Recognising 20th-century heritage as an integrated part of historic places
20th-century heritage forms a significant layer of our history, yet despite increasing conservation interest in this period, many 20th-century heritage assets are at risk of neglect or lack of management, insensitive change or demolition. There is a growing need to better understand, appreciate and assess 20th-century heritage as an integrated part of historic places.
As with any other period, the heritage of the 20th-century, reflects wider social, cultural, economic, political and technological change. These changes facilitated, amongst other things, a transformation in England’s planning philosophy and culture as well as the emergence of new building types, construction techniques and materials, adding another layer of complexity to England’s historic landscape character.
Appreciation of the importance of 20th-century heritage is acknowledged across the United Kingdom, Europe and many other parts of the world. This has also developed alongside a distinct philosophical and practical approach to conservation that is alive to the issues raised by themes such as the archaeology of conflict, the political sensitivity of recent heritage and the problems posed by new building techniques such as reinforced concrete.
Despite recognition of its importance the wider contribution of ‘everyday’ 20th-century heritage, particularly post war heritage, is often overlooked, undervalued and under-represented on Local Lists and Historic Environment Records and even though English Heritage’s 1980s national resurvey extended the typological and date ranges of structures and building types recommended for listing, only a very small percentage of 20th-century heritage assets meet the criteria for national designation.
Identification of 20th-century heritage of local significance – ‘how do we protect what we don’t know what we have?’
Identification of 20th-century heritage is an important first step in ensuring that the most distinctive can be retained and adapted as part of future communities and places.
Historic Environment Records, Local Lists and Neighborhood Development Plans are valuable mechanisms through which heritage assets, including 20th-century heritage assets, that make a positive contribution to local character and sense of place, can be identified by Local Planning Authorities and Communities.
Buildings and public places dating to the 20th-century can make a positive contribution to a place, including its local character and distinctiveness. While not all locally interesting 20th-century buildings and public places can justifiably be retained, they should be considered as per any ‘non-designated heritage asset’, in planning decisions, and therefore, in those cases where retention/managed change is not achievable, preservation by record should be supported. The National Planning Policy Framework Para 39 describes non-designated heritage assets as – ‘buildings, monuments, sites, places, areas or landscapes identified by plan-making bodies as having a degree of heritage significance meriting consideration in planning decisions but which do not meet the criteria for designated heritage assets’.
Adding a New Layer – 20th-century non-domestic buildings and public places in Worcestershire
Worcestershire’s Historic Environment Record has been working to identify, record and better understand the significance of 20th-century non-domestic buildings and public places across the County. Many more await discovery and assessment!
Funded by Historic England the multi-layered Adding a New Layer – 20th-century non-domestic buildings and public places in Worcestershire Project also aimed to strengthen the public’s awareness and appreciation of ‘everyday’ 20th-century heritage and celebrate the extra layer of richness it brings to both our lives and landscapes.
Alongside national and local guidance to support professionals and communities to identify and assess 20th-century heritage, the project developed a strategy for future research in Worcestershire. This strategy has been divided into questions for key themes – which extend across and between topics and key topics.
Research Strategy for 20th-century heritage in Worcestershire
WORCSB_MOD01: Patterns of change: What is the pattern and morphology of pre-war, inter-war and post-war development, of different types, across Worcestershire? How do they relate to each other?
WORCSB_MOD03: Time depth: How does 20th-century heritage relate to the historic development of landscape, as mapped by Historic Landscape Characterisation? Can this help to tell us to what extent places of the recent past have been created afresh or adapted, with retained elements of earlier places?
WORCSB_MOD05: Social values: How are changing social values – in social class, the role of families and in the places of women and children in society – reflected in different types of buildings and places, and how they have developed over time?
WORCSB_MOD06: Identity: How do different styles of buildings, and the elements that make up places, reflect the identities of different groups in society? What is the evidence for these being driven by local communities, developed out of national movements (such as religious revival or political organisation) or both? To what extent is ‘hidden archaeology’ – the archaeology of individuals and groups whose activities have been unrecognised, unauthorised or illegal until recent decades, including queer archaeology – invigorating a reconstruction and reinterpretation of 20th-century buildings and places?
WORCSB_MOD07: Globalisation, industrialisation and technology: What is the evidence for social, technological and industrial change as shaped by international developments, from Britain’s place as the epicentre of the Empire to the development of international trading systems
WORCSB_MOD08: Consumerism: The changing shape of consumer society and its influence on all aspects of life and landscape ‘is one of the defining characteristics of the age’ – from shops and shopping to the way in which increased leisure time and new technologies have enabled access to places for leisure and recreation. Can we define different types of places and landscape whose character has been created or shaped by different types of consumer behaviour?
WORCSB_MOD09: National and local government legislation and policy has also reached into many aspects of life and landscapes, from the protection afforded to nature and heritage to large-scale strategic planning. For example, to what extent were strategic plans for post-war development in Worcestershire, including the 1946 Minoprio and Spencely Masterplan for Worcester City adopted? How has this impacted later 20th and 21st Century development across the county?
WORCSB_MOD10: Migration, integration and multi-culturalism: What evidence is there in the built environment for the construction, use and adaptation of 20th-century immigrants from the British Empire and other parts of the world? What are the similarities and differences? Does the evidence change from one of adaptation to the creation of new buildings and places, notably places of worship but also including shops and restaurants?
WORCSB_MOD13: To what extent have 20th-century buildings of different dates and types, demolished or re-developed in Worcestershire, since the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework in 2012, been preserved through building recording mitigation?
WORCSB_MOD17: To what extent should approaches to the conservation of 20th-century heritage differ from those of earlier dates? Should we be more engaged in enabling buildings that we value, particularly at a local level, to be recorded and then adapted in ways that might result in loss of plan form and details whilst retaining what we most value, so that they can be enjoyed by future generations?
WORCSB_MOD23: To what extent has allotment provision, by Local Authorities in Worcestershire, fluctuated over the course of the 20th and 21st Centuries? How does this relate to wider socio-economic factors?
WORCSB_MOD42: Who commissioned and who were the designers of schools and further education colleges in the county, and to what extent did they follow or find their own solutions to internal planning, the provision of sports facilities etc?
WORCSB_MOD47: To what extent did pre-existing technical and intellectual skills, across the Region, influence the emergence of 20th-century manufacturing, technological and service industries in Worcestershire?
WORCSB_MOD54: The retention of green and blue infrastructure, including greenspaces, archaeological earthworks, veteran trees, hedgerow boundaries and significant views, was an important factor in the design of Redditch New Town, not only to enhance the natural feeling of the environment but also to alleviate climatic conditions within the landscape. To what extent has this vision been respected or disregarded in later strategic or development control planning decisions?
WORCSB_MOD55: What is the extent and survival of communal green space adjacent to Village Halls and Community Centres? To what extent have these communal landscapes changed/been lost because of 21st Century development or ‘improvement’?
WORCSB_MOD56: To what extent were communal buildings, including health clinics and estate pubs, and spaces designed as part of post-war social housing estates in Worcestershire? To what extent have these communal landscapes been lost/weakened by 21st Century development?
WORCSB_MOD60: How do buildings for recreation and leisure relate to more general trends in access to countryside and leisure, including the decline in earlier traditions of outdoor play and recreation?
WORCSB_MOD62: What was the pattern of adaptation and new building across the county, and how does it relate to the provision of educational and recreational buildings that replaced these aspects of life in which different churches had played a leading role?
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Hathaway E and J Lake 2020 Adding a New Layer: 20th– century Non-Domestic Buildings and Public Places National Framework for Assessment. Worcestershire County Council and Historic England.
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Hathaway E 2020 Adding a New Layer: Case Study Worcestershire’s County Farms and Small Holdings. Worcestershire County Council and Historic England.
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