Get up close and personal with English Heritage – a British institution that breathes life back into some of our most beloved and important historical sites.
Chances are, if you’ve ever passed through the English countryside, you will have already heard of English Heritage. You may have spotted their brown signs and blue plaques, or even visited an English Heritage site or two. But, have you ever wondered what it means or why it’s important?
You might be surprised to hear that English Heritage currently cares for over 400 historic buildings, attractions and monuments across England, including five properties that fall within World Heritage Sites. Impressive, huh? And what’s even more astonishing is that through these sites, the charity brings the story of England to life for over 10 million people each year.
How it began…
Since its inception in 1882, as a government department called The Office of Works, English Heritage has undergone a series of transformations. In 1913 the Office was tasked with making a collection of historical sites and buildings across Britain. By 1933 the department already oversaw 273 places of interest, opening them up to the public to tell their stories – with the addition of postcards, gift shops and even a café at some of the sites. In the 1980s, now known as the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, the department appointed its first Chairman, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. Realising that its name was not exactly snappy, Lord Montagu rebranded it and so English Heritage was born.
How it’s going…
Over the following two decades, English Heritage underwent some significant changes, which, importantly, included the introduction of the membership scheme. This was a roaring success and by the mid 2000’s income from the sites had begun to make a contribution towards their maintenance. In 2015, English Heritage separated into two parts with the National Heritage Collection becoming a charitable trust.
What can I see?
With an internationally important collection of sites and artefacts that spans six millennia, English Heritage is the caretaker of a hugely diverse range of attractions. From Georgian manor houses to Medieval battlegrounds and Roman forts, you can be sure that you’ll find an English Heritage site to pique your interest. There are also around 500,000 objects to be enjoyed, which include paintings by Rembrandt, Velazquez, and Vermeer, plus many historic artefacts, such as Charles Darwin's notebooks and the Duke of Wellington's boots!
5 unmissable sites!
Stonehenge - This must-see monument is one of the world’s most important ancient sites. Get up close and personal to the mighty Sarsen stones and discover how this incredible Neolithic structure came to be.
Hadrian's Wall - The 73-mile long frontier of the Roman empire, Hadrian’s Wall became a World Heritage site in 1987. Today it offers visitors the chance to take in dramatic views and gain an insight into life in Roman Britain.
The Jewel Tower (Westminster) - Dating back almost 650 years, with ornate 14th-century ceiling carvings, The Jewel Tower at Westminster is one of London’s most intriguing attractions.
The Iron Bridge - Following a £3.6 million restoration project, The Iron Bridge in Shropshire reopened to visitors in 2019. Built in 1779, it is considered an important symbol of the Industrial Revolution.
St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury - St. Augustine’s Abbey is part of the Canterbury World Heritage Site and marks the rebirth of Christianity in the area after the departure of the Romans.
Did you know?
You may have spotted some English Heritage sites on the big screen! Eagle-eyed viewers will have clocked that Dover Castle was transformed into a Tudor palace for The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), while Old Wardour Castle famously formed the backdrop for some key moments in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991). Why not recreate your favourite scenes when you next visit?
Connecting people to the story of England in a tangible way is something that English Heritage is incredibly passionate about. They don’t want you to just read about English history – they want you to be able to reach out and touch it. To breathe it in and experience the story of England as if you were there. And that’s why they have embarked upon an ambitious conservation programme to allow future generations to enjoy their historic sites for many years to come. Now you can play a direct part in the futureproofing of English history by becoming a member.
For less than £5 a month, members make a vital contribution to English Heritage’s work as a charity, and in return they can enjoy unlimited access to hundreds of historic places, free entry for up to six children* and free parking where the car park is owned by English Heritage.
Exclusive annual membership offer!
To celebrate Reader’s Digest’s partnership with English Heritage, we have an incredible membership offer for readers. Sign up here and you’ll receive 20% off an annual or gift membership! Quote promotion code: RD20EHM
*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
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