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.
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 top seven paid heritage visitor attractions in East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk) account for 1.1 million visitors a year (2018). Four are properties managed by the National Trust: Ickworth, Blickling Hall, Felbrigg Hall, and Oxburgh Hall. Framlingham Castle is managed by English Heritage.
There is a single museum, the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.
The Poppy Line (North Norfolk Railway) is also in the top seven.
The rich range of heritage in East Anglia contributes to the visitor economy. In ‘normal’ times Ickworth is one of the National Trust’s most visited properties (with over a quarter of a million visitors in 2018). Norwich cathedral and castle are key attractions for anyone visiting the city.
But 2020 is not going to be a ‘normal’ year.
What sort of sites will attract visitors as the heritage sector starts to re-open? Will they be the out of the way locations like Binham Priory? Or the parkland surrounding Ickworth? What about the landscape surrounding the prehistoric mines at Grimes Graves?
This Thursday, 18 June 2020, Tech East and Norfolk County Council, in partnership with the New Anglia LEP and Norfolk Chambers of Commerce, will be holding Tourism + Tech, a ½ day conference aimed at helping tourism businesses recover and grow. One of the key questions to be asked is how can digital help to grow and transform visitor economy businesses?
Key speakers include Pete Waters, Executive Director of Visit East of England, James Kindred of Big Drop Brewing Co., and Jason Middleton, Programmes Manager at New Anglia LEP.
I have been thinking about my Top 10 heritage sites in Norfolk. This is very much a personal choice, and the locations are placed in (rough) chronological order. I have tried to include a variety of types of heritage site. How can you decide between Norwich Cathedral and Norwich Castle? Or between Felbrigg and Blickling? Castle Rising and Castle Acre?
Grime’s Graves. You can descend into the Neolithic flint mines.
Burgh Castle. One of the best preserved Roman forts of the Saxon Shore.
Norwich Cathedral. The cathedral is an architectural gem and dominates the city.
Binham Priory. Part of the Benedictine priory is still in use as the parish church.
Castle Rising. This well-preserved keep is dominated by a series of earthworks.
Oxburgh Hall. The moated hall at Oxburgh contains fabulous tapestries.
Felbrigg Hall. The 17th century front to the house is a gem.
Holkham Hall. One of the most magnificent houses and Grand Tour collections in Norfolk.
The North Norfolk Railway (The Poppy Line). The journey between Sheringham and Holt provides views of the coast as well as the Norfolk countryside.
Sandringham. The Royal residence sits in the middle of extensive landscaped grounds.
The RSA Heritage Index (published in 2016) has ranked the heritage assets for different local authorities in England. Norwich is the only locality in the eastern counties to feature in the Top 10: it is placed at number 9. It is ranked first in England for ‘Cultures and Memories’, fourth for ‘Historic Built Environment’, and 12th for ‘Museums, Archives and Artefacts’.
North Norfolk, and Kings Lynn and West Norfolk are placed 36th and 48th respectively.
Outside Norfolk, Cambridge is placed at number 12, and three parts of Essex are in the top 50: Southend-on-Sea (22), Maldon (40), and Castle Point (41).