From transit to tapas and trinkets

Coal Drops Yard has now opened behind King’s Cross Station, London. Whilst snagging jobs are still being completed, and with retail units still to fill, the site remains a work in progress in a rebirth that has seen the area’s legacy of historic buildings change from hosting goods yards and activities associated with the railways and canals, to retail and catering outlets at the ‘craft’ and ‘high end’ of the commercial spectrum. New architectural interventions have been added, such as the striking new roof over the west side of the coal yard, and in fully redundant plots brownfield redevelopment is seeing new office and retail blocks with strong design signatures distinctly of their time. Residential blocks combine old and new forms, including the striking Gas Holder blocks of flats.

Following the successful heritage-led redevelopments previously of the main King’s Cross and St. Pancras Stations, the whole area is now a fascinating amalgam of old and new, and epitomises our shifting relationship with places of transit which now tempt us to dwell longer rather than pass through.

Leaving traces in the landscape

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Duntulm, Skye © David Gill

Concerns are being raised about visitors creating piles of cairns that detract from the landscape (Michael Cox, ‘Beaches ‘spoiled’: Should rock stacking be banned?‘, BBC News 11 August 2018). John Hourston of the Blue Planet Society is quoted: ‘The first rule of the environment is leave no trace … If we educated people to understand that philosophy I think then people would have second thoughts about making a personal statement with a rock stack.’

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Neist Point, Skye © David Gill

The issue is not just one for Scotland. This summer we observed the phenomenon on Lindisfarne, Northumberland.

Tourists need to leave the landscape as they find it.

A question of ownership of national heritage assets

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.

Fixed Frontiers

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Walltown Crags, Hadrian’s Wall © David Gill

As you stand on the northern edge of the Roman Empire it is hard not to speculate on why Hadrian decided to replace the string of forts along the military road (the Stanegate) to a fixed military frontier. Equally important is the economic cost: of the construction, but then of the garrison and upkeep of the defences. And was it effective? Within a generation the line was abandoned and the frontier moved north to the Antonine Wall.

Walking the walk

The best way to explore heritage close up is, of course, on foot.  Heritage explorers typically spend more time looking up at the buildings, sites and features around them than looking down at the ground, but a new site recently launched in the US, and featured on the architectural design newsletter Curbed, is encouraging us to consider the history which our feet are padding across.

 

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“Plan of the City of Toronto,” 1909, using color and hatching to show different types of pavement.  (Toronto Reference Library)

Historic Pavement, developed by Robin B. Williams, Ph.D., Chairman, Architectural History department, Savannah College of Art and Design is setting out to document the remarkable diversity of historic street and sidewalk pavement design in America. It’s quirky and great – and in the About section, I am particularly thrilled that a fellow heritage fanatic was inspired by oddities when young. (I should admit that I spent hours, aged 6 or 7, creating a primary school project on the varied design of lamp-posts in my home town).

Here in the UK, Historic England (then English Heritage) ran a campaign over a decade ago, entitled Streets for All, which looked on a regional level at the management of streets holistically to make the most of the historic features and design which ‘modern’ highway management often made a mess of.  Pavement design and materials were considered in this work, along with wider street furniture (benches, signs, barriers) – and it is interesting or depressing (depending on your point of view) to see which bits of advice and guidance have been followed or ignored in the period since.

 

street-furnitureThe formalities of street design and management is all well and good (see the English Government’s current Department for Transport guidance), but aesthetics of the places we spend time wandering along are important – this is reflected in the more recent guidance produced to support Listing criteria, on Street Furniture.

 

I am reminded again, therefore, to spend time looking up and down.

 

 

 

 

Big Butterfly Count and Heritage Sites

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Small tortoiseshell at Castle Acre © David Gill

The UK Big Butterfly Count started on 15 July and runs until 7 August. On Thursday evening the pits at Grime’s Graves were alive with Meadow Browns.

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Meadow Brown at Grime’s Graves © David Gill

On Saturday there was a particularly fine Small Tortoiseshell in the reconstructed herb garden at Castle Acre.

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Medicinal herb garden at Castle Acre © David Gill

In previous years I spotted a Small White on the lavender in the gardens of Bolsover Castle.

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Small White at Bolsover Castle © David Gill

Why not take a pen and paper (form available) or download the app, and record how many butterflies you spot when you next visit a heritage site? Then upload it to the Big Butterfly Count.

Future past – scenario planning and heritage

The futureBack in 2010, as part of a long-standing research collaboration with Dr Simon Gilmour (Director of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland), I hosted a workshop for the Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) on scenario planning.  The underlying issue, which has not gone away, is that many historic environment organisations don’t fully engage with the the philosophy and tools of management as a subject in its own right.  I would argue that this is still the case (and gave a talk on this in our Heritage Futures Seminar Series at UCS last year): to some extent I am a bit of a broken record on this front, perhaps not surprising given my role as head of the University’s business school.  However, in preparing a reflection on the future of the historic environment in Scotland for a fascinating project entitled “Visions, Irrespective“, being co-ordinated by Ann Packard and Deborah Mays within the RSA Fellows’ Media, Creative Industries and Cultural Heritage Special Interest Group (MCICH), I dug out the visions of the future which Simon and I authored at the turn of the last decade.  It is interesting to consider what has already come to pass, what is in the offing, and what may yet be on the horizon.  The scenarios are reproduced below, and can also be found within the BEFS Workshop Report.  The “Visions, Irrespective” project of which more anon, is providing a useful discussion platform within the RSA on what the future of culture in Scotland might be, post referendum, ideas for development, and inter/intra-professional debate. Heritage and the historic environment, both tangible and intangible, are being touched on from a range of cultural angles, and in a world (Scotland) where there are seismic changes underway to the management and organisation of the sector, before the even more seismic changes that might occur to the country itself, it is proving fascinating to consider possibilities and opportunities.  I will post the full vision/reflection at a future date, when the physical conversations have moved on a little, and we will work on some updated scenario stories to reflect the horizon scanning we continue to ponder over.

 


 

Scenarios for Scotland’s Historic Environment Sector [2010]
Authors: Prof. Ian Baxter & Dr Simon Gilmour (Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)
[Extract from BEFS / GCU Workshop Report: Scotland’s Historic Environment – Visioning the Future. August 2010]

2025 is a year of expectation

Scottish Government expenditure finally reached 2009-10 levels after a period of unprecedented change in the public sector while the private sector crawled slowly from the double-dip recession of 2009-2011. The referendum on independence of 2012 didn’t quite reach the majority required, but stimulated much greater fiscal responsibility being passed from Westminster to the Scottish Government, and the overarching economic environment drove successive governments into similar strategies. In addition, population reduction in Scotland has increased wage bills and reduced tax income while also reducing unemployment and spare time! Renewable energy and food production for export has brought wind turbines into the arable land which has, in turn, through increasing temperatures, wetter weather and reduction of seasonality, increased production both year round and into upland areas. The problem of soil enrichment is fast becoming a major topic, with genetic manipulation in plant and enzyme development helping to maintain production. The competition between the timber plantation landscapes of the decade after 2010 and the new upland arable landscapes has intensified. The seas around the coasts of Scotland are populated by massive wind and wave production projects, which, when coupled with the introduction of the Marine Act has helped to produce a relatively vibrant inshore area, with artificial reefs and protected areas encouraging plants and animals and the density of development discouraging large-scale trawl fishing.

The new public sector, with increased emphasis on the end-user, or citizen, has benefited greatly from the technological developments of the last 10 years, with permanent high-speed online wireless access available anywhere in Scotland. The citizen can not only access their personal information and Socialbook environment, but the new iDevice can let them see their location on Head Up Displays in any time period they wish, with full access to all the online publications relating to that location, or proposed location, with immediate booking of the nearest available transport infrastructure or accommodation with the wave of a hand. Seamlessly overlaying the real world with data from past worlds has brought the citizen into immediate contact with the complexity of their history and has promoted as strong sense of identity which is providing encouragement for the upcoming new referendum on Scottish independence, with re-aligned borders.

Having this access to a historical virtual reality has helped to solidify the importance of the historic environment in the minds of citizens and politicians. The last minute Stage 3 introduction to the Historic Environment (Amendment)(Scotland) Bill in 2011 of the need for planning decisions to take account of historic environment expertise derived from information managed to place a solid foundation for the drastic changes forced onto the public sector, local authorities and voluntary organisations during the unprecedented public sector cuts of the 2010s. The sector landscape changed and new organisations were created, all to ensure the provision of heritage advice against strict financial pressure. The merging of Local Authorities was paralleled with the creation of a new Heritage Scotland. This body works closely with all public organisations and the general citizen, ensuring a consistent standard of advice and professionalism across Scotland and undertaking the provision of expert heritage advice to all through its regionally organised operations. Formed by the merger of parts of Historic Scotland, the RCAHMS and the inclusion of the services previously provided by multiple Local Authorities, the new quango represents the whole historic environment, treating all areas of the past, protected and unprotected, on land and under the water, equally, and applying national and regional criteria to any decision making process. Their recording teams assess entire landscapes and are about to complete the five year high-resolution mapping of the landscape and underseascape of Scotland in conjunction with the renewable energy companies.

Visit Scotland has completed the merger of Visit Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the properties formerly in the care of Scottish Ministers, to provide, in collaboration with advice from Heritage Scotland, a well-maintained cultural landscape that forms the centrepoint of the visitor experience. Close ties between the new national bodies has allowed the development of the data underpinning the new technology for the citizen and expert alike, and has facilitated an unprecedented degree of access to Scotland’s past by the rest of the world.

The voluntary sector worked hard to maintain some semblance of third party oversight to these changes in a period of declining voluntary time and public money, and increasing commercial desperation. Politicians and Government, seeing the necessity to stimulate the economy in any way possible, encouraged rapid development wherever it appeared possible; the third sector fought for the legislative addition to the Amendment Bill, then closely scrutinised the development of the new bodies to ensure the historic environment was not put in jeopardy during the changes. Increased community involvement however, despite the lack of formal volunteering time for experts, has stimulated a wave of projects, excited by the new technologies and working in close partnership with the newly created bodies, which are providing detailed records and greater understanding of the historic environment than would be possible by the national organisations alone.

The University sector, having reduced history, archaeology, conservation and similar themes to one-man bands clinging onto Scientific Schools are beginning to invest again in the culture of heritage, with a clear understanding of the needs of the citizen in terms of trained experts who can analyse, understand and convey importance of the past to them. In partnership with the commercial heritage companies who survived the double-dip through the planning conditions applied to developments by the new Heritage Scotland, and thriving in the period of increased sustainable development thereafter, the Universities train the new heritage managers of tomorrow in the twin skills of on-site recording and understanding, with the minutiae of value led management of the historic environment.

Having been through an extended period of unprecedented change, the face of the historic environment sector has changed completely, but the sector survived, and is looking forward to a new era of prosperity with more development and change inevitable, but a clear purpose to pass on the heritage of Scotland to our children, and their children’s children.

 

Alternative Scenario for 2025

While public finance has finally reached 2009-10 levels again, there has been a real cost to the historic environment in the intervening years. The pressure on the landscape and seascape placed by forestry and then sustainable energy has wiped much of the historic character from our countryside and the unfettered development required to dig the economy out of the double-dip recession has changed the face of our cities. Having access to a historical virtual reality through the development of technology has proven crucial given the destruction of the historic environment in the years around 2015, when no-one was able to defend the sense of place defined by the physical history around them. The landscape changed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, with education replacing recording and protection of the historic environment. The informed management of change was simply impossible outside the strict legally protected areas, since the advice given in planning decisions was bereft of any expertise or conditions relating to the historic character of the development site and its setting. The spread of woodland and then arable agriculture reduced even the look of the rural landscape to a vague memory of what it used to be. Local accountability, while helping to manage change in areas where this historic past was already valued for its commercial attractiveness, wasn’t able to access the expert advice required to understand the historic environment and the changes about to be wrought, and the value placed on this asset was realised too late, once it had gone, only to be resurrected on a HUD. Central Edinburgh, once a World Heritage Site, now swapped historic place with commercial enterprise, high density, high-rise commercial property dominates the skylines, and many took advantage of the reduced price energy devices being touted by the massive sustainable energy sector to help power their homes and businesses.

In partnership with the two commercial heritage companies still in existence in Scotland, both of which are parts of wider European companies, and many of which disappeared as the planning conditions applied to developments dried up in the face of lack of planning decision expertise in such matters, the Universities train the new heritage managers of tomorrow in the presentation of what is left of the historic environment to the tourism market, hungry for yet more mythologizing about Scotland’s past based on an out-of-date record. The RCAHMS was long-ago subsumed into Historic Scotland to create Heritage Scotland, but the core enterprise of recording sites was soon lost in the rush to try and protect what we already had in the face of mounting pressure from developers and politicians trying desperately to stimulate the economy by whatever means possible. The only legal and practical recourse being those sites defined as Listed or Scheduled, and of these only the absolute best, or nationally important, were actively protected. Anything without a legal basis was fair game, and so the expert advice provided to planning applications, and the wider benefits of community involvement in the past which those experts engendered were lost; World Heritage Site status was lost for many of Scotland’s prize possessions, the Antonine Wall being first to go, followed by Edinburgh, and then New Lanark. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney was on an endangered list and St Kilda, while maintaining its status, simply wasn’t maintained at all, especially after the loss of the National Trust for Scotland as an independent entity in the face of economic and political pressure.

The development of Visit Scotland with the addition of the properties in care of Scottish Ministers and the reduced NTS property portfolio, focused attention on the high earning sites, easy to reach in an era of inflated fuel costs and necessarily requiring bigger and more ambitious gimmicks to “sell” themselves to the tourist, aggravated by a lack of real knowledge on their importance and historic value. The third sector was decimated by the public sector cuts, and the Government finances dried up to the extent that many disappeared, and those that survived did so as 1950‟s-60‟s style one-man-bands with as much voluntary input as the reduced and exhausted Scottish population could provide. Community projects necessarily had to combine, and those that did so early and looked for alternative sources of funding survived, just. The remains of the sector protested loudly at the loss of our historic environment, but it was drowned out by an unprecedented financial context and limited by the lack of expertise left in the sector!

And so the historic environment survives as a three dimensional image on a head-up-display, blogged by Social-books to the extent that the reality is lost to the factoids, the historic environment sector is changed forever.