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Why expanding heritage list requires more data capacity

The need for digital heritage services inevitably grows every time the volume of properties on heritage lists increases – as has just happened in England.


Why expanding heritage list requires more data capacity

The digitisation of heritage records has been extremely useful for a whole array of people, be it local authorities, academic researchers, groups of heritage enthusiasts and even individuals with a particular interest in certain sites and properties.

Whether it is a vital tool in helping make planning decisions, seeking sources of funding for the preservation and enhancement of properties, or even helping researchers discover more about sites that can lead to their heritage status being advanced further (such as archaeological discoveries), easy access to information makes the whole matter easier.

However, while much of the documentation will date back decades or even centuries, it can be just as valuable to have easy access to digital heritage services for the newest additions to a register.

English Heritage has added some new sites to its National Heritage List, a fully digitised database that now includes thousands of listed buildings, designated monuments, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields and protected maritime wrecks.

While many items will have been on this for a long time, the organisation has just highlighted 16 new entrants to its list. This included 14 Grade II listings, one II* listing, one site with both a Grade II and Grade II* listing being updated, plus an update to a scheduled ancient monument.

Some of these might seem obvious to add, such as the updating of an ancient cave site in Cornwall after new archaeological details emerged, or a 17th century drive-through ‘coach wash’ at Barkway in Cambridgeshire.

However, what was particularly notable was how many of the buildings were either built in the 20th century or at least updated then. Among them were some post-war buildings such as the 1960s Church of St Nicholas at Fleetwood in Lancashire, and two 1980s structures – the Light House in Hampstead, north London, and the Dome Leisure Centre in Doncaster.

Completed in 1989, the Dome was the largest leisure centre in Europe at the time and its structure comprising a steel frame and a network of water slides, pools and other modern facilities is in stark contrast with the antiquated architectural styles and traditional wood or stone materials used in so many older buildings, not least other listed sites in Doncaster.

Such new buildings will, by definition, not fall into the kind of categories so many others will. There may be any number of Art Deco, Regency, Georgian and Victorian structures, early medieval earthworks, Roman ruins and Neolithic stone circles, but rather fewer 1980s leisure centres.

While English Heritage made a point of highlighting 16 stand-out additions to the list, this was not the sum total of its work in 2023. In total, new additions this year have included 205 listings, 17 scheduled monuments and five new registered parks and gardens. Updates have impacted 231 listings, seven scheduled monuments and one park.

Discussing the updated list of national treasures, heritage minister Lord Parkinson of Whitby said: “The great work done by Historic England will ensure that they are protected for future generations to enjoy – and to learn about the fascinating people and stories connected with them.”

With digitised record keeping, that enjoyment by the public will become a lot easier to achieve.

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