The vis­i­tor cen­tre is a poi­soned chal­ice

Country Life Every Week - - MY WEEK -

IT seems to have be­come a truth uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged that ev­ery good her­itage at­trac­tion needs a vis­i­tor cen­tre. This is the place to pur­chase tick­ets, to visit the loo and, as a spe­cial treat, to pur­chase an ice cream (but only for those who’ve been well be­haved in the car get­ting there).

In the past, the Min­istry of Works and the Na­tional Trust were sat­is­fied to erect sim­ple and un­ob­tru­sive ticket huts, the think­ing be­ing that a site should be dis­turbed by its public ac­ces­si­bil­ity as lit­tle as pos­si­ble. Alas, no more! A mere ticket hut is an op­por­tu­nity missed and ev­ery­one is scram­bling to re­place them as quickly as the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund can pro­vide the ne­c­es­sary funds.

Many rea­sons are given. Mod­ern vis­i­tors re­quire ‘ori­en­ta­tion’, ro­tat­ing ex­hi­bi­tions and ed­u­ca­tion about—and ahead of—what­ever it is they’ve cho­sen to see. A dreary ice cream is a hope­lessly in­ad­e­quate sub­sti­tute for a restau­rant and the mod­est desk that once sold a hand­ful of faded post­cards and a guide­book, it is as­serted, has no ap­peal for the mod­ern con­sumer of her­itage. In­stead, there­fore, the need is for some­thing akin to a mini depart­ment store.

What­ever their jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, such build­ings are vastly ex­pen­sive to de­sign and con­struct (the one at Stone­henge cost £27 mil­lion). In most cases, it’s hard to be­lieve that—penny for penny with run­ning ex­penses—they can ever re­turn their cost. More im­por­tantly, they run the risk of com­pro­mis­ing the char­ac­ter of the very places they’ve been cre­ated to serve.

Take the ex­am­ple of Charleston Farm­house, a ram­shackle place in East Sus­sex fa­mously in­hab­ited by the Blooms­bury Group, who left Lon­don and set­tled here to en­joy a bo­hemian life­style. Money was short and they dec­o­rated the house them­selves with beau­ti­ful and frag­ile mu­rals. They lived in this ex­posed and iso­lated sit­u­a­tion sur­rounded by empty fields and lonely farm build­ings. The whole point of Charleston was that it pro­vided an es­cape from what its own­ers per­ceived as the mod­ern world.

Now, new vis­i­tor fa­cil­i­ties are planned here. They will doubt­less at­tract more vis­i­tors, who will hope­fully sup­port the cost of con­ser­va­tion works to the fab­ric of the farm­house. In short, the project may in­di­rectly se­cure the fu­ture of the prop­erty, but will the fa­cil­i­ties be ap­pro­pri­ate ad­di­tions to it?

Ahead of the works, the site has al­ready been ‘branded’ with mod­ern signs plas­tered all over the place. These tac­itly erode the very sense of au­then­tic­ity that makes a place like this sig­nif­i­cant in the first place. No num­ber of shiny, award-win­ning vis­i­tor cen­tres can ever make up for the de­struc­tion of gen­uine at­mos­phere.

If this is to be the fate of Charleston, then per­haps we should be ask­ing our­selves whether we should be find­ing other ways of sav­ing and main­tain­ing places of cul­tural im­por­tance.

‘They run the risk of com­pro­mis­ing the char­ac­ter of the places they serve

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.