26. Mike Gogan – Warwick Multimedia Ltd., "The Virtual Experience Company"
27. Colin Larner – John Bunyan Museum Guide
email not known
28. Sharon Owen – Kate Roberts Heritage Centre
29. James Pardoe – Chester College History Dept. Prog. Leader – Heritage Management
30. Claire Robson – Melbourn & Bassingbourn Village Colleges, Arts Dev. Co-ordinator
31. Ruth Simpson – Dept. for Education & Skills, Creativity & Arts Team
32. Pam Weatherley – Knebworth House Guide
Apologies: Group Members:
33. Laurie Black – Robert Burns (Park Director) [represented by Nat Edwards]
34. Terry McCormick – Learning Cultures, LitHouses Group founder
35. Leila Brosnan – Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Arts Division
36. Elinor Clark - Rozelle House, South Ayrshire Museums [prev. Burns Heritage Park]
The meeting began at 10am, in the Banqueting Hall of Knebworth House.
Welcome to the home of Edward Bulwer Lytton ~ Henry Cobbold
Reciting a welcome poem by Edward Bulwer Lytton (that is written around the ceiling of the Banqueting Hall), Henry Lytton Cobbold introduced himself as Edward Bulwer Lytton’s great-great-great-grandson and said it was his great-great-great-pleasure to welcome the LitHouses Group to the author’s home and his “hearth where rooted friendships grow”.
Henry began by saying a few words on Bulwer Lytton’s place in the world today:
St Edmund’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey – his physical place in the world today.
Biographies – coinciding with his Bicentenary in 2003, a new biography by Oxford University professor Leslie Mitchell; and a collection of papers given at the University of London’s Bulwer Lytton 2000 Conference, “The Subverting Vision of Bulwer Lytton”.
Novels – Bulwer Lytton can “plausibly claim to be the father of the English detective novel, science fiction, the fantasy novel, the thriller and the domestic realist novel” (John Sutherland, University College, London). His novels were also the first to feature anti-heroes, notably the highwayman “Paul Clifford” (1830). Despite falling from fashion in the 20th Century, he has remained consistently in print, specifically in the U.S.A. and in Germany, but frustratingly only barely in his homeland.
Plays – of Bulwer Lytton’s string of West End hits in the late 1830s, his comedy “Money” was recently revived by the National Theatre, his 160-year-old jokes still raising laughter.
Sayings – barely a week goes by when one of Bulwer Lytton’s sayings is not incorporated into a newspaper headline, specifically “The pen is mightier than the sword”, but also “It was a dark and stormy night” which has spawned a 20-year-old world-wide annual competition, the “Bulwer Lytton Contest”, for the most clichéd opening line to a novel. Being the first to come up with a cliché is, of course, something to be proud of!
Politics – Bulwer Lytton’s name is to be found in the street and place names of Queensland in Australia and British Columbia in Canada, two territories that were defined while he was Secretary for the Colonies in Lord Derby’s Government of the late 1850s. Also a lasting legacy is the Committee that Bulwer Lytton chaired in the early 1830s that led to the establishment of dramatic copyright and the breaking of the Drury Lane / Haymarket theatres monopoly, although it didn’t achieve its third objective of ridding the stage of the Lord Chamberlain’s powers of censorship - which had to wait until the 1968 Theatres Act (promoted by the then Lord Chamberlain, Henry’s grandfather, Cameron Cobbold).
Notoriety – Bulwer Lytton’s relationship with his estranged wife Rosina, a cause célebre in his day, remains a hot topic in current evaluations of the history of female emancipation.
Music – despite not having an ear for music himself, Bulwer Lytton’s work inspired many musical works, notably, Wagner’s breakthrough opera, “Rienzi”, the first indigenous American opera “Leonora” (based on his play “The Lady of Lyons”), Sousa’s personal favourite suite “The Last Days of Pompeii” and Elgar’s Piano Quintet (based on Bulwer Lytton’s novel “A Strange Story”).
Philosophy & the Occult - Bulwer Lytton’s open mind to all things in heaven and earth led to ridicule in his day, but his crystal ball, extraordinary collection of magic books and associations with Rosicrucian philosophies suggest to his descendants that if any spectre currently walks the corridors of Knebworth House it is most likely to be his!…
…which leads finally to what has become Edward Bulwer Lytton most recognised place in the world today:
10. His Home – Knebworth House is perhaps better known world-wide today as Britain’s largest rock concert venue, but it is also remains a lasting and living monument to Edward Bulwer Lytton. The unique gothic exterior is a product of his extraordinary mind and the collections within an invaluable resource to our understanding and appreciation of his work and his world.
The meeting then moved into Edward Bulwer Lytton’s library.
Henry Cobbold asked everyone present to introduce themselves.
The History and Objectives of the LitHouses Group ~ Henry Cobbold
Henry Cobbold again warmly welcomed everyone to the first annual LitHouses Conference. He expressed regret that the founder of the LitHouses Group, Terry McCormick, was not present to summarise the group’s history and objectives, but explained that Terry had recently withdrawn as the group’s facilitator for career and personal reasons.
He explained that Knebworth House had been one of many homes and museums to receive a letter from Terry McCormick on the 12th August 2002 suggesting a project where those responsible for the country’s literary homes and museums form a group, wherein, together, they would prosper.
Henry’s understanding was that Terry had recently attended a meeting in France of the “Federation des Maisons d’Ecrivain et des Patrimoines Litteraires” and was shamed that the U.K. had so little organisation in this area. Similar groups exist all across the Continent and Terry was convinced it was something that should be explored in the U.K.
Henry covered the history of the LitHouses Group to date as follows:
There have only been three meetings of the LitHouses Group prior to this one. They’ve all been small planning meetings. So everyone present is part of a group in its infancy and youth - a wonderful thing, because it means we, here, can make this group what we want it to be, from the ground up. We started on 2nd April 2003 by visiting the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust for an exploratory meeting. Terry suggested that we write down where we saw our homes or museums in 10 years time – and this focused us all on what we were trying to achieve with the heritage that we were representing. Then we met again at Keats House on 19th January of this year, 2004, and discussed how the Group might work. We settled on a format - that is promising in the way it is developing at the moment – of having two meetings a year: a smaller one in the spring, of core Group members, to discuss progress, and plans… for a second, larger, meeting around November-time. At the larger meeting we would welcome a wider group of people, try to bring in outside ideas, encourage others to join up and to understand what we are trying to do… and also specifically tackle issues that relate to our Group. And thus today we are discussing “Education”, of primary concern to most of us. (And maybe next year we’ll discuss “Marketing”, for instance. And maybe the year after that we’ll hold a conference to discuss encouraging “Literary Adaptations” - for instance in Film and Television - and how that affects the public perception of our authors… just ideas that have been thrown around, nothing set yet.) It was thought at the time, for reasons that will become clear later, that the best way to operate the Group was with only a very small subscription charge - initially only really to cover Terry’s expenses and expenses on the website – but that each home or museum would contribute by hosting a meeting, in rotation; and for the six months leading up to that meeting - until the meeting’s Minutes were produced - that home or museum would lead/chair the Group. Hosting a meeting would be each home/museum’s contribution to the Group. So far this has worked extremely well. It means there is no great monetary commitment to the Group, apart from knowing that at a certain time it will become your turn to host a meeting like this. And if you’re clever you can host one of the smaller meetings in the spring! – But, of course, it’s only right that a big old place like Knebworth should host one of the larger November meetings. And for our third meeting we travelled to Alloway, to the Burns Cottage, on 7th May 2004, to discuss how today’s conference would work. So, to repeat, we are a group very much in its infancy and I hope you see that as an opportunity - an opportunity to be a part of creating a forum that is genuinely worthwhile to you.
Henry covered the objectives of the Group as follows:
We all have our own ideas of what we would like to achieve from this Group and, as I’ve just said, we have the luxury of starting with a blank page. So rather than laying out objectives I’d prefer to spend a few minutes explaining why I responded so enthusiastically to the idea of a Literary Homes and Museums Group… I jumped at the opportunity of being a part of this group because Knebworth has a 13-year history of being part of a similar group – which has been enormously valuable to us – the “Historic Houses of England” Group (http://www.historichousesofengland.com). I hope it won’t be too much of a detour for you, but I thought if I told you a little bit about this group, it might illustrate how a group like LitHouses can work. I say “similar” because the HHOE group is not the same, but it should enable you to draw parallels as to how LitHouses might, or might not, work. The “Historic Houses of England” is a joint support/marketing group set up by the Duke of Richmond in March 1991. The Duke invited to his home, Goodwood House in Sussex, a small group of “stately homes”: Leeds Castle in Kent; Hever Castle in Kent; Hagley Hall in Worcestershire; Weston Park in Staffordshire; Castle Howard in Yorkshire; Ripley Castle in Yorkshire; Castle Ashby in Northamptonshire; and Knebworth House in Hertfordshire. Since 1991 Goodwood (the founders) and Hagley have dropped out – but Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire has joined us. So there are eight houses that are part of this group. Why these houses? Well, specifically because they were the more commercially minded stately homes, all with a well developed conference and banqueting operations. There were more high profile stately homes – Longleat, Blenheim, Chatsworth – but there was also a pre-existing marketing group – as sort of Premier League of stately homes - “The Treasure Houses of England”, to which these houses belonged. Leeds Castle and Castle Howard were part of the Treasure Houses group and brought with them their experiences of this group. Certainly joint marketing was on the Duke’s agenda, but I think foremost to this in his mind was the exchange of information and ideas. As commercial operations, aren’t we all in competition with each other? Well, you’d think so, but history has told us that in the 13 years of the HHOE’s existence there has been a lot of business referred and, so far, no feeling that business has been sacrificed to the “opposition”. This is not a particular concern for the LitHouses Group, but it illustrates that if there’s a trust built up in a group like this, it can overcome potential rivalries. The Historic Houses of England Group was set up very much in the way that we’ve suggested the LitHouses Group be set up. There is no membership fee, but each venue takes it in turns to host a meeting – and effectively leads the group in the six months prior to that meeting. Spending time at each other’s venues is key. Here again 13 years have shown us that the balance of give and take works very well. On the one hand the venue is keen to impress its peers, with its facilities, the service it can offer, its new ideas… and on the other hand the visiting venue gets to draw on these ideas, gage benchmarks of quality, service, etc. Again, to date, I don’t think any members of the group begrudge ideas stolen or consider services poached. There’s obviously an element of “one-up-man-ship”, but I would argue that this is healthy, keeps us all on our toes. Certainly at Knebworth we are aware of our limitations and know we are never going to compete with the luxurious lodgings available at Castle Ashby, for instance, but similarly nobody has the natural bowl landscape and motorway access that enable us to cater for 125,000 people at a rock concert. So we all have our different strengths. So what shape do the meetings take? Essentially – I looked back over the Agendas of 13 years of meetings of the HHOE Group – it very quickly settled down into six Agenda items that were, and continue to be, discussed at our twice yearly meetings. The first three of these Agenda items relate to SUPPORT, and the second three relate to MARKETING. Firstly, SUPPORT… ITEM 1: The meetings begin with each of the houses giving a short presentation of any changes to their facilities and an overview of their performance in the preceding period. ITEM 2: This leads on to the sharing of information re prospective clients, in particular what were called “Doubtful Starters”, i.e. clients whom venues have had problems with. Again, a very useful advantage of the group – when large sums of money are involved or when one’s business relies on key summer weekends, it is invaluable to know in advance the reputations and results of the promoters and agents in whom you are entrusting these assets, these key weekends. Ultimately, it’s a small world if you’re looking to put on a balloon festival - and you’ll find it a whole lot smaller if you leave any of the Historic Houses of England in the lurch… ITEM 3: Thirdly, we discuss terms of business – terms and conditions, changes in licensing and health and safety regulations, which architects, consultants, we use... In the early Nineties in Kent, for instance, there was a charge of 14p per head for a licence for an outdoor concert – based on our experiences in Hertfordshire, we suggested that Leeds seek a judicial review, following which we had been able to negotiate a special licence fee amounting to considerably less. That was a valuable piece of information and it was passed on at one of these meetings. Another example, health and safety – the last few years have seen a enormous shake up of health and safety regulations which, as we all know, has not been easy to keep up with. It has been a fantastic support to see and hear how other venues – with the same problems as ours - have coped with these enforced changes. So there you are, a fabulous support system. The second three items on our Agenda all relate to joint MARKETING… ITEM 4: Branding. Obviously, to have a combined group called the Historic Houses of England creates something for people to respond instantly to. We struggled a bit with this. We had a tough time coming up with a title. We started off with “The Historic Houses Functions Group”, because, as I say, we were all commercially oriented conference and banqueting centres. We didn’t think that sounded to good, so we played around with “Houses of Excellence”… “English Houses of Excellence”… “Historic Houses of Excellence”… “Private Homes of England”… none of them really were quite right. But it was all brought into focus when - a few years ago - we had to choose our web address. We realised the word “Functions”, on web search engines - particularly associated with the word “Private” – brought the wrong sort of responses! At this point we settled – not entirely satisfactorily, I have to say – with “The Historic Houses of England”. It does rather suggest we are the only “historic” houses of England. But that was the best we could do, and the best we’ve come up with so far. ITEM 5: Secondly, joint marketing materials. As we all know coming up with marketing materials is an expensive business. It’s been a great help with the Historic Houses of England to come up with literature that does for all of us. Again, please don’t assume I am saying these are the right things for the LitHouses Group. I’m just laying down a framework for you of a group that does work. You’ll see here we’ve got brochure called “Historic Houses of England”, into which slips a different leaflet for each house – depending on who wants to be involved and who doesn’t want to be involved in a particular marketing exercise… Which leads to the final item on our agenda, ITEM 6: Exhibitions. These are key to the business of the Historic Houses of England Group. And again we can share resources – there are significant savings to be made in sharing stand space for instance. Some of us can go to exhibitions and represent the whole group. And we can share knowledge - each of us has experience of different exhibitions. So that’s the Historic Houses of England Group. And hopefully from that, you will see why I was so keen to be part of a similar group of Literary Homes and Museums. Obviously our priorities are different - but support and marketing, I would argue, is what it boils down to. From the Group meetings, however, the most important thing we gain from each other’s company is T-R-U-S-T. It’s the trust that these meetings engender that brings with it the confidence to stretch ourselves, to make our operations, and what we do, better all the time; and to do justice the extraordinary heritage of which we are the guardians and the promoters. So I do very much hope that this group, the LitHouses Group, will grow, both in numbers and in commitment, and that there are many more meetings like the one we are having today. So to the business of today…EDUCATION.
Henry invited each house/museum in give a summary of their current education programs: