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A couple walking infront of york cathedral.

Preserving the UK’s heritage sites

Mike Plaster
Wednesday 25th November, 2015

Preserving the country’s oldest buildings isn’t just a matter of securing tourism – it goes a long way to making a statement on behalf of our history and heritage. Here we explore the benefits of working towards improving the state of our heritage sites and how the right materials can make a huge difference.

Not including the three located on its overseas territories, there are 26 sites in the UK that form part of UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. From natural wonders like Giant’s Causeway off Country Antrim in Northern Ireland, to the Frontiers of the Roman Empire which lie in both England and Scotland, many of the foremost listed sites are boosted by visitor numbers each year.

But in 2008, then-Culture Minister Andy Burnham launched a consultation process to investigate whether or not the UK should rush to add more sites to this impressive list, citing the rising costs of maintaining them and retaining that status, along with underwhelming levels of tourism.

Add to that the near-460,000 listed buildings in the UK and you get an idea of the sheer weight of history on our shoulders. When the benefits of such schemes are being downplayed by our government, it may be time to reconsider what qualifies us to continue down the path of celebrating our heritage – and what can be done now to maintain what we have.

Pontefract Castle

Work has already begun on restoration works at Pontefract Castle. Once a key stronghold in the North of England and an important backdrop to events in English history as depicted in Shakespeare’s Richard II and Richard III, it is now mostly ruins. Thanks to an investment of more than £3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund[1], the castle is to be developed as part of the Key to the North conservation project, being undertaken by William Anelay Ltd – a company with more than 250 years’ experience in the field of masonry. The castle is currently listed on Historic England’s ‘At Risk’ register and it’s expected that the upcoming work will change that. One of the most anticipated programmes of work should see the castle’s Swillington Tower and Sally Port opened for the first time since locals pulled down the castle after the English Civil War.

At the time of writing, not much has gone on record from William Anelay[2], though they are expected to work with the same two types of sandstone which are reportedly found throughout the castle: a yellow-brown type used for early development, and a darker grey kind used for Swillington Tower, which sits at what is now street level below the rest of the development. Once the project is completed, the local council expects tourism to double – well worth the price of redeveloping one of England’s longest-standing national treasures.

Pollokshields

Just by taking a look at its range of well-kept Victorian buildings, you can see the extent that Pollokshields locals have gone to in maintaining a degree of historical pride in their surroundings. As cities grew in size around the UK and their populations spilled over into surrounding neighbourhoods, new houses were built to accommodate the new workforces. Pollokshields is one of the few remaining examples of a Victorian suburb in relatively good condition. Some houses in equivalent regions, like Headingley in Leeds, would fall into disrepair during the mid-20th century.

To raise awareness of the conservation attempts, the Glasgow City Heritage Trust has staged an exhibition in Glasgow’s Merchant City district, which displays images taken of some of Pollokshields’ most notable works then and now, including the Burgh Hall which was designed by Henry Edward Clifford in the 1880s. This dark red building used a sandstone sourced from nearby Ballochmyle, and is notable in an area that’s otherwise largely constructed from a paler sandstone. The exhibition aims to inform and educate visitors about their city’s very own area of historic interest, including a Charles Rennie Mackintosh piece on Darnley Street[3] – one of Scotland’s most celebrated designers. Visitors to the exhibition are pointed towards the Pollokshields Heritage website, which promotes a range of considerations for helping to preserve the look and feel of these historic streets. For example, residents of the area who want to install a satellite dish are asked to consider the local aesthetics and tuck it around the back, out of sight and in keeping with the vintage village.

York Minster

This summer (2015) saw the completion of a vital phase of the work being done to restore York Minster, as the first piece of 600-year-old stained glass window was re-installed[4] into its Great East Window.

It’s all part of the £20 million investment by the Heritage Lottery Fund into the York Minster Revealed project, which has pledged to open up the previously unexplored portions of the centuries-old architectural masterpiece to the public. There will also be interactive exhibits within the building, unlocking the history of the Minster and exploring its future.

Along with the work being undertaken to restore the building’s grand old tradition, work has been completed on a new access ramp to the entrance, along with an accompanying piazza which has redressed the Minster’s entire approach. We were delighted to cut and supply the Moselden Sandstone which makes up the piazza; we feel the sandy colour perfectly complements the limestone exterior of the grand old building, striking a suitably understated yet awe-inspiring tone as you’d find while visiting such an historic site.

While the importance of restoring the UK’s most historic pieces has been downplayed in recent years – whether it’s due to a focus on new infrastructure or simple lack of funding opportunities – works like the above have helped to re-establish the importance of keeping Britain’s most historically significant regions up to scratch in the present day. Planners must concentrate on finding a way to reconcile the new and the old together with a combination of respect for our history and imagination for our future.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-28685250

[2] http://www.williamanelay.co.uk/Pontefract-Castle

[3] http://www.ionmagazine.co.uk/glasgow/homes-and-interiors/iconic-buildings/an-art-nouveau-gem-in-pollokshields

[4]http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/13336912.First_section_of_restored_Minster_window_complete/

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