Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 40-48)



  40. With a view to being a profit centre, or. . .
  (Dr Thurley) Not particularly, no; it is really to give us—it would be very nice if we made a profit, but that is not what we are here for, we are here to provide advice, and, obviously, in England, we have a lot of experience in this, and, if we can be of help to other countries, I think the motivation was to enable us to do that.

  41. Just taking your English Heritage strategic plan and picking out some of the words that you have used, can you tell us what you meant by "stronger policy for the sector," in listing?
  (Dr Thurley) One of the things that people have criticised us for in the past is getting too involved in casework and the nitty-gritty, and not being engaged properly with the sort of wider policy issues and leading the sector. And the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and "A Force for our Future", makes it very clear that English Heritage should be leading and should be forming partnerships. And really what I was saying to, I think it was, your question a moment ago, we should be working much more on a sort of high level, a policy level, an influencing level, than getting involved in the nitty-gritty, because if we can get that right, hopefully we do not have to get so much involved in the minutiae.

  42. You remain involved in the nitty-gritty of planning permissions, because it is the judgements that you make there which are crucial to your work?
  (Dr Thurley) We do. But, if we can be more effective in talking to people before they put their planning applications in, and changing the way people think about the built environment, we will have less to do; simple as that.

  43. So how are you "going to build public understanding" of the historic environment, which is one of your other aims?
  (Dr Thurley) A major part of our activity is education, and we exercise that through our own properties; we have 409 properties, which is a lot of properties, a lot of them are in very remote, rural areas, where we can actually make quite a big contribution to local education, local interpretation of the way people live and enjoy their surroundings. We also have education programmes, we spend about 11 1/2 million a year on education, and that is in its broadest sense, that is not only schools, that is also adults. And so, yes, we consider that a very important part of our activities.

  44. And what are your plans for increasing capacity, as you describe it?
  (Dr Thurley) Capacity, in which particular area?

  45. Presumably, with regard to resources?
  (Dr Thurley) Although they are English Heritage's words, I am not entirely sure what "increasing capacity" means, in that particular—I would need perhaps to look at it in context.

Ms Shipley

  46. I think I would probably count as an architectural historian, because my postgraduate was in architectural history, and indeed I have written a book for English Heritage, a long time ago, on lesser-known sites. This is a completely different question. I seem to remember, in my dim and distant past, going through an historic photography collection that English Heritage holds, which is virtually unknown, as far as I am aware; where is it, what is it, and what are you doing with it? Because the images I remember were fabulous.
  (Dr Thurley) It is the National Monuments Record, which was formerly part of the Royal Commission, which merged with us two years ago. The majority of it, apart from the London collection, which remains in our office in Blandford Street, in London, is in Swindon. We hold over 11 million photographs, dating from the beginning of photography to the present day, which record comprehensively England's built environment. In a sense, it being in Swindon makes it a little bit inaccessible, and one of our principal aims is to try to get as much of it on the Net, available, and we now have many thousands of photographs, and I am afraid I cannot give you the precise number, that are on the web. [2]And we also have a project, which is a Heritage Lottery Fund project, which intends to put a photograph of every listed building in England on the web, so people can see what the 400,000 most important buildings are in the UK. So it is a very, very important resource, it is a very important educational resource, absolutely fundamental education resource, and we want to make more of it.

  47. I applaud you for putting it on the web, Net, and all those sorts of electronic means, as a research tool, excellent; but the photographs are works of art in themselves, as a collection, undoubtedly. They are absolutely fabulous ones, the ones I saw, and it is not enough, what you have said, really. A large proportion of them should be on display, they are that good; they are not just records, they are a lot more than that, and what can you do about that?
  (Dr Thurley) I agree with you, they are also works of art. We have, on numerous occasions, lent them to exhibitions elsewhere, and we are actually in the process of starting up a touring exhibition, which will be bringing photographs of towns and villages to the towns and villages, so that people can see records of the past. And, in fact, again, if I had got the facts at my fingertips, I would tell you, we have got a couple of sites where we are actually doing that, and I believe Bristol [3] is one of them, but do not hold me to it. We are taking the collection out, basically, to the places where the photographs were taken.

  48. I have got a Black Country constituency, I think you should come and do mine; we would love it?
  (Dr Thurley) We would be absolutely delighted to.

  Debra Shipley: Thank you. That is on record, is it, I hope.

  Chairman: Dr Thurley, I would like to thank you very much indeed; as someone who has been there for only three weeks, you have shown an extremely impressive command of your material, and we will look to great things from you. Thank you very much indeed.

2 Actual figure is 46,000 to date, including 41,000 from our Images of England project.Back

3 It was in fact Exeter.Back




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