The word ‘heritage’ usually refers to buildings that were once owned by aristocrats. I’ve been thinking about what it might mean to ‘ordinary’ people around here. I think heritage is anything that we think has artistic merit and deserves to be kept and maintained if at all possible. I’ve taken some photos of aspects of our environment in Thornton Heath that I think its worth valuing. You can see a few of them at the end of this article. The rest are a set on Flickr. I have tagged all the photos that relate positively or negatively to this idea of heritage with the word ‘heritage’ so you can bring them all up as a group.
Heritage suggests something old that is worth saving. Much of the Heath is Edwardian and about 100 years old. Most of the fabric of our houses needs repairing and replacing. Often we don’t have much money to do this and tend to go for the cheapest way of getting a result. However this will often be something that has a good deal less quality than what it replaces. The classic example is wooden windows replaced by UPVC. Most houses have made this change and it is rare and notable to see houses that still have wood windows. Often this happens with a loss of stained glass features. Cast iron rainwater pipes and gutters are replaced with cheap plastic versions. Fancy clay ridge tiles are replaced with featureless concrete ones – look along our skyline! Nice front path tiling, that has become broken get covered with concrete or replaced with cheap concrete slabs.
But there are things that are not antique that are also worth saving as well. Things with artistic or craft merit. Things we value and give us pleasure for whatever reason. These things are just as worth fighting for.
Loss of environment quality happens incrementally. Bits here and bits there. But the overall result is that the place we live in goes downhill. And our environment is a large part of how we feel about ourselves, and certainly how our children feel about themselves. If we don’t care about our environment it is often because we don’t really value our own lives or those of our neighbours.
I suggest we celebrate when someone makes an effort to replace the old with something that looks and feels as good or better; when someone maintains a really colourful front garden; gets some old stained glass mended or reinstated; has a front garden wall rebuilt in a skillful way. Of course it doesn’t have to always kow tow to the Edwardian past. The idiosyncratic and artful are also to be welcomed. This might be something as simple as a ceramic house number made at an evening class.
Not everyone has the money to do this of course. But we could harass the council to give grants to the domestic heritage of Thornton Heath through a Friends organisation or we could even get money from the Lottery or elsewhere. Then again its sometimes not just about money. Its often just as much about knowing the place you can get materials from or the right tradesperson who can work with specialist materials. I only learnt by chance of a woodyard in East London that still makes reasonably priced Edwardian style skirting boards and dado rails. Sometimes the extra cost of a job isn’t that great. e.g. replacing a section of cast iron guttering. This is where a local group or network can work wonders.