Category Archives: British Battlefields Ltd

The business of British Battlefields

Good news for Basing House Siege site? Or just spinning the short change for battlefield heritage?

A picture of a painting of a 17th century town under attack
(Above) Mike Codd’s painting, The Fall of Basing House, depicts the ransacking of the mansion in October 1645. The site will be turned into a permanent museum after a new Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Picture courtesy Hampshire County Council.

This is a piece of old news from 2010 from the page on culture 24

A Basingstoke mansion, which was the largest private home in England in the 17th century before being destroyed in a bloody  siege by Oliver Cromwell, will become a permanent museum in a multi-million pound development.

Basing House has been given a further £50,000 towards the exhibition in The Lodge, showcasing relics found in archaeological investigations around the site including clay pipes, a decorated ivory cup from West Africa, pistol shot fragments and hefty cannonballs.

It follows a grant of more than £1 million from the HLF towards the re-launch of the grounds as Basing House History Park last December, a project aiming to bring the House’s tumultuous Tudor and Stuart past to life.

A picture of a silver sixpence
A Charles I sixpence discovered during an archaeological dig at Basing House which will feature in the museum displays. Picture courtesy Hampshire County Council

“The grant from the HLF provides an opportunity to put many more of the finds on display to help tell the story of this fascinating site,” said Alastair Penfold, Head of Service at Hampshire County Museums and Archives Service, praising the generosity of local group the Friends of Basing House.

Head of HLF South East England Michelle Davies added that the scheme would help visitors to gain “a much clearer understanding” of the “scale and importance of this once-great house.”

The news is overdue relief for a building which has suffered repeated attacks. A Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, Basing House had survived two sieges by August 1645, when Cromwell himself took charge in an onslaught which killed more than 100 defenders. Parliament later ordered the ruins of the burnt and ransacked House to be razed to the ground.

Wenceslaus_Hollar_-_The_Siege_of_Basing_House
Wenceslaus Hollar: The Siege of Basing House

This sounds like a good news story?  Well only up to a point. Until a few years ago Basing House was a museum run by Hampshire Council, with knowledgeable curators living on site who cared about the siege,  as well as excellent hosts and guides.  Their jobs were cut with the pressure on the public sector.  Compared to the £1m spend on the grounds, £50,000 isn’t a lot for a battlefield interpretation centre

This is a tale of modern British heritage funding. The  Heritage Lottery fund is the only game in town,  It is the largest benefactor to the heritage sector disbursing £250m a year while funding from public sector through English Heritage and Local government has been cut back and funding for humanities and social science research has been greatly reduced.  The HLF funding critera are based on outcomes for heritage preservation, communities and participants in the projects. Arguably these are a fair way to apportion resources  between the  competing bids for funding for a range of calls for funding.

But there are consequences of this pre-eminence of the HLF.  The HLF funds “projects”, not  core resources, with a focus on matched funding and resources from, volunteers rather than paid staff.   The result is fewer tenured posts and more hand to mouth projects staffed by contractors working to the HLF standard rates which impose a ceiling for pay in the sector, substantially below those that apply to commercial business.

The HLF critera are weighted towards projects which engage a large number of participants. Projects needing  expertise such as battlefield archaeology fare badly.  The funding for Basing House appears to display finds discovered by early archaeological work, not funding research itself.  HLF will help to display what professional archaologists have found, but will do nothing to uncover other battlefields that may lie below the soil.

This is short sighted.  Advances in battlefield archaeology has made it possible to discover a lot more about the past.   British universities produce good  battlefield archaeologists and military historians.  Yet the funding is all geared towards projects which preserve buildings or inform and educate en mass.

Tourism is Britian;s second ;largest export industry, and heritage is our principle asset.  The Visit Britian plan is to increase revenue from tourism.  This implies developing new destinations.  The response to the discovery of the Boswth battlefield and then Richard III’s body shows the interest in old battles and battlefields.

It is crazy that the investment in new heritage assets is funded in such a haphazard way.  What other key industry is funded by charity handouts from the proceeds of a public lottery?  Which other key sector expects investments of funding to be matched by the time of volunteers from the big society?

British Battlefields is a voice to campaign for proper funding for the Battlefield and military heritage which attracts visitors.

A RATING SYSTEM FOR BRITISH BATTLEFIELDS AND MILITARY HERITAGE SITES

Hastings _2006
Hastings 1066 Battlefield. English Heritage property, good walking routes inside and outside the battlefield. Good access by public transport and car.

One of the first things that British Battlefields would like to do is to provide visitors with the information to plan a visit to a battlefield or other military heritage site. We would like to establish a standardised rating system for battlefields that make it easy for the visitor to plan a visit. This isn’t about the significance of the battles themselves, but what is there to see and do there. This information isn’t widely recorded and we would like the help from those who know the area to help to build up this information and keep it up to date.

Battlefields

Very few British Battlefields have an interpretation centre or are marked with information boards or a walking or driving trail. Unlike the exhibits in a museum, the exhibits are scattered over many acres, usually of private property.

edgehill_monument
This view over the registered battlefield of Edeghill shows mrolling countryside, if a little more enclosed than in the C17th. The viewpoint is next to the Castle inn, which until a burglary, held a collection of weapons, pictures and artifacts.

A visitor needs to know what is there to see. Is the battlefield landscape unchanged? Or is it only possible to see the historic landscape, from a single viewpoint with blinkers to hide modern development? Or is there just an information panel on an urban development which once was open country?

This monument, Also at Edgehill is on MOD land and can only be accessed by the public on rare occasions and with prior permission
This monument, Also at Edgehill is on MOD land and can only be accessed by the public on rare occasions and with prior permission

How easy is it to drive around the battlefield? Martin Marix Evans told me that the design of the viewing points at Naseby was inspired by the desire to avoid the difficulties experienced by his aged parent walking to the existing monument. It would be useful to know whether someone limited mobility could make a visit to a viewing and interpretation point close to a car park. Is there car parking on site or close by?

Barnet Battlefield 1471 - Kitts Ends alternative site. Open rural landscape. Privately owned with no public access. No facilities. No interpretation and limited parking in a few viewing points. Public transport access by tube to High Barnet (45 min walk or 10 mins bus ride) or rail to Hadley Wood and 30 mins walk. Best access via bicycle.
Barnet Battlefield 1471 – Kitts Ends alternative site. Open rural landscape. Privately owned with no public access. No facilities. No interpretation and limited parking in a few viewing points. Public transport access by tube to High Barnet (45 min walk or 10 mins bus ride) or rail to Hadley Wood and 30 mins walk. Best access via bicycle.

Is it easy to visit the battlefield by public transport? How far away is the nearest public transport stop?

How easy is it to walk around the battlefield? Is easy walking over foot paths? Or will the visitor expect to want through muddy tracks or over rough ground.

What interpretation exists? Is there a visitor, information panels or a leaflet? Or does the visitor need to read up before the visit or hire a guide to make sense of the ground?

What other facilities exist? Are there any lavatories nearby? Is there somewhere to buy a drink – or shelter from inclement weather?

Museums

turnham3
This information boar at Turnham Green is part of a walking trail around the London borough of Acton and Houndslow. At this point it is possible to look across what was common land one army’s battle-line to the other. Easy access by public transport. Less easy to park in the working week!

The same is also true of much of the other military heritage. Britain has dozens of Regimental museums partially funded by the MOD. There are also corners of municipal museums as well as private and local museums and heritage sites. Their opening hours vary as do the charges. It also helps to know if there are exhibits relating to specific campaigns units and personalities. They vary in their ease of access and their accessibility by car and public transport.

It helps to know who owns the site. Is this somewhere where an English Heritage or CADW membership helps? How expensive is it? Does a visitor need to make a prior appointment?

EXAMPLE RATING

We think it would be a good idea if people interested in military heritage could have a guide to the gems which exist in the countryside and in our many military heritage sites. British Battlefields is recording the information about tourist access for each battlefield. There is a draft scheme on the  page called “rating system,” This uses the tourist attraction map symbols from the 1:25,000 OS maps.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP

Rating battlefields is quite a large task, and we would like to enlist the help of people with local knowledge.

  • Tell us what you think about the rating system.
  • Send in your rating of your local battlefield or museum.

INTRODUCING BRITISH BATTLEFIELDS

British Battlefields is a destination marketing organisation, commercial business with the aim of promoting and develop tourism to Britain’s Battlefields and military heritage.   Britain is not as well known as France, Belgium, South Africa or the USA for its battlefield heritage tourism.  But it should be.   We have many of the requirements to support more battlefield tourism, but these are not joined up in a way that potential customers can buy them.  By bringing together destinations and services British Battlefields aims to make it easier for potential visitors to visit Britain’s military heritage.

Battlefield heritage tourism should be important to Britain.  Tourism is our second largest export industry and a major source of employment.  People visit Britain because of its heritage.   Battlefields and military heritage is an under used resource.  There are over five hundred battles sieges and skirmishes in England alone and hundreds more museums and preserved military heritage.  British universities produce military historians and battlefield archaeologists in unrivalled numbers and quality.  Volunteers from the Battlefields Trust and local battlefield societies run informative and entertaining walks.  Throughout the year there are re-enactments and historic pageants across the country.  But you would not know this if you read the tourist brochures about the country.

The main reason why battlefield heritage is largely invisible is because there is no funding.  In the UK, funding for tourism is from the destinations, which favour those which already receive lots of tourists.

small but perfectly fortmed
Few British battlefields are as well presented as Flodden battlefield, which has information panels around a walking trail as well as “The world’s smallest visitor centre”

Much of Britain’s military heritage lacks much of what a visitor might expect from a destination.  Many of Britain’s battlefields offer little for the visitor beyond a view of the landscape, unintelligible without expert interpretation.  Few offer the basic facilities expected of any tourist destination. The travel trade isn’t really geared towards British military heritage either.  The tour operators who specialise in battlefield travel and the guides they employ, tend to focus on the well established travel business to the battlefields of the world wars in Europe.

There are some glimpses of what might be possible.  The millions of annual of visitors to the Imperial war Museums sites at Kennington, Duxford and HMS Belfast show that there is an appetite for military heritage.  The success of the Bosworth Visitor Centre in Leicestershire shows that people do want to visit old battlefields and has brought significant benefits to the local economy.  The rediscovery of Richard III’s grave has led to new battlefield tours offered by tour operators.  The development of modern battlefields tourism in France and Belgium shows it is possible to stimulate demand and make a difference.

British Battlefields offers services which will address some of the problems and make it easier for visitors and the travel trade to know what is available and to provide the services that lead to enjoyable and informative visits to our heritage.

British Battlefields will offer a voice and raise awareness of what is available. We will promote destinations and services via our website, and targeted communications to the media.  We will attend trade shows and provide an opportunity to showcase destinations and services.

Naseby_Misty Day
There may not be a visitor centre at Naseby, but a re-enactor brings the story to life and something to see when it is impossible to see the countryside!

We will help to design and promote products to tour operators and the public.  Few battlefields can offer the interpretation provided by the Bosworth Visitor Centre. But we can bring together guides and re-enactors who can provide an exciting visitor experience. Similarly we can bring together guides, subject matter experts and museums or heritage centres that can provide a day or longer on a theme.

 British Battlefields will offer opportunities for people who support battlefield heritage as a hobby to generate revenue for themselves and their causes.

 We will facilitate the development of the skills needed to operate to a professional standard.  We will provide training courses and access to other professional services.

 If you are interested in making a difference please support British Battlefields by joining as a member.