English Heritage Merger Planned

Martin Petchey outlines a new government plan to merge heritage organisations.

The government is proposing to make radical changes to the official face of English archaeology and the built environment. English Heritage (the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission) and the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) are to be merged on April 1st, 1999, and at a future date, many of their functions devolved to multi-disciplinary regional bodies, which will also administer the regional aspects of such disparate activities as libraries, film and sport.

The initial announcement was made in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Comprehensive Spending Review (which amounts to a review of the Department’s policy priorities), and received almost no publicity until December 1998, hardly surprising since the changes were not even mentioned in the Department’s press releases.

Of the two organisations to merge, the Royal Commission is the older, founded ninety years ago in 1908. It is charged with the role of compiling and making available a record of England’s ancient monuments and historic buildings. Until this decade it did this primarily through a series of magisterial county inventories; now its principal public face is the National Monuments Record (NMR), a public archive housed in part of the former Great Western Railway’s works in Swindon. English Heritage was created in 1984 by Michael Heseltine, when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, from the archaeological sections of his department. It was hoped that its quasi-governmental status would enable it to build a large membership base akin to that of the National Trust, who would visit and support the 409 monuments in its guardianship. It is also the government’s advisor on archaeological and historic building matters, making recommendations on the scheduling of ancient monuments and the listing of buildings.

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