for a feral space affectively engaged with its past, present and future, relaxed about stuff unknown or perhaps stuff humans have yet to find a way to articulate. Maybe thats our role as artists finding ways of articulating and manifesting that stuff. Becoming accountable. Slower more respectful. Still learning how to be with each other as we evolve. Still discovering and generating new knowledge. Non-modern. Still working on it but better connected. Hanging on for dear life as the planet spins!


…and maybe its is the ultimate mind trick of the Enlightenment… has deprived those who have grow up in its hegemonic thrall of the ability to experience awe.

A thought habit that needs to change.












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Sweet Waters: Soundings

Sweet Waters: Soundings from the walks

Saturday 21 October from 13.00-16.00

Saltford Brass Mill
The Shallows
BS31 3EY

an installation in sound and images

Responses and resonances sense-ing legacies of slave-ownership in Bath and along the River Avon….visit the Mill discover sounds and images gathered from the Sweet Waters walks and related research along side the existing information and orientation

Sweet Waters graphic final

Working with field recordings, background research and other materials this begins a reporting phase from the Sweet Waters project.  The Mill is a relic of an industry producing brass goods that were loaded on ships from Bristol and traded for enslaved people. The water wheel still turns and the installations will respond to the watery sonic environment, repatriating sounds of the manufacture of goods destined for the West Coast of Africa.

Sweet Waters is a wayfaring through interconnected cycles of Water and Trade exploring legacies and revealing resonances:

Water: from rain to river to sea to sky and back, power and transport, plantation irrigation and country park decoration. The river washed away the sweat of the brass workers, returning slave ships were scrubbed down into it, while the tears of those who lost loved ones to the slavers flowed to the sea in the rivers of West Africa. In the water: blood, vomit, excretia, the dissolved and digested flesh of those who resisted, sea-sick, home-sick, tears of grief, tears of despair, blood of punishment and cold sweat of survival. In the vast Atlantic Ocean there are generations of lives thrown overboard as damaged goods, food for fish and cowries. Heritage, memories, stories, languages.

Trade: the Triangular Trade: products made and transported on the River Avon shipped to West Africa and sold for enslaved people, those who survived the crossing were sold again to work in field and factory, the materials they produced and the wealth generated returned up the River Avon. Sugar. Tobacco. Timber. Wealth fuelling industrial development and embodied in country houses and the fine buildings Bristol and Bath.
So when it rains in Bath or Bristol or when the river swells with the tide and as the water turns the Saltford millwheel we remember and sense legacies of slave-ownership. We are mindful of our heritage. We are connected. Sweet Waters.



Legacies I am reflecting on

Global warming begins at the hearth of the slave-owning nations, hurricanes today drawing up the warmed Atlantic waters.

Colonial assertions of white skinned dominance feeds deep and long-lasting racism and the trauma of enslavement continues to fills prisons and mental hospitals.

Weapons from England sold in West Africa escalate violence and dislocation.

Cultures of addiction, sugar, tobacco, tea, coffee chocolate on which slave-owners fortunes are made.

Slave-owner wealth embodied in grand houses, parklands and cityscapes.

Enslaved people who survived carried beliefs, skills, stories and sound memories into the cultures they fashioned.

Echoes of resistance and survival in the popular music of today.


Richard White 2017

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Sweet Waters Holburne Museum to Beckfords Tower

A first stab at writing up my notes:

I come back from a walk a different person

Walk 1 From the Holburne Museum to Beckfords Towerbriefing at Holburne
Bath’s Last Legal Slaveowners
2 proper tour guides on this first day walking team and I’m on stage edgey
One from the buses, the other from mad max.

and me.

Gathering in the sun outside the pillared temple of the museum at the top of Pulteney Street. Architectural icons from ancient slave economies fetished to represent learning and authority. The Roman Baths were discovered under the offices of Bath’s Poor Law Guardians. (archaeologicial irony)

Slaves ancient and modern, just like the poor of the City have no voice here.

Don’t mention the sugar.

Sugar that sweetened the tea and transformed chocolate to sweet treat.

Sweet ease of polite society hiding in glass cabineted silver bowls and tongs

No tongues for the sugar nips

Don’t mention the sugar, the Holburne doesnt


First thing in the high ceilinged morning cool gallery we talk in hushed tones. We drift toward Gainsborough’s portrait of slaveowners. One of the largest canvases he painted, it says. These were the people who came to the enchanted city to take the waters, to recover from the heat and disease, to network, to speculate, to gamble. The Byams, a family with its feet deep in the blood and flesh of the slave worked plantation economy. Gainsborough painted them. Pulteney financed accommodation for them, speculating with profits won from stolen land and stolen lives. The enchanted city flourished on their wealth and patronage

Gainsborough George Byam
Out to the pleasure gardens to alert senses and sensibility.

Listen. Touch. Feel. Think.

Get the Jane Austen lived there, walked here, bit. Over.

out into the park

And we walked too, stopping at the claimants addresses for:
A ritual reading of the ‘charge sheet’.
The address in Bath, where we stood;

The name of the slave-owner who lived there
Date of the court order;
Number of enslaved people;
Name of the plantation, parish, Caribbean island;
Number of pounds paid out in ‘compensation’ to the slave-owner
Those released received no compensation

I heard echoes of Linton Kwesi Johnson and the New Cross Fire

“13 dead and nothing said”

I try to break the silence of this enchanted city
A run of performative statements repetitive intentional becoming disturbing:

20 million paid out and nothing said

How many lives lost, how many lives never lived. How much life blighted.


Sweat in the water. Blood in the sea

Reading Dabydeen aloud and suggesting Turner’s hypocrisy

Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhon coming on. 1840

The water cycle brings it all back to us now.


A Turner painting survives as the only record of Beckford’s monumental plantation-wealth funded Abbey

Did Beckford introduce Turner to a speculative money spinner, spun on lives and sugar?

Was he feeling guilty by 1840, decades after the Zong massacre?
In Bath no memorials only silent monuments to slave generated wealth:

Pulteney bridge

Guinea Lane

Beckfords tower.

We walk a city inscribed, the origins of its wealth obscured


Braikenridge collected watercolours of the rural South West,

just bought more with his compensation.

It was for others to create the plantation picturesque.

On Queens Square where Braikenridge claimed his share of the £20million there is no letter box for me to deliver his souvenir plaque. (architectural irony)

A conversation at a hotel on Pulteney street.

George Orwell’s grandparents claimed compensation from here.

The re-writing of history. (literary irony)
Outside the Park Street residence of Nathaniel Wells

First black JP and Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire. (no plaque)

Slaveowner. (no irony)

A conversation regarding family and loyalty.

The training of the white landed elite.

Power. Ruthlessness.

Hold a mirror to our modern European sensibilities and assumptions.

Raised as white elite, why would Wells have felt any more responsibility to his kin than to his class?


A conversation regarding performance…overkill? Repetitive?
Does a performative walk on such a theme need to be fun…does it need a distance?

What to do with the upset and anger.

Are we afraid of what we might unleash in ourselves?

Or had we just walked too far in the same direction?
Mad max suggests a making link to the Romans and get a laugh from lazy ‘locals’ enslaved to work at the baths.

It connects Horrible History style but denies.

I want to connect emotionally empathically. Taste the sweetness and think of human flesh digested by cowries in the ocean. Feel the rain and wonder about the memory of water. Hear the beat and dance to it.

The senses connect differently

towards the tower
At last bursting out to country

The finest view in England, so Beckford said.

Green treed river snaking through the valley

Watered with Atlantic rain.

Down there driven by water wheels

brass mills battered and thudded

Neptunes and Guinea pots

Brass manillas by the hundredweight

The currency of the slave trade

To go on the river to Bristol

For the slave ships across the sea to West Africa

To trade in human lives

Turner Beckford

On the grass at Beckford’s grave, the gilded tower behind us

Reading Dabydeen’s  Turner and looking at Turner’s slave ship painting

A conversation on scuba diving in the Caribbean connects:

Heritage in the water.

Or as Derek Walcott put it far better than I

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

We conclude with the sweetness. Sugar cake.

Kendal Mint Cake for walkers, Wordsworth and sensory memory

Mindful of the cycle of water

Even if it the molecules don’t hold

We make memory at this place, at Beckfords grave.


We connect, bear witness, then climb the tower.

I came back from the walk a different person


(quoted The Sea Is History – Poem by Derek Walcott)

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Interview and commentary on walking arts practice as research

For the second in the series of interviews exploring PhD students’ creative practice projects, John Edwards met Richard White at the Holburne Museum in Bath to learn more about his interdisciplinary approaches to history and landscape. My PhD is about walking and social media The walks are creative, performative and participatory. I’m exploring different strategies […]

via PhD Creative Practice Showcase – Richard White — BSU Research Blog

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Workhouse Walk 1

Workhouse Walk 1… a reflectionFront of workhouse

We gathered outside the imposing entrance to Bath’s former Workhouse, above us the old clock permanently stopped at twenty past six. What time was that? A time when the the arms finally rusted up and jammed. A time when the old spring ran out of energy. Wound down. Dead time. A clock that now no-one needs to wind again now that we carry precision digital time with us. The clock face dark and the gilt if it ever was, peeling from hands pulled down, pointing down as if with no further strength to even resist gravity.

The Workhouse bell rang.

A digital recording. W:house Exhib bell

The bell now permanently displayed in its wooden heritage case. The stub of clapper, an amputated tongue, deep inside. The museum crane held the bell and as it released from the wooden form it began to breath and ring and resonate. A ring from the past, a bring out your dead ring, not a school bell ring, not really an angelus ring, no peal of bells, no joy in the sound of that single struck note.  This was the ring of Workhouse time echoing down the painful years not from the chapel but down the corridors and across the yards from that central all-seeing all-hearing panopticon.

The Workhouse bell rang

And we heard it soaking into the hard flat stone walls, around the yards where women shredded rope and men broke stones. A sound once heard from the top of the hill, a warning, a structure. The day divided. The new routine signed by sound and policed with fear. Within these walls Bath’s poor were packed by the Poor Law Guardian, those forced off the land and drawn to the enchanted city where time was increasingly unified and measured in ticks, tocks and chimes rather than sun, moon, tide and pulse.

The Workhouse bell rang again

For perhaps the first time in seventy years in the corridors and hard walled yards the sound of the bell tolling. This time it was me and it cast out the sound in my head of the Summer Time Blues. The rock n rollers demise, mangled outside Chippenham he finished up on the old Workhouse then like now renamed more gently as St Martin’s Hospital. Eddie Cochrane died in Bath’s former Workhouse and like many famous and wealthy visitors to the city he got a plaque. This is where he died. The bell rings for him and all those who died in Bath’s Union Workhouse.


We walked on, through grim workyards, along rough hewn stone walls and roaring road out to the burial ground off the Wellsway. In the centre of the field we gathered and John talked about the 3000 dead buried there, Bath’s poor who had no one to claim their bodies or the wherewithall to bury them. The field undulates, slow ripples of former lives. In the centre a slight mound, the mowers can’t decide whether to circle or skim. In the past there have been stones here, now these again moved to the side but standing there we saw more stones forcing themselves to the surface chipped by the mower blades. Something is coming to the surface, is there a DIY memorial being made, cleared and remade here?

Bearing witness

The Workhouse bell rings for the Workhouse dead

As it never did, only ever ringing to mark the hours of the working day. Eddie Cochrane gets a plaque, he died there but no memorial no plaque for more than 3000 dead in Bath’s Workhouse Burial Ground. The field is not even marked on the map.

We walk on.The boundary markers and lines of Wansdyke. Retracing old walks and cross country short cuts to the bridge over the railway line. The arrival of railway time. Work time. Factory time. Cold dead regular systematic clock in clock out industry time. A new time that had to be internalised by those who had for all generations lived with the time of the seasons, the time that connects with life. Ring out the dead indeed.

Cross country short cuts

We walked down through the trees following the Lyncombe brook, John washed his face in the gush of a cold water spa. Through Widcombe where once Workhouse schoolmaster Mr Winkworth walked his boys. We were retracing his steps, preparing for the long walk in July. Onto the canal where once perhaps there was work but now there is leisure. Spat out into the city under the great black modernist bridge.

The bell rings for the penultimate time on this short Workhouse Walk

Site of the Offices

At the site of the Poor Law Guardian’s office. Here the bearded Victorian patriarchs of the enchanted City sat in judgment over the poor, deserving and undeserving. Their offices, prone to warm water flooding, were finally demolished to reveal the Roman Baths “in all its splendour” . A city built on slavery, built by slaves, rediscovered. And in a country still basking in the wealth generated by  empire and slavery, the Victorian poor? Some fought back, resisted, but many worn out, injured, disabled, too old, too young, were hidden from view, warehoused in the Workhouse until they died. Today they remain hidden from view.

…and finally to the Museum of Bath at Work, the enchanted City of leisure appropriately has a museum of Work. Here temporarily the Workhouse Bell sits in its wooden form, silenced.

W:house Exhib openingbell and bust

The bell rings again for the last time today.

Workhouse walks continue. Do join us!

More details here:

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Crying at the Bus Stop

Crying at the Bus Stop

Test of provocation for opening session of Remora: Contextualising Creative research

A symposium at Bath Spa University Thursday 23 Feb 2017

In a time of post truth, fake news and alternative facts its important to look up, look in and look out, stop digging for a moment and consider other ways of knowing and other forms of knowledge. I was fortunate to be a student at the University of Sussex in the days of the idea of the new university and ‘redrawing the maps of learning’ and its been exciting to be pursuing a PhD here as this university starts to put some serious effort behind interdisciplinary collaboration. But both way back when and now I hear the sounds of the old academic book carts being pulled into a circle, just as the wagon trains did in the movies crossing the american west..making a defensive circle against people attacking them who they did not understand. Who they did not want not understand…

So I was alarmed when I got a questionnaire from the Bath Spa University graduate office asking me what I thought practice as research was. I thought blimey isn’t this what the Bath School of Art and Design have been doing since forever..and Creative Writing…music …dance etc. Don’t they have a model? Shouldnt they know? But then I thought there’s more to it than that, for my part I am engaging as an artist directly with the academic fields of history, heritage, geography… for me at least its not simply about doing something solely located within a creative field and writing something ‘theoretical’ about it.

The creative activity is the research and that does need articulating ……and thats what get me here…

However, I am afraid I reject entirely the shark/remora metaphor. There is something anthropomorphic in this attempt to align them with some kind of human knowledge or element of academia. Metaphorical thinking has its uses and it maybe it works here as a provocation. But as a scuba diver and thus occasional visitor to the realm of the shark and the remora I know it is another world with other rules and other ways of being.

I love the word remora however and I love the way that the hash tag becomes be sure mora. To be sure I would rather watch the fish than second guess the nature of their relationship and map that on to a typology of knowledge or enquiry. The sharks and the remora have been in the sea for longer than we have been sapiens…..

Nora Bateson, daughter of Gregory Bateson, describes how he would put her on the bus to school and as he watched the bus pull out he would cry…he thought school would destroy her mind. She argues that education and learning needs to have multiple perspectives…Schooling she argues is  ‘delivering an obsolete form of inquiry that fails to engage with the dynamics of living complexity. The stakes are high, the survival of the human species as well as countless others is at hand”.  School didn’t destroy her mind but she says  now as a parent herself she still weeps at the bus stop and says of her generations legacy  “We will have to find the strength to carry the heaviest of all burdens; an empty bag of tricks” (Bateson, N. 2014)

I dont think the bag is empty. As an elder now I want to make sure that some of the ways of knowing and learning that have inspired me get shared , there are understandings emerging that I could only have reached through creative practice.

I am just re-reading McCullough (2013) Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information and he raises a whole load of questions around knowledge and learning, crucially asking questions about tacit knowlege and intrinsic knowledge in an age where more and more is coded and disconnected from the signifieds.

“when we know almost everything through documentation, and almost nothing directly, will any of us notice that something is missing?” he asks

…when a bogus WMD reports takes us to war, when alt facts gain currency and when experts are this part of the diagnosis of what got us to Brexit and Trump?

McCullough argues that underneath the freeplay of signifiers an unmediated world is out there, one that works without encoded transmissions….this resonates with the non representational approaches  I have been exploring  and opens up the space to consider embodiment and affect.

I walked in the rain with my granddaughter, we laughed, we both got wet. I saw some neighbourly help going on by the roadside this morning. I give blood .. We do the right thing and it feels right. We are social creatures.

So for my part I feel liberated by this debate and my discovery of an approach that validates learning and discovery through affect, emotion, feeling, embodiment, tacit and intrinsic knowledge…

as Bob Dylan sang “You dont need a weather man to know which way the wind blows”

The challenge is how to reveal the knowledge to capture and articulate it in a useful form that does not replicate the old ways….

I think the growing interest in creative practice as research indicates people are looking for new ways of thinking and that it is through those new ways of thinking we will find a way out of the terrible mess the old ways have got us into.

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Tyntesfield recuperated, a purchase betrayed.

Disconcerting visit to the National Trust property at Tyntesfield yesterday. Where once this was a fascinating time capsule slowly being catalogued and, I thought, somehow carefully resealed in viewable form it has been given an old school National Trust make-over. A house once alive and vibrant with histories becomes a stage set again.

Where once there were rooms abandoned by  wealthy owners who could no longer be bothered to maintain, them there are themed static exhibits about a Victorian era patriarch.

Where once there was a cluttered library and workroom stacked with books of all ages from battered paperbacks to leather bound volumes, displaying a revealing interest in empire and military history. Now, its tidy with the old books ordered and not a paperback or glossy cover in sight. What was once full of life is now static and life less.

Another study, now locked shut, once mixed late twentieth century entertainment and communication with the Victorian, a television and VHS player, modern cabling running along the paneling totally appropriate witnessed change in a house that once sported the latest in late nineteenth century technology. A more complicated heritage closed off.
Tyntesfield kitchen shelves
As was the kitchen that to me always witnessed the slow decline of the property, as the money was wasted away, capital taken elsewhere. Here alongside huge old cookers that once prepared the feasts for the room with the hand painted wall paper, I always imagined the last wizened old gent in his battered wheel chair wrapped in a blanket and being served toast by an even older family retainer who whispered Somerset in his ear “the ceiling in the west wing has gone sir”. Here it seemed to me the money ran out, rows of old toasters and toast wracks on badly painted kitchen shelves, a rusty old Hotpoint cooker and one of those new fangled microwaves , perhaps bought by the grandchildren for the old boy.

My construction perhaps, but all those things represented layer upon layer of history, rooms full of linen, jars and porcelain including the old mans bedpans. Objects that I recognised from our lives in the late twentieth century..the cooker, the toasters, the books, the up market hifi. Here we engaged with history and spun our stories of this family that made its fortune on Peruvian bird shit dug out by chinese slave labourers.

All tidied away to tell the story of the Victorian patriarch who took the family into respectability, with  a few footnotes of critical information for those who bother to read to the end of the portable panels. The talking posts in the park where we heard the voice ghosts of former servants, all swept away. Even in this year of first world war commemoration, the make up box of a son  who rouged his cheeks so he would not appear to show fear as he urged his fellows to their deaths…… all, all safely locked away.
The whole point of the purchase of Tyntesfield was that the National Trust was buying literally the lot, not the cherry picked remains of a country house handed over as  tax dodge, The Lot. …and we all bought into that….And it was so exciting on our first visits when they were still unpacking, cataloguing and fixing the roof. This was a family who had the space to hoard everything from old wall paper samples to carpet off-cuts and rooms full of furniture and relics. A record in ‘stuff’ that went back before living memory but came well within the lives of many visitors and a few surviving estate employees. These riches of Tyntesfield enabled us all to construct our own stories, the layers of history were clearly apparent some more obscured than others, some more decayed than others. What should have been a living time capsule seem to have been stripped out in favour of the old authorised country house story.

I was so disappointed that I even began to think that the cobwebbed chairs in the stable were constructed as nods towards the memories of previous visitors like me, with an old  home brew glass demijohn strategically turned to view, so that the label from September 1989 could be seen. I even overheard that the magnificent dahlias are brought in as mini plants and not lifted and overwintered as my grandmother used to do….and thus began to suspect that even the much loved kitchen garden was a stage set.

It is all a stage set, I know. And I do understand the tensions between restoration and preservation. But where once other stories poked through haphazard and untidy now the stage appears set for a single and decontextalised story safely confined to a dreamy Victorian/Edwardian past. Sadly Tyntesfield has been recuperated in the National Trust spectacle, a potential for showing a new and bold way of exploring  if not even challenging the enchantment of the English Country House, betrayed.