Heritage at Risk at the Movies

Our Heritage at Risk programme protects and manages the historic environment, so the number of ‘at risk’ historic places and sites across England is reduced.

Stephanie Dance-Groom, Historic England’s Local Engagement Adviser in the South East, takes us through some of her local Heritage at Risk sites that have featured on the silver screen in the past and need our help now. 

Doctor Who is running again. It’s Tom Baker this time (the one with the preposterously long scarf and jelly beans). Surrounded by trees and chalky rocks he stumbles across a railway line where his foot becomes hopelessly stuck in the rails as the sound of an impending train races towards him. Will the Doctor escape in time? Can he stop the Master’s latest dastardly plan? Will he find his way out of this impossible landscape created by a machine?

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Brockham Lime Works, Surrey, as seen in the Dr Who episode the Deadly Assassin with Tom Baker.

Except of course this place isn’t a psychic projection of the Master’s most evil mind – it isn’t even a set. Actually it’s a Heritage at Risk site in Surrey: Brockham Lime Works. The rails have long since gone and now all that remains are the deteriorating ruins of kilns slowly disappearing into the undergrowth. These 19th Century Lime kilns are one of the few remaining sites which reflect the industrial past of Surrey. We could do with more than the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver to fix things here but plans are under way to find grants for repairs and provide information locally so passers-by can understand what they have stumbled upon.

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Church of St Mary Long Crendon as seen in Midsomer Murders episode Dead Letters

In the South East we have over 500 Heritage at Risk Sites which have an uncanny knack of popping up in many of our best loved films and TV series.  While what makes an individual heritage site special might be down to its stunning architectural features, what it tells us about the past or that historical figure who lived, loved and wrote their best speech or novel within its walls; here in the South East we’d like to take some time to celebrate the value these vulnerable sites have in popular culture.

Here’s a selection which have played a starring role on a screen near you. Sit back and get out the popcorn…

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Church of St Mary the Virgin, Henley on Thames as seen in Midsomer Murders episode Last Years Model

Midsomer Murders, with its worryingly high body count, features a number of churches on our Heritage at Risk list. The 13th Century Church of St Mary in Long Crendon (seen in Dead Letters) and the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Henley on Thames (seen in Last Year’s Model). Great news at the Grade I listed Church of St Mary where repair work is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund whereas detective work at St Mary the Virgin has shown there are still problems with water leaking through the roof. So far we don’t think anyone has been murdered at a Heritage at Risk site but it’s probably only a matter of time…

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RAF Bicester, Oxfordshire as seen in The Imitation Game

The site of the former RAF Bicester  (featured image) is very popular with filmmakers and it’s easy to see why (RAF Upper Heyford up the road had a problem with Zombies in World War Z and James Bond dropped in during Octopussy). With many original features still remaining on site (including bomb stores, pillboxes, shelters and trenches), it is the most complete example of an interwar RAF airbase in the UK.  You might recognise the site as the backdrop for the Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch but we are finding it less of a puzzle to work on. The current owners, Bicester Heritage have undertaken a successful campaign to regenerate and repurpose the Grade II listed buildings and while several of the original features are still at risk, our fantastic partnership with the owners and some funding from us is really helping to improve the condition of the remaining structures so that they too can be removed from the Risk Register.

 

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Norris Castle, Isle of Wight as seen in the Dr Who episode The Sea Devils with Jon Pertwee

Finally back to where we started as good old Dr Who seems to be familiar with getting into trouble at kilns. Aside from Brockham, the quarry at Betchworth Lime Kiln  features in the 1975 episodes of Genesis of the Daleks (they’re right on the North Downs Way should you be passing). While Norris Castle on the Isle of Wight is where the Master is kept imprisoned as sea monsters roam around (the Doctor and Jo can explain that story to you)! Repairing and maintaining castles and kilns is an expensive business so sadly they’ll continue to deteriorate until the money can be found.

Aside from their movie magic, what these sites all share is the real risk that if we don’t all act now to save them we’ll be losing not only a part of our popular culture but the fragile links to stories of our past such as our industrial heritage.

You can find out how volunteers in the South East of England are working right now to save and protect these special places, and if you want to see more Heritage at Risk sites used as filming locations check out our online image gallery and tweet any others to us @HE_SouthEast  or @HistoricEngland

Further Reading

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