I have just arrived back in China for one of my regular trips in my role as Confucius Institute director for Heriot-Watt University. The sheer scale of heritage sites, cultural parks and the effect that scale has on heritage management practice never ceases to fascinate me particularly from the air as I arrive in Beijing. Sadly I didn’t have my camera to hand on this trip as the plane banked around the city from north to south to bring me in to the new Daxing airport, but the visibility was good enough to again identify stretches of the Great Wall to the north, and then a number of urban parks and cultural sites as we got closer to our landing point. Regardless of differences in management philosophies for heritage between the west and the east, one of the major factors that we sometimes fail to really appreciate is the sheer scale for heritage conservation which China faces in both the rural and urban landscape.
The management of sites raises issues about how to conserve, preserve and present built monuments. These two images taken from the upper side of House 6 shows how the walls have been made visible. House 7 beyond (and to the left) is now more clearly defined. Note the broad swathes of neatly clipped grass that allow the visitor to move from house to house.
The raised visiting platform behind House 6 allows the visitor to gain a good impression of the site as well as the house plans.
The Lake District in north-west England was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017 [UNESCO]. The listing notes, “a distinctive cultural landscape which is outstanding in its harmonious beauty, quality, integrity and on-going utility and its demonstration of human interaction with the environment”.
The Save the Lake District group wishes to protect this internationally recognised landscape from any further damage. The group is calling on the Lake District National Park to take steps to protect this fragile environment. The issue surrounds the use of the so-called ‘Green Roads‘.
The concerns are covered by the BBC: “Lake District authority ‘violating World Heritage status’“, BBC News 14 April 2018.
Managing unwanted birds can be be a problem at heritage sites. The team at the National Trust’s Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk has installed a kite raptor on one of the gatehouse towers to deter nesting birds.
This does not seem to have made much of an impact on two pigeons nesting on the top of the adjacent chimney stack.
Piecing together the administrative history of heritage properties in care (as an organisational function rather than as decisions relating to individual sites) inevitably requires documentary analysis from a number of sources. Investigating organisations in Scotland which oversaw the national historic sites portfolio, is complicated further by the relationship and stages of devolution of responsibilities between Ministries in London and the former Scottish Office (now Scottish Government). The National Records of Scotland provides a useful research guide for Scottish Government records in the period post-1707 (post Union).
Whilst many responsibilities were transferred to the Scottish Office in the post-War period, responsibility for the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland (which advised on conservation issues) was only transferred from the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works to the Scottish Secretary of State Edinburgh in 1966 (and put under the auspices of the Development Department) . Formal responsibilities for ancient monuments, royal parks and palaces was not transferred to the Development Department until 1969. Some aspects of Scottish heritage management are covered in research mentioned before as part of the Men from the Ministry project led by Simon Thurley at the then English Heritage, and records for the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works (and its successors – the Department of the Environment, and Property Services Agency) are held at the National Archives in Kew.
The Scottish-based records are catalogued as: Ministry of Works/Department of Environment/Property Services Agency (MW)
Ancient monuments, 1794-1975 (MW1); royal palaces, parks and gardens, 1816-1968 (MW2-3); public buildings, 1808-1979 (MW5).
As the Historic Buildings & Monuments section within the Scottish Development Department gradually coalesced under the Historic Scotland banner (prior to its formal creation as an Executive Agency), records are also held and catalogued as follows:
Historic Scotland – see Scottish Office Development Department
Ancient monuments case files, from 1859 (DD27) and historic buildings, from 1952 (DD32).
The Scottish Office Central Services (SOE) files have a catalogue relating to Manpower and Organization (SOE1) which contains information on the way in which the Development Department functions were organised, so these are a further line of enquiry for administrative histories of heritage.
There are also inter-relationships with other sites and functions of Government which now may be considered as part of the wider heritage or cultural landscape and therefore other organisations with heritage-related responsibilities (property and land management) are worth considering – this includes Railways and Canals (Ministry of Transport); Forestry (Forestry Commission); countryside recreation and nature protection (Countryside Commission); and Museums and Galleries (formally under the Scottish Office Education Department).
For detailed consideration of individual buildings / monuments, the research guides to Buildings, Canal Records, Lighthouses and Railway Records provide signposts. Additionally, Historic Scotland commissioned Morag Cross to produce a Bibliography of monuments in the care of the Secretary of State for Scotland in 1994, produced as an Occasional Paper by the University of Glasgow’s Archaeology Department, which is a key source of information, as (of course) are organisational records currently held within Historic Scotland (now Historic Environment Scotland) rather than those ‘archived’.
There has been some recent press coverage in The Scotsman about plans by the Royal Collection Trust to create holiday flats in Abbey Strand – buildings that form part of the complex of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. This has been picked up subsequently in a debate on the ownership of the heritage asset and who picks up the bill for managing it.
Asset ownership in the public sector has come into focus of late, partly because of austerity forcing public bodies to rationalise their building stock and use to cut costs, and also because of the move to empower communities (particularly in Scotland) to take ownership of, or responsibility for buildings that were previously run by national or local Government agencies.
In the heritage sector, this has prompted Historic Environment Scotland to consult the public on its policy and guidance for Asset Transfer – which in theory could open elements of the national historic properties portfolio up for alternative ownership or management models. At one point in the consultation process the list of assets were described, somewhat erroneously as a ‘shopping list of castles’. In fact, many of the properties that could be transferred are ancillary buildings such as car parks and ticket huts, as the main historic property is either held only in Guardianship (for a private owner) or is a Crown holding.
Anything to do with land ownership is of course complicated and can get tied up with wider society arguments on equity and access – and as the debate on the Palace of Holyroodhouse demonstrates – it is a real rabbit hole to explore ownership and organisational management responsibility of heritage assets (buildings and land) in particular where the ‘public organisational realm’ is concerned. Any investigation soon throws up all kinds of interesting historical quirks and complicated relationships between ownership and management and sometimes a collective scratching of heads.
Ancient title of ownership associated with the Monarchy and Government, regulated by law such as the Crown Lands Act (and subsequent associated legislation) nonetheless makes for fascinating investigation – in some respects these lands and properties have formed part of the core of the national collections of historic properties, which are now managed by Historic Environment Scotland, English Heritage and Cadw. But, also in the mix of heritage asset owners and managers are other Governmental or public bodies such as Historic Royal Palaces, the Royal Parks, the Crown Estate (and new Crown Estate Scotland body), the Ministry of Defence, the Courts Service and on a wider landscape scale bodies such as the Forestry Commission.
Being the UK, there are some delightful quirks to be discovered in organisations such as the Crown Estate Paving Commission, which manages and maintains areas of Crown Land around the Regent’s Park and Carlton House Terrace in London, and the Duchy of Lancaster which holds land and property in trust for the Sovereign. Management of the elements of what might be considered the national heritage estate is therefore as varied as the properties themselves.
A glorious evening earlier this week prompted a visit on the way home from work to Balvaird Castle, one of Historic Environment Scotland’s historic properties. Balvaird is a ‘free to visit at any reasonable time’ site, located just inside Perthshire. Currently the site grounds and building exterior are the only part of the castle which are accessible, with the entry on the HES website noting somewhat curtly, ‘View Exterior Only’.
The site, however, provides an opportunity to examine an archaeology of visitor experience and tourism at a location which clearly sits on the edge of ‘viability’ as a visitor attraction, with vestiges of different property management and tourism promotion regimes still visible in different aspects of both the physical / tangible and virtual / intangible experience.
The site has a substantial car park area, although this is not always accessible, and a warning sign prohibits overnight parking. The car park was locked on my visit (and has been locked on each visit I have made over the past few years, so I am not sure if it can still be used to park in). There is a small amount of usable parking space in the turning area between the car park and the access track to the castle.
At the bottom of the track leading up to the castle is a small building of an interesting shape and design reminiscent of the old ticket office buildings constructed by the then Ministry of Works/Department of the Environment for properties in care. It contains a door and very small window in a niche on the side facing the castle access track, and it is not clear what function this building fulfilled given it’s somewhat odd shape.
The site is now unstaffed so the building is secured, and an old style Historic Scotland interpretation panel provides a basic site overview. Part of the panel has been obscured, giving details of interior opening of the tower that used to be provided during the months of July, August and September.
The attempt to obscure the historic opening details has been damaged by visitors/vandals wanting to read the text which had been covered up. A tantalising situation is therefore created for the expectant visitor – the site has previously been more accessible than it is now. A newly installed (2016/17) small sign at the entrance to the track provides another piece of site access information, focusing (somewhat incongruously and unfortunately) on dog mess, but also pointing visitors to the HES website for further information.
The access track to the site, gated (and locked) is an uphill walk of around 5 minutes. To get onto the track, the visitor must go around the gate through an opening in the low brick wall which forms the boundary to the car park. The track itself is well maintained, and is used for vehicular access to the site for grounds and conservation maintenance.
As the visitor climbs the hill to the tower house, it becomes easier to appreciate the completeness of the main building, and it’s prominent setting and defensive capabilities in the landscape.
As the base of the tower is reached, a further remnant of visitor management is encountered – a small stone wall enclosure with access steps to brown Olympic modular ‘pod’ buildings, with the clear design function of a former custodian’s ticket office. This is again typical of the smaller site visitor management solutions deployed by MoW/DOE in the late 1970s and 80s. Adjoining the ticket hut is a further smaller hut (presumably a toilet) and water tank. All three structures are boarded up and in a poor state of repair.
On passing the redundant ticket hut, the track turns into the main tower house enclosure, and peters out into a stone inlaid path which then transitions onto mown grass turf. The interior footprint of the main site combines typical closely mown grass turf and substantial gravel path access through the vestibule and to the tower house door.
The visitor can explore around the base of the main tower house, the ancillary buildings around the inner courtyard, and can look down onto the surrounding outer courtyard area (now meadow-length grass with cut path around edge), and the wider agricultural landscape which the castle commands a view over. Two of the older style interpretation panels (from the early 1990s) provide a short historical context and overview of the overall site, and further information on the tower house itself. Notable features within the tower house are highlighted and illustrated, although of course, the visitor cannot access these.
The text is fairly sparse, though does provide a basic historical context for the site, its owners and the building and development of the castle complex. The illustrations and cut-away tower plan gives just about enough information for visitor, but the completeness of the tower, and the fact that you can see access points and guardrails on the roof of the gatehouse and the battlements of the tower clearly suggest that the interior of the building is worth seeing.
Conservation work has been undertaken on the tower, and recent conservation work is apparent due to the existence of temporary barriers around the door to the tower, and hessian covering over carved insignia over the tower door. The covering is blowing loose and fairly tattered, suggesting that the conservation work is perhaps inactive. No information is provided about this work for the visitor.
It is worth pointing out that I have not consulted the conservation management files for the site, held by Historic Environment Scotland, but as an initial scoping exercise in considering the ‘archaeology’ of management, a number of lines of thought emerge. The site has undergone quite substantial conservation and visitor management interventions:
- initial building conservation works on the tower in particular (including roofing, access walkways, security) have been carried out;
- investment has been made into hard landscaping for site paths, access areas and parking;
- interpretation has been provided, and reviewed (there are three ‘phases’ of interpretation still in existence on the site – early 1990s panels; late 1990s/2000s panel in car park; new access information panel in 2016/17);
- active grounds maintenance is undertaken (turf cared for, mown paths around site, litter cleared)
- nature conservation measures employed through gradation in mowing across different areas of site (on my visit I spotted a weasel or stoat clambering about in the stone walls of the outer enclosure)
- visitor management facilities have been provided (substantial car park, access building at car park, separate custodian / ticket office facilities at main site)
- different types of site opening / access have been provided at various stages in the site’s history as a property-in-care (evidenced by the obscuring of summer tower opening on the sign in the car park)
The main HES website entry for the site provides little more information than can be accessed directly on the site, though there are very short pieces of information provided for Site overview, Opening, Getting there, and History. There is therefore an ‘interpretation deficit’ on the site in its current form given the limited information which is provided to the visitor, given that it is described as an “unusually complete tower house complex”, having “..an ingenious design which sets it apart from its contemporaries..”.
The Canmore entry on the National Monuments Record does provide some further information and images, including limited details of findings form archaeological work undertaken during the restoration period of the site in the 1980s and 90s. This information however is largely technical description rather than interpretation design for the visitor to understand the site better.
Having been a Life Member of Historic Scotland since 1990, I don’t recall the castle ever being highlighted as a ‘paid access’ site, which also raises interesting questions about the visitor facilities which have been provided for the site. Assuming that these were built at the time of restoration work, a period which coincides with the establishment of Historic Scotland as a separate management agency with associated commercial tourism expectations – did this site ever get opened fully as an attraction? Were the visitor facilities abandoned before they were used or very soon after they were provided? If they were used, what made the site viable or unviable as a staffed site over time? Can the site still be accessed by special arrangement, and what might be done to revive interest, or increase access by other (virtual / interpretative) means to the site?
As with any excavation, various key pieces of information are missing, and this ‘tourism archaeology’ initial survey needs to be followed up to ascertain other pieces of information from conservation and properties-in-case site management documentation held back in Edinburgh. This in turn is likely to lead to a prompt some analysis of the organisational decision-making within the different parts of (then) the Scottish Development Department and subsequently Historic Scotland to see how the site was considered and decisions made at the time. This analysis is informed by the the US National Parks Service’s approach to understanding ‘administrative histories‘ and allied social history of conservation explored in the likes of Thurley’s ‘Men from the Ministry‘ and associated English Heritage research project. In intellectual terms, this approach also aligns to management history, a long established field of interest, with its own academic journal, and of course historical aspects of tourism management and site interpretation. More work to follow therefore to understand more about Balvaird – the administrative history of which forges the latter part of the historical (and future) story of the monument.
As a footnote to this piece of tourism archaeology, the investigation is satisfying an long-standing itch which the site triggered in me – my mother tells me a story of my parents taking me to visit the site when I was a toddler before any conservation work had been undertaken on the site. They could get me to walk as far as the entrance vestibule but no further – my heels dug in to the ground rigid. No amount of encouragement or cajoling could get me past the threshold. Something had spooked me. Many years later, however, as a school pupil about to go to University to study archaeology (and not having visited the site since), I persuaded the stone masons who were working on the restoration of the tower to let me don a hard hat and explore inside under their supervision. I have therefore been lucky enough to ‘visit’ the site fully, and climb out onto the parapets. I have inevitably been drawn back to explore further!