Killerton House, Devon - National Trust

Join the debate on the future of our heritage

On Monday 16 September, a special public debate will ask what the future holds for our past. The debate is part of a two-day conference to mark the 100th anniversary of the landmark 1913 Ancient Monuments Act and will bring together leading figures from public life, the heritage sector and academia.

The 1913 Ancient Monuments Act recognised for the first time that there are physical remains of the nation’s history which are so important that the State has a duty to ensure their continued survival. The debate will take as its starting point the question of whether heritage still requires Government as its champion.

University of Exeter, historian Professor Andrew Thompson will be providing an introduction to the debate explaining the role and importance of academic input to issues around heritage. He will argue that the relationship between history and heritage, which has always been a crucial one, has never been more important than at the start of our current century. Professor Thompson is connected with the events through his role as Theme Leadership Fellow for AHRC’s "Care for the Future: Thinking Forward Through the Past" programme of research. It considers the presence of the past in contemporary society, including how the past can be bettered cared for in the future, which is at the heart of the heart of debates over heritage.

Professor Thompson said: “The Care for the Future programme shows how historical understanding is vital to informing today’s heritage policy and practice. The monuments and buildings we decide to protect are not only important for their aesthetic value, or for their commercial potential to generate revenue through tourism. They encapsulate in a vivid and striking way what we think is important about our past. They connect people to a national story, to the great forces that have shaped our country, and to the values and belief that have come to define who we are. Everyone therefore should have a voice in deciding what is considered to be ‘historic’, not just government.”

In the past castles, abbeys and palaces, the buildings of the establishment and ruling classes were deemed worth preserving. However, in a more democratic and increasingly ethnically and religiously diverse society, the past we seek to celebrate now is viewed differently to how it was fifty years or a century ago, according to Professor Thompson. 

He added: “The type of architecture we prize changes too. It was only as late as the 1930s that Georgian buildings were thought to be worth preserving, and not until the 1950s that Victorian architecture got much of a look in. Such shifts in society in turn affect what buildings we seek to save and what we consider ‘1st rate’ heritage to be. ”

The Future Care of Our Nation's Heritage: A Debate will be held at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London at 7.30pm on Monday 16 September 2013. The event is open to the public and free to attend, it will also be streamed live. The debate will be open to questions and points from the floor as well as from those watching the live video stream via twitter using the #debateheritage hash tag.

The two-day conference – Heritage Past, Present and Future (16-17 September) – will look at the early years of heritage protection and explore how the definition of what is important has changed over the last 100 years. It will also ask what challenges our unique legacy historic buildings, monuments and landscapes will face over the next 100 years. Among the speakers at the conference and debate will be Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage; Simon Jenkins, Chair of the National Trust; and Lloyd Grossman, Chair of the Heritage Alliance.

Minister for Heritage, Ed Vaizey, said: “The centenary of the 1913 Act is a timely reminder of just how important heritage protection is in this country today, and how far we’ve come. Historic buildings, outstanding landscapes and fine architecture and design are part of what makes Britain great. They also inspire and delight us, as well as making a significant contribution to the economy through their power to attract visitors to this country from every corner of the world.”

Heritage Past, Present and Future is jointly organised by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), English Heritage, the National Trust and the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Professor Rick Rylance, Chief Executive of the AHRC, said: “To understand the importance of the 1913 Act in preserving the UK’s heritage one need only imagine what our country would look like had it not been passed. By reflecting on what has been done over the last century to protect our historic environment, the ‘Care for the Future’ research programme helps us to think through the challenges and threats of the next.”


Date: 13 September 2013

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