Historic changes afoot at English Heritage

Hadrian's Wall. Credit: joe Cornish/VisitBritain
Hadrian's Wall. Credit: joe Cornish/VisitBritain

The organisation that protects many of our nation’s heritage buildings and sites – including Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall –  is to disband to create two “mutually supportive” bodies – the English Heritage Trust and Historic England.

Hadrian's Wall. Credit: joe Cornish/VisitBritain
Hadrian’s Wall. Credit: Joe Cornish/VisitBritain

At a press conference in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey this morning, English Heritage announced that from 1 April 2015 it will separate into two bodies that will work together to preserve our nation’s rich heritage.

English Heritage was set up in 1983 as a non-departmental government body tasked with maintaining and safeguarding ancient monuments and buildings in England – prior to this many of its roles were undertaken by the Department of the Environment, and before that by the Ministry of Works.

Fitting then that this announcement was made in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey, which was built by King Henry III for the monks of Westminster and which was used by Simon de Montfort’s first elected Parliament 750 years ago.

The split will see the formation of a new independent charity called The English Heritage Trust, which will look after the 400 historic sites that English Heritage is currently responsible for under their new name of the ‘National Heritage Collection’,  and Historic England, which will remain a public body and will continue to champion and protect England’s historic environment.

English Heritage says its charitable status, which will see it receive initial government funding of £80m while working towards being financially independent by 2023, will enable it to look at other funding options and also focus on ways of improving the way we interact with our nation’s heritage.

Sir Tim Laurence, chairman of the new English Heritage Trust, said: “People are increasingly looking for experiences that bring history to life. I believe the new charity will be particularly well placed to do this through a combination of imagination, scholarship and an unwavering desire to inspire and entertain visitors to our remarkable collection of historic sites.”

This sentiment was echoed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Sajid Javid MP, who said: “Preserving our heritage cannot just be about protecting old buildings, we have to bring them to life and explain their value and importance. Our heritage does not belong to the government, it belongs to all of us.”

Over the next year the English Heritage Trust aims to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo with exhibitions at Wellington Arch, Aspley House and Walmer Castle in Kent, plus major work will be undertaken at the 1066 Battle of Hastings Abbey and Battlefield to give visitors a better understanding of the landscape on which Britain’s most famous battle was fought.

One of the most exciting things happening over at Historic England this year will be the creation of a new resource called England’s Places which will see 600,000 archive photos available to search online for the first time in history.

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