History of English Heritage

Beginning in 1882, England’s heritage was overseen by the UK Government’s Office of Works, who were given the responsibility to create a collection of historical sites and buildings around Britain.

This collection reached 272 sites and buildings by 1933, and included Stonehenge, Carisbrooke Castle and Rievaulx Abbey.

In 1949, after World War II, the Office of Works became the Ministry of Works and began to look into adding industrial sites to its collection. Soon after this the National Trust took over the sustaining of the country houses.

By 1970, the number of sites within the collection had risen to 300.

Under Margaret Thatcher’s Government the English National Heritage Collection became the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission. Unhappy with the change in name, the commission’s first Chairman, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, renamed it to English Heritage.

Due to the success of the charity, these sites and buildings have been sustained for many years, and there are now opportunities to upgrade the sites and buildings. Not just to prevent any damage caused to these sites by climate change, but to also combat their own impacts on climate change.

Wrest Park and sustainability

Wrest Park is an 1830s country estate that lies in Silsoe, Bedfordshire. The house and its gardens are part of English Heritage, who has overseen its upkeep, restoration, and sustainability since 2006.

The Estate has been home to aristocratic families for over 600 years, who have left their own pieces of history. The house itself has had many uses over the years including a country house, a World War I military hospital and a centre for agricultural engineering research during World War II.

Wrest Park accounts for a large part of English Heritage’s carbon footprint, and it has been announced that the house is the third largest emitter of all the sites English Heritage oversee. In regards to energy consumption, Wrest Park is one of the ten sites that consume 60% of English Heritage’s total energy.

The charity has sent out a warning that climate change is negatively affecting our historic sites, leaving them vulnerable. English Heritage have also announced that although the sites are becoming vulnerable to climate change, they are also contributing to it.

The charity is putting together a Climate Action and Sustainability Plan, that outlines strategies for lowering waste, lowering the amount of energy consumed and cutting the emissions of their sites.

The charity is using Wrest Park as a pilot in order to test their new sustainable strategies, and if successful the strategies will be applied to other properties throughout England. If successful, the amount of energy consumed by Wrest Park should lower by 30%.

English Heritage’s Sustainable Strategies

English Heritage have not yet released their proposed strategies for the Climate Action and Sustainability Plan, that are to be piloted at Wrest Park, however, the charity has already put in place several strategies in order to lower the emissions of their sites. These strategies include:

  • Heating
    • To increase insulation and to reduce the loss of heat, pipe cladding has been installed
    • English Heritage plan to swap their current heating system to a biomass boiler or a heat pump. Once installed the sites energy efficiency will rise by 15%
  • Electricity
    • Solar panels will be installed onto the roof of lower lying buildings to increase renewable energy generation. Using low lying buildings will limit the impact on the historic site
  • Recycling and single-use plastics
    • The single-use plastic used to wrap the Member’s Magazine has been replaced by a potato starch alternative that is compostable
    • Plastic bags are no longer available in shops on the site
    • Plastic bottles have been replaced with glass alternatives
    • Plastic single-use cutlery has now been replaced by a wooden alternative
    • English Heritage are looking into embedding a national waste-management system
  • Food
    • English Heritage aims to make sure that as much as the food it provides as possible is locally sourced
    • Where possible, food will be produced on site, for example at Walmer Castle in Kent, on-site food production uses produce grown on their walled garden
    • By 2023, English Heritage plan to be Soil Accredited. They hope that this will help to show that they are committed to sustainability
  • Biodiversity
    • English Heritage are partnering with a number of wildlife organisations to protect the biodiversity of their sites