Washington Old Hall celebrates milestone anniversary

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A season of anniversary events is planned to celebrate an important milestone in the 800-year history of Washington Old Hall.

October 3 will mark 60 years since the manor house that was the ancestral home of George Washington, the first president of the United States, was passed into the hands of the National Trust.

Now the charity plans to mark the date with a programme of exhibition, art, community, and family activities.

The anniversary tributes will culminate in October with the world premieres of both an original play and a special dance piece, Ghosts Across the Pond.

Sarah Murray, Washington Old Hall’s Property Operations Manager, said: “While George Washington wasn’t born here, it was his family’s ancestral home and the place from which he took the name that was to leave such a profound mark on the history of our two nations.

“This feels like a milestone for Washington Old Hall and it is good to observe this anniversary by celebrating the successes so far while also looking to the future.

“The events we have planned will be a chance to find out more about the efforts to save the hall and the work that has taken place over the past 60 years, as well as an opportunity to enjoy a place that has been at the heart of its community for more than eight centuries.”

Despite its illustrious links, the hall might not be here today but for the efforts of one man.

In the 19th century it had deteriorated to the point where it was declared unfit for human habitation and by 1933 there were plans to demolish it.

But local teacher Fred Hill, who through his interest in the area’s history had made the connection with George Washington, led a campaign to save the run-down building, launching the Old Hall Preservation Committee. And thanks to £400 given by a local industrialist, in 1937 the group was able to buy the manor house for £350, with the remainder being used to set up a restoration fund.

In 1955 the hall was finally opened to the public for the first time.

Although Fred died just a few weeks later and never saw his dream come to fruition, his efforts will form the centrepiece of this year’s diamond anniversary events.

The 60 Years of the National Trust exhibition, which opened on Good Friday, tells both Washington Old Hall and Fred Hill’s story through archive photos, letters, documents, paintings and old news reels.

Significant moments in the hall’s history, including the visit in May 1977 of the then US President Jimmy Carter, are remembered and an area set up as Fred Hill’s ‘working space’ features the local history books he wrote, as well as correspondence.

Sarah added: “Fred Hill saved Washington Old Hall and was an inspirational force.

“He galvanised people. The way he fought to save this place is inspiring us even now. We are still carrying that momentum that he and the preservation committee created all those years ago.

“They didn’t want Washington Old Hall to be a museum. They wanted it to be used, something that would help bind the community together, and the last 60 years has been a testament to that.

“The National Trust has honoured Fred Hill and the committee’s aspirations for the building and the community around it. Education and Anglo-American relations were two of his greatest passions.

“In his saving Washington Old Hall, it has given the National Trust the chance to motivate, teach and inspire.”