Encountering Edward

The faintest rumour that dynamite and bulldozers were en route to Snowdon to carve out images of the greatest British Prime Ministers in the rockface of the national mountain would trigger spectacular riots.

Britain does not have a Mount Rushmore. Nor is there great demand to create one.

Certainly, large numbers of us do not beat a path to the former homes of political leaders to pay respects.

This is one reason why this year the home of the late Conservative PM Edward Heath will close to the public. The charitable trust which has maintained the large Salisbury property plans to sell it and use the proceeds to support musical and educational charities.

Westminster is still filled with Thatcherites and Blairites but I have never met a self-described Heathite, which makes it seem odd there was any attempt to make his home a tourist attraction. Surely a man who had few disciples is unlikely to draw pilgrims?

But regardless of your political stripes, it is worth making the journey to the house he knew as Arundells before the gates lock shut.

Its two acres of grounds are located in one of the world’s most beautiful neighbourhoods, Salisbury’s Cathedral Close. The spire stands over the gardens like an Apollo rocket and the view creates an instant sense of both awe and serenity.

This is not a tour of a home where history was made – there is no armchair from which he decided to sink a Belgrano or invade Iraq.

Rather, we glimpse what a private and enigmatic individual wanted to reveal. We see models of his racing yachts; there is his beloved Steinway and the dining table is laid out as if in preparation for one of his famed lunches.

On the top of the piano there are photographs of world leaders he met, including Bill Clinton, Fidel Castro, Indira Gandhi Willy Brandt and Richard Nixon.

Visitors are shown his giant CD collection, the once state-of-the-art hi-fi, and the paintings by Churchill in which he took immense pride. It is as if Heath wanted to show us that he was a man with passions and loves.

We learn more about an Englishman who was at the country’s helm as the sun sank on the British Empire by looking at the curios, trophies and knick-knacks that – for at least several more weeks – fill his home than the grandeur of Rushmore can tell us about the secret life of Lincoln.

In trying to make sense of how his books on art and his musical instruments brought him pleasure that could address the isolation and disappointment which defined his later decades, you encounter not an Alpha Male PM but a very human being; and that is worth any price of admission.

A Thursday column