Colchester is one of the new cities announced to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Remains of the Roman colony founded shortly after the invasion of Britain in 43 CE can still be seen including the foundations of the temple to the Divine Claudius in the foundations of the castle. Pliny the Elder, who was killed in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, mentioned the oppidum of Camulodunum (Camalodunum) in his Natural History (2.187). However the abbreviated name appears on the pre-Roman coinage of Cunobelinus.
During December the small church at Mwnt in Ceredigion was vandalised not just once but twice (“Mwnt church vandalism prompts £20k fundraising appeal“, BBC News 3 January 2022). Windows and the entrance to the churchyard were damaged. These vulnerable structures need public protection.
Four key reports are encouraging us to rethink heritage on both sides of the Thames Estuary. The RSA Heritage Index (2020) provides the data arranged by local authority to explore the contribution heritage makes in a locality. In particular, the accompanying report, Pride in Place by Hannah Webster, identifies the authorities along the Thames Estuary as having ‘heritage potential’. In other words, these areas rank highly in terms of heritage assets, but not so well in terms of heritage activities.
The RSA data for heritage in the two counties of Essex and Kent (and with sections on the Thames Estuary) are further explored in two reports by David Gill and Peter Matthews that have been issued by the Centre for Heritage at the University of Kent (2021). These three heritage reports can now be read against the Thames Heritage Levelling-up Data Atlas (2021) that was commissioned by the Thames Estuary Growth Board. This Atlas explores ten indicators in order ‘to help understand social outcomes and inequalities in a consistent way across the Estuary’.
Can the data from these reports form the starting point for interventions that would help to ‘level up’ local populations especially around the theme of health and well-being? This is particularly important as there is a strong correlation between higher levels of neighbourhood deprivation and lower arts, cultural and heritage engagement (Mak, Coulter and Fancourt 2021), and a significant body of research has demonstrated that the arts and culture can potentially impact both mental and physical health (Fancourt and Finn 2019).
In the Atlas section on ‘Health and Wellbeing’, Canterbury and Brentwood have the most active populations: only 17 and 20 per cent of the population take exercise for less than 30 minutes each week. (The average for England is 25 per cent.) Both these authorities perform well in the Heritage Index for England, ranking at 67 and 123. Specifically, Brentwood is ranked at 25 in the theme of Parks and Open Spaces, and at 95 for Landscape and Natural Heritage, while Canterbury is ranked at 223 and 35. While this could suggest that certain types of heritage asset promote good health through the provision of space for exercise, Castle Point is ranked at 52 in the Heritage Index, but 30 per cent of the population take exercise for less than 30 minutes each week.
The Atlas suggests that Canterbury, Dartford, Castle Point, Brentwood and Rochford, have better mental health than the average for England (17%); Canterbury, Rochford and Castle Point are in the top 100 in the Heritage Index for England. In addition, authorities in the Thames Estuary have a good level of Life Satisfaction with several authorities above the average for England (7.66 ex 10), notably Swale (7.78), Rochford (7.91), and Castle Point (7.99). This may reflect access to heritage assets. Rochford was ranked at 4 in the Heritage Index for Landscape and Natural Heritage; and Castle Point and Swale performed well in the rankings for Parks and Open Spaces (16/27) as well as Landscape and Natural Heritage (20/26).
The Levelling-up Atlas and the Heritage Index offer an invaluable starting point for understanding the link between heritage, and health and well-being. The data from the reports should be used by policy-makers to inform the levelling up agenda along the Thames Estuary, but it is clear that there needs to be further research into the way that local populations engage with heritage, and what can be done to improve the local assets for the wider benefit of the local population.
Professor David Gill (University of Kent) and Phil Ward (Eastern ARC)
This post was prepared for the Heritage Alliance debate, “Levelling Up: What does it mean for heritage?”, 30 November 2021.
The ground level view of the royal burial ground at Sutton Hoo is completely different to that obtained from the new viewing platform. Visitors may be unaware that the site is criss-crossed by glider ditches that were cut during the Second World War.
The new viewing platform at Sutton Hoo provides wonderful views over the burial ground. The mound that contained the key ship-burial is closest to the platform, but it is now clear to the viewer that the mound is placed in a much wider funerary setting. The mounds take on new forms seen from this height.
From the other side of the platform it is possible to see the Deben and Woodbridge, giving a sense of the proximity of the burial-ground to the river.
The temporary tower had provided some new vistas of the mounds but this new platform places the visitor in one of the key locations.
English Heritage has been asking its members for its top 10 castles. The list consists of: Dover, Kenilworth, Tintagel, Bolsover, Portchester, Warkworth, Dunstanburgh, Carisbrooke, Middleham and Beeston.
Many of these would be in my personal top 10 English Heritage castles especially Bolsover. But what would I want to include? Leaving aside the artillery forts like Pendennis and Tilbury, I would want to consider:
One of the most dramatic castles is Peveril standing above the Derbyshire village of Castleton famous for its Blue John mines.
Scarborough Castle has dramatic views over the bays on each side. It also contains a Roman signal station.
Brougham Castle lies on the site of a Roman fort on the Roman road that crossed the Pennines.
Farnham Castle dominates the town.
Castle Rising has a wonderful keep standing within earthworks.
Orford provides magnificent views over the Suffolk coast.
Hadleigh Castle provides dramatic views over the Thames estuary.
Helmsley Castle lies on the edge of the Yorkshire market town.
The National Audit Office has just published a review of the Defence Estate Optimisation (DEO) programme. Aside from the overarching conclusions that the programme isn’t going as well as it might do – in terms of speed, cost, reduced income generation and overall project management and complexity – the more interesting reading comes from a reminder of some of the facts and figures about the defence estate of relevance for heritage management and natural landscape management.
The defence estate comprises 344,200 hectares of land in the UK, which comprises 1.5% of the country’s landmass.
The built estate comprises 75,400 hectares (32% of the overall holding) containing offices, technical facilities, and storage and support for military equipment and inventory. It consists of 900 sites, which have roughly 96,000 buildings including houses, technical assets, such as storage units and training facilities, and other assets such as runways and electrical networks.
In broader landscape management terms, the rural estate comprises 157,500 hectares (68% of the overall holding) and is used for training and ranges. This land includes designated and protected areas including 13 national parks, 33 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and 11 National Scenic Areas.
Around 40% of the Department’s infrastructure is more than 50 years old and it regards 30% as not being in an acceptable condition.
The DEO programme aims for a reduction of the built estate by 30% by 2040.
The Ministry of Defence looks after significant heritage assets in terms of historic buildings/sites and landscapes – the ongoing optimisation and disposals programme presents both challenges and opportunities for its historic environment holdings in terms of ongoing maintenance and renewal needs, survival or protection, and adaptation and change under new management.
The RSA Heritage Index (2020) provides an important source for considering how heritage is placed at risk across the six counties. Norfolk has the highest percentage of Grade I listed buildings at risk with 7.7 per cent, followed by Bedfordshire at 5.3 per cent. Norfolk also has the highest percentage of Grade II* listed buildings at risk with 3.5 per cent. Grade II listed buildings are largely considered not to be at risk across the region. However, scheduled sites are far more at risk: Cambridgeshire stands at 16.6 per cent, followed by Essex at 8.7 per cent.
How can such fragile and vulnerable heritage be protected across the region?
Historic Environment Scotland has issued Version 7 of its Covid-19 Operational Policy & Minimum Operating Standards for Property Management and Visitor Operations.
The open sharing of this evolving publication by the organisation has been great to see. The first version was showcased publicly by the HES Director of Conservation, David Mitchell, back in June 2020 as part of the Covid-19 Historic Environment Resilience Forum (CHERF) event on Re-opening Venues which I chaired.
The document has been an incredibly useful resource for considering operational issues and decision-making system design for the sector to use as a comparator resource to adapt to their own situation.
From a heritage management teaching point of view, it has also been an excellent live case study to enable students to consider the organisational requirements and ramifications of decisions/actions which aren’t always obvious at visitor sites and organisational hubs.