What is heritage? When was it invented? What is its place in the world today? What is its place tomorrow? Heritage is all around us: millions belong to its organisations, tens of thousands volunteer for it, and politicians pay lip service to it. When the Victorians began to employ the term in something approaching the modern sense, they applied it to cathedrals, castles, villages and certain landscapes. Since then a multiplicity of heritage labels have arisen, cultural and commercial, tangible and intangible – for just as every era has its notion of heritage, so does every social group, and every generation.
In Heritage, James Stourton focuses on elements of our cultural and natural environment that have been deliberately preserved: the British countryside and national parks, buildings such as Blenheim Palace and Tattersall Castle, and the works of art inside them. He charts two heroic periods of conservation – the 1880s and the 1960s – and considers whether threats of wealth, rampant development and complacency are similar in the present day. Heritage is both a story of crisis and profound change in public perception, and one of hope and regeneration.