Last Thursday/Friday we had an incredible team from the Bank of England use St Clere for what it’s best used for. Houses like St Clere were built for leaders of industry and government to a) show off and b) entertain. Entertaining in the old days meant inviting other influential people (well, men really) down for a weekend. I imagine much drinking of brandy, smoking of cigars over the billiard table, and trying to shoot unfortunate pheasants out of the sky while discussing the issues of the day and thinking big, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Certainly that is what the two Governors of the Bank of England who have owned St Clere must have done. Montagu Norman was the first Governor to be governor for more than the maximum 2 year term which had been an unbreakable rule since the Bank began. Nobody knows how he broke that mould but held down the job for 24 years during one of the most chaotic times in British history, 1920-1944. There must have been some serious big thinking going on at St Clere during those times.
Today it feels like the hustle and bustle is magnified. How do people making important decisions on behalf us all find the time and space to think big? How do they even find the time and space to think small, amidst the emails to be answered and the fake news to be handled?
I think of the unfortunate folk trying to negotiate a Brexit deal, crammed into some airless conference centre with no natural light, the press scratching at the door. How can they realistically be expected to get anywhere new in the discussions? Surely a bit of fresh air, a walk in the woods and a good view to remind them of the big picture is going to be more conducive to imaginative and constructive conversations?
We’ve had all sorts of groups at St Clere; tech, spiritual, business. Usually it’s top secret when people come here, so I’m especially grateful to the Bank of England for letting me name them.
(As an aside, if anyone is considering a career in central banking, I highly recommend it, they were an extraordinarily lovely bunch.) I’d like to be able to tell you what they talked about but clearly I’d have to kill you. Plus, I’d have to have understood what they were talking about. But they all left saying that they had given themselves the opportunity to think differently and bigger and better. It is just amazing to feel that St Clere has contributed, even a tiny amount, to better thinking in this crazy world.