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.
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.
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 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?
Norwich has the highest rating in the RSA Heritage Index (2020) at number 3 for England. The rankings in all seven categories are almost identical to those for 2016. The lowest score, as might be expected for an urban location, is for Landscape and Natural Heritage.
Cambridge is placed at number 9, and like Norwich does not do so well for Landscape and Natural Heritage. Like Norwich, its rankings for the different themes are very similar to those for 2016.
Southend-on-Sea, a unitary authority, is placed at number 19. Its particular strength lies in Landscape and Natural Heritage, as well as Industrial Heritage, and Museums, Archives and Artefacts. Again, note the similarity to the rankings for 2016.
Ipswich, the highest ranking authority for Suffolk, is placed at number 87 (a fall from 2016). There is an improvement in the theme of Culture and Memories, though slight falls for Parks and Open Spaces, and the General category.
Colchester in Essex is placed at number 140. It shares a museum service with Ipswich, though does not perform as well as in the theme of Museums, Archives and Artefacts. There are improvements from 2016 in the themes of Historic Built Environment, Culture and Memories, but a slight slippage for Parks and Open Spaces.
Altogether there are 11 locations in the eastern region that are placed in the top 100 for England: four in Norfolk, three for Essex (plus Southend-on-Sea), two for Suffolk, and one for Cambridgeshire.
The RSA Heritage Index, issued in the autumn of 2020, provides information on heritage at risk for each local authority. It is possible to quantify each local and unitary authority. For example, in Suffolk there are 8 Grade I, 22 Grade II*, and 3 Grade II buildings at risk; in addition, there are 25 scheduled monuments at risk.
In Cambridgeshire there are 10 Grade I, 12 Grade II*, and 2 Grade II buildings at risk; in addition, there are 56 scheduled monuments at risk.
In Norfolk there are 41 Grade I and 29 Grade II* buildings at risk; in addition, there are 18 scheduled monuments at risk.
In Essex there are 3 Grade I, 19 Grade II*, and 1 Grade II buildings at risk; there are 28 scheduled monuments at risk.
Turning the numbers into a percentage, it is possible to see that Norfolk has a particularly high percentage of Grade I buildings at risk. Cambridgeshire has a high percentage of scheduled monuments at risk.
My new biography of Dr John Disney, founder of the John Disney Chair of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge and benefactor of the Disney Marbles now displayed at the Fitzwilliam Museum, has been published by Archaeopress.
The family’s origins lay at Norton Disney in Lincolnshire where they had settled after the Norman conquest. Disney’s father, the Reverend John Disney, inherited The Hyde near Ingatestone in Essex from Thomas Brand-Hollis. The house contained the Grand Tour collection formed by Brand-Hollis and Thomas Hollis. The Reverend John Disney had met Brand-Hollis through the Unitarian Essex Street Chapel in London where he had ministered after leaving the Church of England.
John Disney inherited The Hyde from his father and presented much of the collection to the University of Cambridge. The objects were described in his Museum Disneianum. Some of the items can be traced back to his wife, Sophia, or uncle (and father-in-law), Lewis Disney-Ffytche, during their time in Naples after they had been forced to flee Paris during the Revolution. Disney-Ffytche had been the owner of Le Désert de Retz, the pleasure gardens near Paris.
Disney himself helped to establish a new museum in Chelmsford through the Chelmsford Philosophical Society. He was a key member of the Essex Archaeological Society.
1. The Disney family of Lincolnshire
2. The Break with the Church of England
3. Collectors of the Grand Tour: Thomas Hollis and Thomas Brand
4. The Disney family and Essex
5. The Hyde and its collection
6. Disney and Learned Societies
7. The Museum Disneianum and Cambridge
8. Going for Gold
9. The Disney legacy
The World of Disney: From Antiquarianism to Archaeology (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2020). ISBN 9781789698275.
The 2020 RSA Heritage Index is now available and Norwich is ranked as number 3 as a centre for heritage in England (up from number 9 in 2016). The city’s particular strengths are in Historic Built Environment (3rd up from 4th), Museums, Archives and Artefacts (7th up from 12th), and Culture and Memories (2nd down from 1st). There has also been a marked improvement for Parks and Open Space (28th up from 40th).
Norfolk as a county featured prominently. North Norfolk came 25th (up from 36 in 2016). Its main strengths included Historic Built Environment (33rd up from 71st), Landscape and Natural Heritage (22nd up from 27th), and Culture and Memories (75th up from 86th). There were also improvements in Museums, Archives and Artefacts (135th up from 141st) and Parks and Open Spaces (131st up from 137th).
Great Yarmouth did particularly well moving from 64th in 2016 to 38th. Its particular strengths were Industrial Heritage (22nd up from 40th), Parks and Open Spaces (56th up from 115th), and Historic Built Environment (85th up from 159th).
Kings Lynn and West Norfolk was ranked 54th (with a rise in Historic Built Environment, 39th), Breckland at 150th (with a rise in Historic Built Environment, 41st, and Museums, Archives and Artefacts, 117th), Broadland at 190th (with a strength in Landscape and Natural Heritage, 123rd), and South Norfolk at 219th (with a strength in Historic Built Environment, 63rd).
Across the region, Cambridge also featured in the top 10 at number 9 (up from 12th). Maldon moved from 40th to 37th (with moves in Historic Built Environment, 48th, and Museums, Archives and Artefacts, 125th), while Colchester remained unchanged at 140th (though with a move to 80th for Historic Built Environment). Ipswich fell from 70th in 2016 to 87th. East Suffolk was placed at 98th, and West Suffolk at 122nd.
The collection within Colchester Castle contains one of the best presented collections of objects from Roman Britain. It is displayed in an imaginative and engaging way from the mosaics and (funerary) sculptures to the inscriptions and pottery.
In spite of this Colchester has, surprisingly, not featured as high in the list of museums for the RSA Heritage Index.
There are still substantial remains of the Roman walls surrounding the colony at Colchester (Camulodunum). The more recent civic desire to protect the Roman heritage of the town is made clear in the signs discouraging exploration of the walls (‘by checking children … climbing upon or otherwise injuring it … any wilful damage to it’).