Thursday 3 December 2015

Thursday, 3 December 2015


Saving Our Heritage II


In today’s Daily Telegraph (p.13) I spotted a disturbing article entitled, Historic buildings at mercy of council cuts.  The piece spells out Historic England’s fears that public spending cuts are leaving older and listed properties extremely vulnerable.  Spurred on in part by popular television programmes, there is a rising trend to redevelop old buildings, but the policing of such projects by local councils is becoming increasingly difficult.  According to The Telegraph, “The number of archaeological specialists employed by councils has fallen 23 per cent since 2006 while conservation experts have been reduced by 35 per cent.”  

 In the article Historic England highlights the need for good professional planning advice and an up to date historic environmental record “allowing specialists to provide an early indication of the impact on heritage assets.”  Of course this does not apply just to the sprucing up of old houses but also to the re-development of green field sites which may be hiding heritage assets.

Yet how are we going to protect our historic environment if we do not recognise the need to create a professional and efficient heritage infrastructure?  In the Medway Towns in Kent this is starting to happen and on the evening of Monday 30 November heritage volunteers gathered at Rochester’s Guildhall Museum to celebrate the end of another year of success - and frustration.  A considerable band of enthusiasts, myself included, do our best to support Medway’s heritage.  Some projects this year, such as the restoration of Rochester’s Eastgate House, haven’t gone as smoothly as we would have liked.  However, and what is perhaps more important, is that together we are starting to make a real difference.  Simon Lace, Medway’s Heritage Services Manager, and Richard Hicks, Medway’s Director of Regeneration, Community and Culture, were both at the Christmas celebration and neither were slow to express their enthusiasm and support for what we as volunteers do.  They were also swift to champion our common goal in promoting, preserving, and saving our precious heritage.  Could this be the way forward?



Wednesday 18 November 2015

18 November 2015

Saving Our Heritage

My new blog starts with the subject closest to my heart: saving our precious historical assets.

It is astonishing how much is available in the media to educate all of us about how important – and relevant – our history is.  However, as cookery programmes, books and magazines seem to do little to make the nation better cooks, its historical counterparts could do more to raise awareness of the need to protect our heritage.  A fresh approach may be what’s needed.  Channel 4’s Time Team did exactly that and it is perhaps not surprising that since its demise applications to read archaeology at university have plummeted and some departments are even considering closure. 

I recently attended Kent Archaeological Society’s Kent Historic Buildings and Industrial Archaeology Conference at The Criterion in Blue Town on the Isle of Sheppey (  The Criterion is one of Kent’s last remaining Victorian music halls and owners Jenny and Ian Hurkett have done a fantastic job in bringing not just the building back to life but also its spirit.  The Criterion doubles as the local heritage centre and after the conference Jenny gave a guided tour of Blue Town.  The area is an historic gem, once a thriving dockyard, it was the place Nelson’s body was brought after the battle of Trafalgar.  The harbour wall still dominates the neighbourhood and there are countless fascinating buildings of all ages.  Some have been redeveloped, but the Dockyard Church gave us all cause for grave concern such was its state of dilapidation.  The entire area is a heritage asset and should be cherished, but as Jenny correctly pointed out to us, “It’s on Sheppey.”

Perhaps there is such a thing as heritage prejudice.  Just a short drive from Blue Town are leafy Kentish villages where pretty houses and pubs are in abundance.  Closer to Sheppey are the Medway Towns and here the neglect of the less pretty - but just as important - industrial heritage has been in the spotlight for years.  Most recently residents protested fruitlessly to preserve the Aveling and Porter steam engine factory site on the Strood side of Rochester bridge.  Designed by George Bond and built in the 20th century, it was not as attractive as some of the buildings in nearby Rochester High Street, but it certainly did not lack architectural merit.  Strood has suffered badly over the years in Rochester’s shadow and most of its old buildings are now gone.  Even the World War Two tank defences were taken away from the railway station, a move which I am sure will be seen as madness by future generations.

Which is why it is important to save our heritage now!  Here in Hertfordshire the village of Batford is, I feel, in a similar position to Strood.  The area suffers from heritage prejudice, the result of a lack of understanding of our past and the importance to preserve our industrial history. 

However, that is enough for today and I will return to Batford in a later post.