BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Monday, 30 October, 2000, 22:58 GMT
What is heritage?
By BBC Radio 4 PM's Libby Fawbert

The government is about to review its policy on heritage, and in the light of the recent Runnymede Trust's report on multi-ethnic Britain, which finds 'Britishness' has overtones of racism, the review is likely to be significant.

But what is heritage and who is it for?

Is it stately homes? Or is it more about events within living memory? Stonehenge versus the Notting Hill Carnival.

English Heritage has just listed 40 cinemas all over the country. These were the picture palaces of the 1930s, built for the talkies. One of them is the former Gaumont Cinema in Smethwick in the West Midlands, now a Mecca bingo hall.

This 1937 PJ Prince building is now a bingo hall
Its frontage is dramatic, it looks like a giant radiogram, its five windows surrounded by exotic plaster peacocks while its Art Deco interior is beautifully preserved. It is a fine example of its time but equally important is the way it was used.

John Yates is English Heritage's Inspector for historic buildings in the West Midlands.

"It was an escape, in particular an escape from the realisation that many jobs in the heavy industry in the West Midlands were disappearing at this time", he explained.

Heritage is not just about sticks and stones. It's about people's memories

John Yates, English Heritage
He says these picture palaces are just as important to our heritage as stately homes and historic sites.

"Heritage is not just about sticks and stones. It's about people's memories and it's about things making sense to people, part of the accumulated culture of their communities", Mr Yates said.

Heritage as living memory was the reason a group of local people got together in Buckfastleigh in Devon, to save a former pub The Valiant Soldier as a museum.

Once a coaching inn on the London to Penzance route, it is an interesting 17th century building but again, equally important is how it was used.

Julia Cross, who is on its management committee, said: "The most exciting thing is comments in the visitors' book saying what a thrill it is to look at things from the past, either from their home or their grandparents homes."

Though it closed as a pub for good in 1962, they call it the pub where 'time was never called' because nothing had been thrown away by its former owner for years.

Antony Gormley's Angel of the North
The Angel of the North makes the heretage list
Its heyday was during the war years. Local man Maurice Steer cackles as he remembers the GIs stationed nearby coming in and the interesting conversations with locals.

"These two women came in. Ugly, I tell you! I see them now. One of them went up and she had one eye down here, the other eye down Plymouth. What do you think of us English girls, she said. Mighty fine, they said, mighty fine".

Attitudes towards heritage are changing. It wasn't long ago that people thought there was little point in saving anything after 1950. But while attitudes may be changing, they have yet to include everybody.

For Claire Holder for instance who runs the Notting Hill Carnival in London, traditional English heritage embodied by historic houses has a very different resonance.

Should the Notting Hill carnival be on the protected list?
"I regard them as part of my heritage but in a negative way. I'm angry that the whole issue of slavery took place and the benefits are all there, stored up in all the a stately homes and Houses of Parliament. It's not heritage you want to celebrate", she said.

What she is proud of and feels ought to be protected is the Carnival itself. For anyone from the Caribbean it represents, in its 36 years of life, a very important development.

"My ancestors developed this style of carnival because it was particularly significant that they had the freedom to walk the streets", Ms Holder said.

Everyone involved in the debate says the definition of heritage must change.

If it is judged as a way of providing all of us with an understanding of our history and identity, it has to.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Radio 4 PM's Libby Fawbert
"The definition of heritage is going to change"
See also:

11 Oct 00 | UK
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes