Chiltern Society Heritage Group Launch at Chenies Manor

  |  Published: Apr 13th 2016
Earl Howe addresses the meeting
Earl Howe addresses the meeting

The new Heritage Group of the Chiltern Society was launched on Saturday to a capacity audience of nearly 80 people, including more than thirty representatives of local History and Archaeological groups, the Ridgeway Partnership, the Chilterns Conservation Board and Historic Houses Association.

In a keynote address, the Earl Howe spoke very personally of the beautiful landscape of his inheritance of 1600 acres of mixed farmland and beech woodland. He asked what we meant by 'heritage' suggesting it went beyond building and landscapes of the past, beyond history and archaeology to include people, communities and traditions that together 'define the identity of a community.' 

In particular, he noted 'the problem about defining a cohesive identity for the whole of the Chilterns - an area...that stretches from Hitchin and Luton in the north to Goring in the south, with numerous towns in between...across country and local authority boundaries...with little in the way of logos or signposting that might give life to the idea of a discrete entity called "the Chilterns."'

However, if anyone should ask, said Earl Howe, 'why a group like this is needed, they have only to think about some of the threats that look over us in the Chilterns; not just HS2, which "I fear will do untold damage to the landscape including some of our ancient woodlands;" but more generally the pressures that arise from competing demands on space and land. In conclusion, Earl Howe stressed the need for building partnerships and collaboration and cited as an example the 'Chilterns Accord' between the Society and the Chilterns Conservation Board.

Linda Walton, the group's link person with Historic England, underlined the group's aims: to Inform, Champion and, if necessary Campaign on behalf of landscape, buildings, archaeology but also community. The group would, she said, work with about five Projects at any one time. Three Projects are currently proposed.

The first of increasing importance is SAVE OUR PUBS.  The rate of closure is increasing. Not only are Pubs havens for walkers and tourists and so a vital support for tourism but also sometimes some of our most valued buildings. Pubs we hear are being turned over to residential development without proper planning procedures being followed. This Project, working in conjunction with CAMRA, will emphasise the importance of the early registration of Pubs as Community Assets and where possible we will support campaigns around particular Pubs. This work may lead to the online publication of a how-to booklet on pub enhancement and preservation.

A second Project is to increase knowledge and awareness of important buildings in the Chilterns not officially 'designated'. Chiltern and S Bucks District Council have included in their local plans a Heritage Strategy which includes drawing up a Local List' of such sites. The CS Heritage Group will support the work of its Planning Field Officers who consider individual planning applications by contacting those authorities who have already committed to compiling such lists and eventually all local authorities and volunteering to help with the creation of such 'Local Lists'.

The third current Project aims to bring the story of the Ridgeway to life for walkers on the 47 miles of the National Trail which passes through the heart of the Chilterns, from the Goring Gap to Ivinghoe Beacon. This initiative, in conjunction with the Ridgeway Partnership, aims to enrich everyones understanding of this beautiful area. The Heritage Group is looking for seven groups of Volunteers, each based around a town or village close to the Ridgeway, who will research interesting facts, about ancient or more modern history, features or landscape which can be made available free to visitors, using social media, smart phones and on websites.

There were lively discussions identifying further possible projects and general agreement on the need for much greater networking, liaison and information passing across the Chilterns, particularly using new methods of IT.  Geoff Wiggett, the Chiltern Society's Volunteer Officer spoke of the importance of volunteers to help with the wide range of tasks from practical conservation and maintenance to strategic thinking and planning - for this, a broad range of interests, skills and resources were needed. Jeffrey Newman, Chair of the Heritage Group promised that all proposals would be assessed and prioritised.

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