When people in Cumbria see the open bookcases and antique dining chairs of a magnificent country house like Wrest Park, they don’t realise that they are only able to do so thanks to the sterling efforts of English Heritage, whose 100-year history is celebrated in a new three-part TV series on BBC Four.
Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past charts the story of the Heritage movement, and the fight to save and safeguard the country’s historic domestic properties and monuments. It began in the 19th Century with people like William Morris, Charles Darwin, Octavia Hill and John Ruskin, whose radical proposals were instrumental in bringing the Ancient Monuments Act into being in 1913. This iconic piece of legislation recognised for the first time that the nation had a duty to safeguard its historic buildings and monuments from the ravages of time, neglect and short-term interests of the landowners and farmers who owned them.
Made in partnership with English Heritage but focussing equally on the National Trust and other groups, Heritage! is one of several high points lined up for the charity’s centenary year. EH can trace its origins back to the Ancient Monuments Act, which was actually initiated to stop Britain’s historic homes and interiors from being shipped off to America. The year also sees a number of exciting Heritage projects fulfilled, such as the new visitor centre at Stonehenge and the reopening of Kenwood House.
In Cumbria, every antique chest and Victorian balloon back dining chair represents a piece of history. Lancashire residents can visit a Preston antiques dealer and bring some English Heritage into their homes.
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