AFTER more than 30 years’ service Sir Edward Heath’s former right hand man, who helped transform his former home into a museum, has retired.

Stuart Craven began working for the former prime minister as a gardener in 1985, he soon became his trusted lieutenant and became the Arundells’ curator after the MP’s death in 2005.

Starting from scratch, Mr Craven catalogued his possessions and produced the first tour guide, building visitor numbers to more than 15,000 a year just three years after opening in 2008.

“Because I knew all the artwork and all his possessions it was a natural progression I guess,” he said.

“He is part of our history, whether or not you are a Conservative voter. It was a very generous gift on his part to open it to the public and I’ve always had a respect for that.

“But it will seem odd after 30 years because it has been my home as well.”

It was a long road to open the former home to the public after they initially struggled to get planning permission before disagreements among the trustees and spiralling debts nearly led to the house being sold. But, after funding from millionaire businessman Peter Batey, The Friends of Arundells were able to save the museum.

“We struggled with all the negative publicity because people assumed we had closed and it is only in the past couple of years that the visitor numbers have started to pickup,” he said.

“We still need to find new ways to make money. It does need work and it is expensive to maintain. It is a medieval house so there are elements of it that need work but have been put off because we haven’t got the money to do it.”

Despite this, Mr Craven believes that the museum is in a good shape to continue to grow and stay open. This comes despite a difficult 2015 for Arundells which saw them first lose a planning application for extra evening events, before a number of historical allegations involving child sexual abuse were made against Sir Edward.

These are allegations strongly denied by everyone associated with Arundells and they remain confident his name will be cleared.

While working for Sir Edward, Mr Craven said he was introduced to people from all walks of life, from famous artists to cricketers. Many of them would leave gifts to the former MP and, since his death, Mr Craven says he has enjoyed researching the many artefacts to find out more about their history.

“I love the art in the house, it has always been of interest to me to find out why he bought certain things,” he said. “A lot of the painters here are from the New England Arts Club, and of course there are a lot of gifts.

“The two Churchill [paintings] were a gift from Churchill. He was a prolific painter and Heath was his whip, so he had a close bond and so said to him ‘I’ll give you a couple of my paintings’.

“He was very lucky to acquire these things.”

Mr Craven described it as a real privilege to have worked at the house and said he was looking forward to seeing somebody else put in fresh ideas.

The new curator is Ivan Smith who previously spent seven years working for the National Trust.

The house is currently seeking volunteers and a recruitment day is taking place at the house on February 23 from 11am to 4pm. Email ivan@ for more information.

  • Arundells reopens to the public on March 14. It will be open for general admission on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

On Tuesday and Wednesday guided tours will take place.