Dartington Hall Estate accused of keeping dossier on campaigners

Owners of Historic Dartington Hall Estate are accused of keeping a ‘sinister and shadowy’ dossier on the private lives of campaigners trying to stop them selling land to cover their £8,000 a day losses

  • Dossier detailed campaigners addresses, personal relationships and former workplaces, it is claimed
  • Campaign group Save Dartington accused the hall of compiling the list and circulating it to 350 staff
  • Trust in Totnes, Devon, chaired by Dr Greg Harston, said list was compiled by a ‘well intentioned’ employee
  • The estate was bought by an American heiress in 1925 as a place for artists including Lucian Freud
  • It was left in a trust when they died, which is struggling financially and has had to sell off land to developers

The owners of the historic Dartington Hall Estate have been accused of keeping a ‘sinister and shadowy’ dossier on campaigners trying to stop them selling land to developers.

The detailed ‘dossier’ allegedly contained the addresses and personal relationships of activists, campaign group Save Dartington said, alongside information on their school, former workplaces, interests and activities such as music, art and gym membership.

The trust which owns the hall in Totnes, Devon, and is chaired by Dr Greg Harston, was forced to launch a desperate cost-cutting programme last year after revealing it was losing £8,000 a day. This included selling land to developers, which triggered local opposition. 

When the hall was purchased by American heiress Dorothy Elmhirst and her Yorkshire-born husband Leonard after the First World War, it was opened as a place championing an idealistic community for art, education and philosophy. It also had a boarding school attended by artist Lucian Freud and his brother and esteemed writer Clement Freud.

The trust said in a statement there was no dossier, but there was a list compiled by a ‘well-intentioned’ employee who was ‘trying to be helpful’ that was circulated before she left. Since February the trust has made savings totalling £1million.

Dartington Hall in Totnes, Devon, has been accused of compiling a list of campaigners aiming to stop it selling land to developers. The hall said that no dossier was compiled but there was a list that was distributed by a former employee

Dartington Hall had to launch a desperate cost-cutting initiative after saying it was losing £8,000 a day in 2019

The trust, which owns the hall, accepted the list was their own but said it was distributed by a ‘well-intentioned’ employee before they left their role. They said they had been engaging with community groups

Campaign group Save Dartington, which is calling for a halt to development, alleged the list was circulated to all 350 staff members at the trust. 

Its spokesman and chair of planning at Totnes Town Council Georgina Allen, 54, said she was ‘disturbed’ by the trust’s motives for creating the list. 

Save Dartington member Rob Hopkins (left) said he felt ‘really sad’ that the trust had decided to compile the list instead of ‘engaging with us’

‘It’s pretty awful really,’ she said. ‘I don’t know why they made the list, but it can’t be for anything good.’ Ms Allen’s name was at the top of the list which named at least 20 people.

‘There was personal information that shouldn’t be shared. It had information like how many houses we owned and where we worked. It must have come from Facebook or research.’

‘I think they were keeping tabs on the group. The sinister thing is sharing it with the staff, I find it intimidating. I’ve been told I’m making myself into a Joan of Arc figure, and a friend said “look what they did to her”.’

The list also allegedly contained the name of a female member of the group, who they said was listed as home-schooled.

Save Dartington member Rob Hopkins said he felt ‘really sad’ that the trust had decided to compile campaigners names ‘instead of engaging with us’.

‘They are sitting in a bunker becoming increasingly paranoid about the people that oppose them,’ he said.

‘We discovered that rather than engage constructively with Save Dartington, a database of campaigners’ details was being compiled and stored on the DHT internal shared IT system which was available to all 350 members of staff – a collection and storage of personal data without apparent lawfulness.’

The trust’s chairman Dr Greg Parston was accused of bearing ultimate responsibility for the ‘disturbing’ list and the ‘toxic impact’ it could have on the community.

The estate has been carving off sections of its 1,200-acre lands to developers since 2014, when it offered 17 fields to developers. It attempted to raise £20million in 2018 through the sale of bonds, but only got £50,000 causing the resignation of its then chief executive who said they would need to sell two large tracts of land.

The sale of two fields this year has led to accusations from the former regional MEP Caroline Voaden that they were sold without being placed on the open market, which she says is against Charity Commission guidance. 

‘Fields have been sold without being put on the open market for an undisclosed price,’ she said. ‘The community was given no option to purchase them.’ 

Dartington Hall in Totnes, Devon, has been accused of compiling a list of members of campaign group Save Dartington (pictured) along with their addresses and interests

Dartington Hall said in a statement that the list had been shared by a ‘well-intentioned’ employee. ‘As part of her role, she had been working very closely with local stakeholders and the surrounding community,’ they said. ‘A dossier was not compiled by anyone. A record did exist but it was in fact a simple list.’

‘The purpose of Dartington Hall Trust is about pioneering ways of living and learning to nurture a just and sustainable future and none of that could be done with the parlous state of its finances.

‘(A national newspaper) covered it this morning and we were really pleased with the comments from readers who understand the importance of developing the work of the estate.

‘We’re now looking forward to involving them and the many thousands of alumni and neighbours who wish the board well.’

The spokesman also said that discussions took place locally before the decision to sell the land was taken.

The Devon estate where Lucian Freud went to boarding school and Labour’s post-war manifesto was written

Painter Lucian Freud was educated at Dartington’s boarding school. He is pictured in 2010

When Dartington Hall was purchased by American heiress Dorothy Elmhirst and her Yorkshire-born husband Leonard in 1925, they aimed to create a haven away from the destruction caused by the First World War.

They set about renovating the buildings and setting up a host of farming, forestry and educational projects for the community. This was enshrined in the Dartington Hall Trust in 1932, which aimed to oversee the work.

The hall quickly became a magnet for artists, writers, philosophers and musicians the world over attracting Igor Stravinsky, TE Lawrence, Aldous Huxley and Benjamin Britten, to name a few of the intellectuals to visit.

It was also where Herbert Morrison wrote the Labour party’s post-war manifesto Let Us Face the Future, which called for a ‘prosperous peace’.

As the hall’s work expanded a prosperous boarding school was also opened, where artist Lucian Freud and his writer brother Clement Freud were both educated. It also had Dartington College of Arts, which specialised in performing arts and had an international reputation for excellence. 

After the Elmhirsts died in 1974, the estate was managed solely by the trust and, without the backing of the millionaires, quickly fell into financial difficulty.

Its boarding school was forced to shut in 1987 due to a lack of funding and by 2010 its College of Arts had been forced to relocate to Falmouth, Cornwall, where it joined the university. 

The trust still runs 16 charities including ecological initiatives, although others have been forced to close. 

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