How are decisions made about heritage and how can we get involved?

How can participation in heritage decision making be increased from wherever you are?

I have been part of a collaborative research team that is now able to share its findings via the following press release.

Heritage is about what we value: places, buildings, objects, memories, cultures, skills or ways of life. So why can it be so hard to get actively involved in heritage decision-making? Drawing on innovative practice and research experiments, the Heritage Decisions team have developed a website, publications and a series of events to show what you can do to increase participation in museums and heritage; whether you are a leader and shaper of policy and organizations, you’re trying to do good work within structures you don’t control or whether you simply care about the culture and history of the place in which you live.

Project background

Over the last two years a team of twenty people – researchers, policy makers, funders, museum practitioners, people who are activists about their own history and heritage – have worked together to design and then carry out a research project.

The Heritage Decisions team was brought together by an innovative pilot scheme developed by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme. The Connected Communities ‘Co-design and Co-creation Development Awards’ scheme sought not only to enable collaborative research between researchers, policy makers, practitioners and community groups but to actively enable the collaborative development of a research agenda, from its earliest stages.

While we all had a shared interest in heritage and decision-making, the team was formed deliberately to draw into dialogue people from different backgrounds, positions and approaches. The aim was to use the team’s collective experiences, perspectives and positions to create a research project which might explore how to increase participation in heritage decision-making.

Project approaches: Reflecting on innovative practice and research experiments

The project’s research insights are derived from two key approaches: the first by reflecting on innovative work already undertaken by practitioners in the research team and the second through conducting research experiments. The project’s final booklet focused on how participation in heritage decision-making can be increased from wherever you work or live and whatever your position – professional, researcher or someone who cares about your own culture and place.

In terms of reflecting on innovative practice, John Lawson, Kathy Cremin and Mike Benson, who collaborated first at Ryedale Folk Museum and now at Bede’s World, reflected on the development of their approaches to distributed decisions making through turning museums inside out, conceptualising heritage as a ‘living stream’ that sustain the places it flows through and decision-making as distributed so that all staff and volunteers might have ‘freedom of self’.

In terms of a research experiment, at the Science Museum the focus was on how communities can contribute towards developing museum collections. The project, coordinated by Tim Boon, Head of Research and Public History, focused on electronic music and work with musicians, fans and self-confessed synth-geeks – Jean-Phillipe Calvin, John Stanley, David Robinson, Martin Swan and researcher Richard Courtney from the University of Leicester – to recommend items for the Science Museum collections. Alongside these practical recommendations, the project also came to question logics of preservation by arguing that a future for the synthesizer collections might be best secured not by keeping them away from being touched but by them being played, used and celebrated by a community of those that know and care about them.

Other projects included:

  • A chance for a funder – Karen Brookfield from the Heritage Lottery Fund – to see one of their projects, The Potteries Tile Trail, up close. A collaboration which also gave time and space for The Potteries Tile Trail coordinator, Danny Callaghan, to draw out some of his principles and ways of working which has led to the project’s ‘DIY Heritage Manifesto’.
  • An exploration of how a Conservation Officer, Jenny Timothy, collaborated with architects and developers in Leicester – and how the significance of a building unfolded through the relationships and conversations as the project developed.
  • A project of organizational reflective practice at the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland focused on their Discovering the Clyde project – made possible by research collaboration between researcher Rebecca Madgin, University of Glasgow, and the RCAHMS’s Alex Hale.
  • An investigation of heritage decision making within a city – in York. Here Peter Brown, York Civic Trust, Lianne and Richard Brigham, York Past and Present, Paul Furness, York’s Alternative History and researcher, Helen Graham, University of Leeds, develop a series of events, history walks and interventions to both make more visible decision-making practices and to model and explore alternatives.

Key ideas

The key ideas that have emerged from the Heritage Decisions project – all ways in which to increase participation in museums and heritage – are:

  • Act: Make change from where you are
  • Connect: Cross boundaries and collaborate
  • Reflect: See your work through other people’s eyes
  • Situate: Understand your work in context

Events for the Connected Communities Festival

The project was celebrated by the launch of the final project booklet – ‘How should heritage decisions be made? Increasing participation from where you are’ – with four events tying into the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Festival in June 2015. The events – in Manchester, York (20th June) and Stoke (27th June) – each explored community-led and DIY approaches to heritage. There was also an event – lined to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland strand of the research – Connected with the Clyde: A Multi-Disciplinary Canoe Journey (training workshops Thu 18-Fri 19 June, event Sat 27 June, River Clyde).

To find out more about the Heritage Decisions June events:

To download the project’s final booklet and for more information see the project

Twitter: @heritageres

Or alternatively contact the project’s Principle Investigator Helen Graham, University of Leeds on


Stepping into Early Modern Norfolk

One of the great pleasures of doing family history and what provides the basis for it to be radical in its impact is its collective nature, ‘organised’ as it is around numerous local societies. Norfolk has the advantage of a well endowed centre of its own and a goodly body of volunteers to keep it running. Although I have only the most slender connection with the county via a couple of generations beyond one of my grandmothers, it has been a pleasure to join in with Norfolk FHS and help transcribe some of their vast collection of parish registers for eventual posting on their website.

I have begun with a Marshland parish, well to the west of the city and in a landscape with which I am not at all familiar. Terrington St John lies some way south of King’s Lynn. Once part of a much larger parish it had a chapel of ease which around 1423 became St John’s parish church and gave this community its nominal identity different from Terrington St Clement, the original home parish. This pattern of development is similar to the very different Pennine parishes west of Barnsley with which I am more familiar.

The parish register commenced in 1538 following a mandate originating with Thomas Cromwell and part of his grand plan to make sure the State and the Crown had precedence over religious practices and culture at a local level (not without its conflicts of course). The first volume runs to 1585. It is very much in the nature of things that many of these early records are incomplete and it is evident that the ‘original’ from which these were taken was in fact a copy of an older register, probably one made up of loose pages roughly and incompletely stitched together. There is a significant gap between 1555 and 1559, with parts of 1570 and 1584 also missing.

The vicars were Henry Mynne (until 1540), Robert Evans (1540-1554), Christopher Barton (1554-1560, who seems to have attempted to gather together the previous register pages), Marmaduke Woodde (1560-1569), William Sanderson (1569-1574), Henry Warren (1574-1582) and John Waters from 1582. Nevertheless there were other priests mentioned in the register – one marriage (John Holland to Jane Browne) and two or burials William Laceshy and Thomas Metcalf). Where did they come from and why were they buried here? The pattern of changes for the vicars seems also to follow a little behind key events during the Tudor Reformation. Henry Mynne drops out shortly after Cromwell’s fall from grace, Robert Evans shortly after the accession of Queen Mary and the return to Catholicism, and Christopher Barton falls by the wayside soon after the accession of Queen Elizabeth I and the return to Protestant supremacy.

There are some oddities about the register that are worth investigation. From 1538 to 1549, and sporadically afterwards, it was the practice not to record the surnames of brides in marriage: on 53 occasions in all before 1585. Occasionally deaths miss out forenames as well: hence ‘the wife of so and so’. Was this laziness alone or was it combined with a degree of gender bias towards the male of the species? The culprits were the vicars Henry Mynne and Robert Evans, though the latter relented in the practice in 1549. Marmaduke Woodde also temporarily revived the practice in the 1560s for a while.

A second phenomenon was the prevalence of aliases: Fichett for Hitchyn, Boston for Tyler and Drinkwill for Morflett. By and large this was maintained for marriages and baptisms during the period for these particular characters. There was at least one occasion of an adult baptism: Jane the wife of Godwyn Kidd was baptised 6 March 1547/48.

Given my abiding interest in anything to do with population studies, it is not surprising that I have been counting the marriages, baptisms and burials. Burials slightly outnumbered baptisms in the period by 385 to 354, while there were 238 marriages. Some of the latter inevitably involved incomers to the parish and this may have roughly balanced out or even exceeded the population loss. It would take a great deal of analysis to determine this in detail, perhaps by examining surname changes – but this is very inexact, especially with nothing beforehand to use as a comparator.

Chatting to fellow members with Fenland connections, I was interested to hear about the practice of some local women for concocting a potion out of poppies: a crude form of laudanum no doubt. They used this to quieten the youngest children, left in the care of an older child while the women worked. I am not sure whether this was prevalent in the 16th century or a later practice in the 19th, but I was told that there was a tendency to overdose the children. This was one cause among many that explained a significantly large attrition among infants.

Perhaps the saddest of these was one child baptised around 1584 where the mother’s name was not mentioned, but there were two reputed fathers listed in the register (one of which I know to have been married). The child died within a few weeks and was at least buried with the name of just one father, the married one. I wonder what lay behind this dispute.

More questions than answers, but many opportunities and reasons for giving closer examination to Fenland communities in the 16th century.