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National Trust pulls out, forcing closure of Modernist masterpiece

The National Trust-operated High Cross House in Dartington, Devon, one of only three Modernist buildings run by the charity, has closed its doors to the public

Designed by Swiss-American architect William Lescaze, the house was built in 1932 for art establishment patrons Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst as a home for William Curry, then headmaster of the nearby Dartington Hall School.

In March 2012 the home’s owner, the Dartington Hall Trust (DHT) signed a 10-year management lease with the National Trust. But less than two years after signing the deal, the National Trust has abandoned the property after the ‘gem’ attracted only two thirds of the 32,000 visitors needed to make it financially viable.

The closure comes despite the fact that the home attracted 21,000 visitors, almost double the number attracted to Erno Goldfinger’s Willow Road home in Hampstead, also owned by the Trust. Figures for the Trust’s third Modernist property, the Homewood in Esher, Surrey designed in 1938 by architect Patrick Gwynne, were not available at the time of writing.

DHT chief executive Vaughan Lindsay said: ‘[We] wanted to see if opening up High Cross House in partnership with the National Trust could be successful.

‘Unfortunately, the house has not attracted as many people as had been hoped for and the National Trust have decided they don’t want to continue with the arrangement. We will now be looking at alternative ways we can share this remarkable modernist building.’

When the Trust took over management in 2012 Jeremy Gould, Emeritus Professor of Architecture at the University of Plymouth, told the BBC that the house, which in its heyday house played host to the likes of Bertrand Russell, Henry Moore, Benjamin Britten, Lucian Freud and Barbara Hepworth, ‘brought to Devon one of the most important 20th Century architects.’

‘It is one of the first ‘modern movement’ houses in this country,’ he added.

After falling into neglect in the late 80s High Cross House was used as a student hostel until being restored by architect John Winter and opened to the public in 1995; the first British Modernist house to do so.

High Cross House, Dartington by William Lescaze Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Source: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Boarding House, Dartington Hall School, Devon also by William Lescaze (1934) - part of the wider Dartington estate. Source: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

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