Should St Peter’s Cardross ruin be added to the national portfolio of heritage properties in care?

BBC News article

Following the collapse of the project to turn the ruins of St Peter’s Seminary at Cardross into an arts and cultural centre by arts organisation NVA, the future for the site has been looking very uncertain.  The site is still owned and managed (i.e. secured for health and safety) by the Archdiocese of Glasgow, who starkly admitted at the weekend to BBC News that the site is an ‘albatross around our neck’.

The site comes with significant conservation challenges, and it is a great shame that the development plans which had reached an advanced point were unable to proceed.  Love the building or loathe it, it is arguably an iconic site, arguable moreso in its ruined state with so many possible human responses to it. Ruins and their treatment have been back in the spotlight of late – whether via urbex (highlighted by Bradley Garrett); academic consideration such as De Silvey’s ‘Curated Decay‘; or the British Library’s recent consideration of literary responses to ruins.  Much has been written about the Cardross site itself, including a dedicated volume published by Historic Environment Scotland during the time of the most recent rejuvenation proposals.

If ever there was time for serious consideration about the site being an addition to the national portfolio of monuments held in care for the nation either via Guardianship or direct ownership of Scottish Ministers, then this is it.  The state via its national heritage agencies still (I would argue) has a moral duty to act as owner of last resort for important sites such as St Peter’s.   It is understood from the BBC News article that the Scottish Government (I assume via Historic Environment Scotland) is currently considering the site’s potential future. What better and fitting addition to the Historic Scotland catalogue of sites, which includes so many other religious buildings such as the great Border abbeys, than a 20th century building which can currently find no further use than as a ruin but which plays an ongoing role in the public psyche.  Just as English Heritage has been reinventing its approach to the national heritage estate in England, the opportunity in Cardross for Historic Environment Scotland to do something original at a ‘similar but different’ kind of site is intriguing – I hope that we may yet see the site as a new ‘property in care’ for Scotland.

Management of heritage sites by the state – researching administrative histories in Scotland

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’.