BBC Four to celebrate story of British heritage movement in partnership with English Heritage

Date: 30.01.2013     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 17.56
Category: BBC Four; Factual
This Spring, BBC Four will tell the story of the battle for Britain’s past, the history of how the heritage movement became a mass popular movement.

Heritage! The Battle For Britain’s Past (working title) charts the movement to protect the country’s heritage, from its early days in the 19th century to the challenges of protecting modern buildings that have architectural value. Over the last century, the notion of national heritage has become one of the most cherished, misinterpreted and controversial ideas in British political, social and cultural life. This vibrant three-part series explores this battle, looking back at the extraordinary characters and often surreal circumstances that established heritage in the hearts of the nation.

A hundred years ago, the idea that there were parts of the British rural and urban landscape worth preserving was the fanciful notion of a small group of radicals. But the drive and determination of a small group of pioneers led to the protection of hundreds of significant historical and archaeological sites.

The first episode of Heritage! The Battle For Britain’s Past charts the birth of the heritage movement and the first arguments of radical thought, from figures including John Lubbock MP, Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers, Charles Darwin and John Ruskin. These remarkable individuals asked important questions and came up with the building blocks of a new world that valued the past. Their actions led to the first piece of legislation to safeguard prehistoric and ancient structures – which until then had often fallen prey to the short-term interests of farmers and landowners.

The second episode reveals the unsung heroes of the heritage movement, the civil servants who fleshed out the theory of legislation into a pragmatic campaign with its own aesthetic. It will explore the determination of two characters, Mr Peers and Mr Baines from The Office of Works, who seized the chance in the interwar years to make history a popular cause and advocate the highest standards of academic ideals which would define the look of many of our most important historic sites. This episode will look at how the increasingly mobile British public began to embrace the idea of a day out at an historic site, tracing the early years of an amiable relationship between the car and history.

The third episode follows the changing fortunes of a heritage movement floored by the after effects of teh Second World War and looks at how people like Sir John Betjeman and Dan Cruickshank gave families access to heritage and architecture on television from the comfort of their living rooms. It will look at the preservation of sometimes ugly, certainly unpleasant parts of our built past such as workhouses and underground mineshafts. The final episode will also contemplate what the future may hold for heritage in Britain - a nation faced with economic uncertainty, depleting resources and increasing challenges of sustainability.

With unique access to some of English Heritage’s archive and research as well as some of the most historic and iconic buildings, Heritage! The Battle For Britain’s Past is the compelling tale of how, in an age of industrial progress, urban expansion and modernity, the past came to stand for a sense of national identity, an anchor in an increasingly restless world.

Notes to Editors

The series will be complemented by a set of five special English Heritage exhibitions to mark the centenary of the landmark Ancient Monuments Act of 1913. These exhibitions will trace the movement to protect England’s heritage, from its early days in the 19th century to the achievements and challenges of today and tomorrow.