Parts of English Heritage could be likened to a private university in that some lucky members of staff (and their advisors and consultants) get to do the kind of primary research that even university academics struggle to find time for these days. Much of this research is used to inform the preservation and presentation of the properties in the agency’s care, and this third volume of the annual Historical Review is thus largely a reflection of current priorities: Kenilworth Castle, Apethorpe Hall and Chiswick House, for example, all subject to current conservation programmes.
Lavishly illustrated, the papers in the review supplement information given in guidebooks and take us deeper into the ways the buildings were used, or they unwrap the iconography of decorative stone carving or plasterwork (another word for propaganda in the case of the fireplaces at Apethorpe, whose carvings outrageously flatter King James I).
You get a good balance of periods and property types in this lucky dip of a review, from megaliths and Medieval abbeys to a military monitoring post in York built during the Cold War. The last is the subject of one of the most fascinating of the ten papers in this review: the great advantage of treating as heritage a structure that only ceased to operate in 1991 is that we get to glimpse the interior of installations once so secret that their very existence was denied. As a result, we see how simply inadequate was the UK’s response to the scale of a threat such as nuclear holocaust, and how rapidly the communications technology of radio sets, telephones and teleprinters has become the heritage of an entirely different age.