Historic Houses is the trading name of the Historic Houses Association, 2 Chester Street, London SW1X 7BB, a not-for-profit organisation and limited company registered in England and Wales (02001057).
Our values and aims
We believe that lived-in historic houses are vital parts of our history, shaping the nation’s cultural landscape while providing present-day opportunities for commerce, creativity and community. At Historic Houses we help independent owners to keep their historic homes and gardens in good repair, ensuring their accessibility for current and future generations.
In order to fulfil these values we have set out on a four year programme to achieve the following strategic priorities:
- Be the champion of the independently owned historic house sector;
- Promote the conservation of house member properties;
- Help raise the profile and understanding of our house members;
- Engage and foster partnerships with heritage, tourism and business organisations;
- Create a sustainable future to ensure the longevity of our support;
- Ensure we are fit for purpose by being effective, efficient and transparent.
Historic Houses is managed by a Board of Directors, responsible for leading the organisation by making decisions on policy, financial, and strategic matters. The Board is governed in turn by a Council formed of the Board and regional representatives from Historic Houses' thirteen Regional Committees. The Council acts as an oversight and advisory body to the Board of Directors reviewing their strategic decisions and actions taken, on behalf of the members. The Council also provides dialogue with our member houses in the regions allowing us to understand and address their concerns as part of our overall strategy.
The day-to-day running of Historic Houses is lead by the Director General and supported by a team of skilled, knowledgeable and committed staff from our Chester Street office. The staff team lead on areas including marketing, development, finance, membership, and policy.
Historic Houses also draws upon two committees who advise the Board. The Taxation and Political Committee and Tourism and Development Committee draw upon considerable expertise and experience from our members and other heritage and business partners.
Our growing Next Generation Committee also works to engage, educate and support our next generation members, who are expected to succeed to the ownership and management of member houses in the future.
James Birch became HHA President in November 2016. He had previously been Deputy President and Honorary Treasurer. James and his wife Claire live at Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire, a late Elizabethan house by Robert Smythson. Since taking over Doddington in 2007 they have added four shops and extensive catering facilities for visitors. Employment on the estate has grown from 20 to over 100. James had previously worked in finance and Claire in advertising.
Martha, a dual citizen of the US and UK, graduated from NYU with a double major in Journalism and History of Art, she lives with her husband Henry in his ancestral home, Knebworth House, where they are at the 19th generation since it was built in 1490. Martha has worked directly with the estate since 1993, and is the Managing Director of the leisure management business and estate overseeing and running the lettings, day visitor season, catering, events, concerts, films and diversification projects. She administrates the charitable trust on behalf of 9 trustees. In addition to working with a number of regional committees in farming, business, and tourism, including being the current Co-Chair of Visit Herts, Martha Chairs the Tourism and Commercial Development Committee for HH. Martha and Henry have two grown-up children, and a pair of rescue Great Dane dogs.
Eleanor has run Inveraray Castle & Gardens with her husband, Torquhil since 2002. One of Scotland’s leading visitor attractions, the house is also the seat of the Clan Campbell, welcomes over 120,000 tourists annually as well as hosting various events and festivals. With a background in public relations, Eleanor used to work for Charles Barker Public Relations, subsequently Weber Shandwick. Eleanor is also the President of the Georgian Group, Patron of Richmond’s Hope (the leading provider of support for child bereavement in Scotland) and Chairman of the Women of Achievement Lunch. Eleanor chairs the Tourism and Commercial Development Committee of Historic Houses.
Sarah Callander Beckett was born in London, educated in England and Italy and worked in the Far East and North America. In 1992 she inherited Combermere Abbey in Cheshire, undertaking a bold restoration of its buildings and renaissance from near collapse into a fully diversified estate mixing tourism and events with agriculture. A passionate supporter of the built heritage and conservation she is Chairman of the Historic Houses Northwest Region and an Historic Houses board director. She was a Director of the CLA, and is a Trustee of Cheshire Community Foundation, a Deputy Lieutenant for Cheshire and a past High Sheriff. She is married to Peter Beckett and has a son Peregrine.
Lord Carnarvon has chaired the Thames & Chilterns HH region for 12 years and has been on the HH Board since 15th November 2016. Geordie and his wife live at Highclere Castle, renowned throughout the world as “Downton Abbey”. Their business is focused on tourism, events and the development of the brand through books, documentaries, speaking engagements, and now the creation of Highclere Castle Gin, just launched in the UK & USA as well as a recently planted vineyard. Lord Carnarvon farms in hand at Highclere with the production of oats and haylage for the horse racing industry a speciality. Gardens and conservation of ancient landscape is a key interest of Lord & Lady Carnarvon.
Sheila moved into Layer Marney Tower, Essex with her husband, Nicholas, in 1989, and was immediately put on the Regional Committee of the HHA. She was its Chairman from 2003 – 2008. She became Chairman of Invitation to View in 2009 and was involved in the merging of Invitation to View with Historic Houses in 2018. She became the first Chairman of the Invitation to View Committee with Historic Houses and thus joined the main Board of Historic Houses. She retired from the committee after its first year and is now a co-opted member of the Historic Houses Board. She is also currently Chairman of the Braintree District Museums Trust, which looks after the internationally important Warner Textile Archive.
Ursula Cholmeley joined the board in 2019 and chairs the Gardens Committee. She is a gardener, business owner and garden writer with an MA in History from St Andrews. An occasional tennis coach and polo umpire, in 2001 she began a lifelong project to restore Easton Walled Gardens. The 450-year-old gardens now welcome visitors throughout the year and have a growing reputation for quiet innovation. She has a passion for great horticulture and can be hard to remove from a conversation about plants.
Lady Cobham spent twenty years restoring her home, Hagley Hall, and developing commercial ventures to support it. She was a Special Adviser at DCMS and, inter alia, sat on the boards of Historic England, HRP and the V&A. In 2017 she completed 8 years as Chairman of VisitEngland. She chairs the Museum Prize Trust and is Director General of “earn and learn” focussed 5% Club. She is currently assisting a private client on planning and design for a Grade I house in London.
Richard lives with wife Fiona at Grade II* listed Tissington Hall near Ashbourne in Derbyshire’s Peak District. Richard inherited the Hall and 2000 acre Estate from his late uncle in 1989 at the age of 25 and has been trying to restore it ever since. They took the Village Tearooms back in hand and now run it successfully, catering for groups and visitors to the adjacent Tissington Hall, as well as the visitors to the village. Before inheriting Richard worked in the wine trade in London. Estate businesses also include a wedding venue, holiday cottages, B&Bs, an Estate shoot and miscellaneous lets. They have six dogs and two cats to try and keep the house warm.
The Earl of Hopetoun is Chairman of Hopetoun Estates and resident trustee at Hopetoun House. Hopetoun, with its related estates, is managed as a diversified rural tourism, hospitality, events, agricultural and property business. With a background in nuclear physics and software and systems engineering, Andrew worked for Intense Ltd., a Scottish opto-electronics firm, and prior to that at the GEC group of companies (subsequently BAE Systems). Andrew chairs Historic Houses Scotland.
Lord (Richard) Inglewood trained as a lawyer and was called to the bar in 1975. He served as Minister for Heritage 1995-1997, having been a government whip in the House of Lords 1994-1995. He also served as MEP between 1989 and 1994, and then again from 1999 to 2004. His family house is Hutton-in-the-Forest in Cumbria.
After a career as an Old Master Paintings specialist at Sotheby’s London, Jason then dealt in 20th-century French Paintings. He inherited Hedingham Castle in Essex in 1998, moving there full time with his wife and family in 2004, running it as a wedding and events business. He is passionate about art and architecture and the great outdoors.
James joined the Board in 2013 and became Chairman of the Tax and Political Committee in 2019. James and his wife have lived at Rockingham Castle in Northamptonshire since 1999, when he inherited the house from his father. The Castle is over 950 years old and has been owned by his family since 1540, having previously been a Royal castle. Since moving in James and Lizzie have developed the Castle business beyond being a visitor attraction, hosting weddings corporate events and major external events including the Rockingham International Horse Trials. James continues to maintain a career in finance alongside managing the Castle.
Duchess of Argyll (Chair), James Birch, Heather Carter, The Hon. Lucy Cavendish, Ben Cowell, Simon Cunliffe Lister, Bernard Donoghue, Simon Foster, Norman Hudson, Alice Kennard, Caroline Lowsley William, Polly Martin, Robert Parker, James Probert, Teri Lee Wagstaff, Philip Gompertz, Adrian Greason Walker, Viscount Raynham.
James Saunders Watson, Tim Adams, James Birch, Ruth Cornett, Earl of Derby, James Hervey-Bathurst, Lord Inglewood, William Massey, Giles Mounsey-Heysham, Wendy Philips, Michael Sayer, Louise Speke, Rhoddy Voremberg, William Cartwright-Hignett.