Now this is not just remarkable, it is royal. Public bodies sit paralysed, and the Prince of Wales acts. In the darkest part of Ayrshire lurks Dumfries House, a mid-18th-century miracle thrown up for the Marquess of Bute by Robert Adam, our most inventive architect and furnished by Thomas Chippendale, our finest maker. It is a jewel of the British heritage. For three years it has been on offer to the nation by Lord Bute, whose family has owned it since 1754. Nothing has magnificently happened.
Mr Bute, as he prefers to be known, lost patience earlier this year. He called in Christie’s, who printed resplendent catalogues for a multimillion-pound auction on July 12 and 13. It promised to be the most serious total loss of an important country house since Mentmore, sold at auction 30 years ago today. And still nothing happened.
And then, two weeks ago, the Prince of Wales stepped in. With a resounding smack of firm government, he put together a private-public rescue of Dumfries House in just two weeks. Just like that. He guaranteed a £20 million loan himself. It is extraordinary. The Prince should move in to the Deputy Prime Minister’s office and do more of the same.
So, I am really confused (d*cking around with one’s constitution does this to people, you know). Ages and ages ago I asked if Prince Charles couldn’t take over what was then still John Prescott’s job, since Prescott seemed intent on ruining Britain’s architectural legacy and Charles intent on saving it, and reader Rueful Red said that as a member of the House of Lords he was just as much a member of Parliament as Prescott was and wasn’t that an excellent idea.
Except I thought all the hereditary peers had gotten kicked out of the Lords, and that Chuck has no constitutional role and that’s why all the po-faced Guardian readers want him to to do and say absolutely nothing but be horrendously taxed and forfeit his privacy. So, if he is in Parliament he hasn’t not got a constitutional role, and if he got kicked out of Parliament he can’t be in Parliament.
Rejoice! But it should never have had to happen. Britain ought not to care for its heritage in the 21st century with brown-paper-and-string, nick-of-time rescues like this. This may be how we won the Second World War but it is a shame and a disgrace in a mature country that holds, in private hands, more great art treasures before 1800 than the rest of the world put together.
What the Prince has done is a terrible indictment of museums that did nothing and of our heritage bodies – the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund.
See? You’re all just cryin’ out for a Restoration.