I was a student there over thirty years ago during the heyday for performance arts courses. The BA in Performance Arts was the first in the country, and I was the second year to go through – experimental, free, creative times. We were so lucky to have been students then. In those days the grounds and buildings were in good repair – those wonderful sweeping lawns, the huge cedars, the dramatic statuary and the terrace with a view of the lake and the distant obelisk. There were formal gardens, an orangery that housed the music block, a magnificent wisteria walk, and everywhere we went the sound of students practising music. Only the Japanese water garden was a secret, overgrown, enchanting place we discovered one afternoon, ducking under low hanging tree and banks of overgrown shrubs to find it.
Over the years I’ve seen the gradual decline of both the gardens and the buildings each time I’ve visited, but it was most marked on Saturday. It was a glorious day – the meadows deep with long grasses, Vetch, Stitchwort, and Buttercups, the distant trees dark and lush. We walked around the lake with its views of the mansion, to the Japanese garden – now beautifully restored as the rest falls into decline. Below the mansion the lawns were overgrown; thistle standing sharp amidst the swathes of silver grass.
There were security guards with dogs patrolling the buildings but we walked undisturbed up to dance studio A, which looked just as if the last class had only just vacated it. Through the window the mirrors reflected back our image, the drapes were still hanging, the wooden floor shiny and perfect.
We walked through the overgrown formal gardens, and up the wisteria walk to the elegant wrought iron gates and then into another overgrown field, past buildings fallen into neglect. It had a wonderful and sad kind of beauty.
Last month I watched the Channel 4 documentary drama about Trent Park’s role during WW2, Spying on Hitler's Army - The Secret Recordings. As students we all knew that it had been a prison of war camp, though we had no idea of the significance of this – we were told stories that seem highly unlikely now that the lake was full of barbed wire. Far more likely I think that all the bugging equipment was pitched into the lake for want of a better place to hide it. What an extraordinary thought that even the trees were bugged and every conversation between the German officers was documented. If only we’d known it would have made our stay there even more potent and dramatic.
Nostalgia is a sweet and powerful emotion. I have more nostalgia about this place than any other. We were young and it was an incredible three years, full of creativity, absurdity, hope, and challenge.
For information about a site specific project The Secret Listeners, based on the role of Trent Park during the war, and directed by ex student Thomas Kampe, see http://www.secretlisteners.com/index.html