The National Trust recently unveiled a heartbreaking memorial at Kingston Lacy, a property in Dorset that was previously owned by William John Bankes, a man who inherited the house in 1834 but was forced to flee the UK due to his gay relationship with a soldier.
After leaving the home he had dedicated his entire life to, Bankes lived his remaining days in France and Italy. Sadly, he was never able to return to Kingston Lacy before his death in Italy in 1855, just 14 years after leaving the UK.
The home is now owned by the National Trust, who unveiled their Exile exhibition last week as part of a series of projects to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, a law that decriminalised private homosexual acts between men over the age of 21 in Wales and England.
Part of the exhibition features 51 ropes representing the men hanged for committing homosexual acts during Bankes’ lifetime, as well as a recording of their names. Two ropes hanging beside each other represent labourers John Smith and John Pratt, who were caught and executed together.
However, the Daily Mail has branded to the touching tribute to those who lost their lives as a direct result of Britain’s anti-gay laws as a “politically correct stunt.”
Under the headline ‘And now for the National trust’s latest PC stunt: A rope tribute for men hanged for being gay’, the British tabloid ran a story fanning the flames of public hysteria around the supposedly ‘controversial’ project.
The articles explained who volunteers at the exhibition were advised to wear rainbow pride badges, and how it all got too much for volunteer Bob Gates and his wife, who resigned “in disgust” and claim the National Trust has become “obsessed” with “trendy PC thinking.”
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen claimed the exhibition is “totally inappropriate”, despite it being a memorial to the former owner of the house who fled the country.
Imagine being hated so much that a national newspaper can call a memorial to people like you who were executed “a PC stunt” without impunity pic.twitter.com/FUkXVUgx9N
— Keir Shiels (@keirshiels) September 20, 2017
Bridgen also claimed that it’s “not what people visit the National Trust for” before adding: “If I want moral guidance I go to church – not the National Trust.”
It didn’t end there, however, as Max Hastings, writing for the Daily Mail, complained that the National Trust, which, according to Hastings “gets into as much trouble as a Bake Off judge in Nazi fancy-dress”, has gone too far.
Hastings and his wife cancelled their membership after 40 years because they no longer want to give the Trust money to pursue an “obsessively politically correct social agenda”.
John Orna-Ornstein, the Trust’s director of curation and experience, has defended the exhibition, telling the Guardian: “It was his lack of belonging which makes Kingston Lacy what it is today. We feel it is a really strong appropriate history to be telling in this place today.”
He added: “There are going to be some people who come here and don’t like it but that’s the case with any programming. Anything that is bold and interesting, some people are going to love it and some are going to find it really challenging.”
This isn’t the first time the Daily Mail criticised the National Trust, as they previously launched an attack on the Trust’s plans to celebrate LGBT history.
The Exile project runs for two months from September 18, the day Bankes went into exile, until November 12.