To collectors in Preston, the open bookcases and antique chests of houses like Rufford Old Hall represent the perfect day out; yet according to a new BBC Four series, there was a time when such buildings were being destroyed by developers, and even bombed.
Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past tells the story of the movement from the Victorian era to the present day. Episode One: From Old Bones to Precious Stones included a name familiar to all collectors of Arts & Crafts furniture in Cumbria: William Morris. He founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), an iconic moment in the fight to safeguard old buildings from the scourges of industrialisation and human vandalism.
Episode Two: The Men from the Ministry, explained how, in the 1930s, the Office of Works and National Trust turned their attention to the previously ignored heritage of Britain – its grand country houses.
Previously, the Trust had been concerned with England’s natural heritage and vernacular architecture, while the Ministry concentrated on dilapidated ruins and prehistoric monuments. However, the interwar years saw the rich driven from their family piles by death duties and taxes, their homes stripped and demolished for redevelopment.
Both parties realised this heritage must be saved, although the Ministry had to bow out to the Trust after losing its government funding.
When buying an antique dining table or Victorian mahogany partners desk from a Lancashire antiques dealer, remember it may once have stood in a grand old hall.
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