Intangible Cultural Heritage

Following my talk last Sunday about the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, someone in the audience said that the thing he found most baffling was that so many of the relevant heritage and cultural agencies had sat on their hands. SAVE didn’t want to get involved because it was a ‘factory’, the Georgian Group because it was workers’ culture, not posh culture, Historic England couldn’t see the point of it and didn’t think it was part of its remit to protect Living History (even in spite of living history being part of its mission statement).

I tried to explain that in this country we don’t really do living history. We prefer our past embalmed. Bricks and stone, but not the life and work inside (except at Erddig, but then that’s life below stairs).

Now, someone has provided good proof of this strange neglect. UNESCO has a programme to protect what it calls ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’. Guess how much ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ there is in the UK according to UNESCO. Precisely none. No dance, no croissants, no witchcraft, no bells. Neither the National Trust which runs Styal Mill nor Historic England has thought to register cheddar cheese or Morris Dancing.

Maybe an incoming labour government could address this curious, but revealing lapse.


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