Changing the way we understand buildings

The National Heritage List for England contains over 400,000 entries for listed buildings, registered parks and gardens, scheduled monuments, registered battlefields and protected shipwrecks. The majority of listed buildings were added to the List between the 1950s and 1970s, and a high proportion of registered parks and gardens were added to the List in the 1980s. Because the list emerged in an ad-hoc way, over a long period of time, it presents a very patchy view of the historic evolution of the built environment in England. For this reason, although many Jewish country houses are listed buildings, few if any have been flagged as Jewish. This is something the Jewish Country Houses project has worked hard to address, and we are proud to announce that we have recently completed a Programme of Minor Enhancements to the National Heritage List in partnership with Historic England.

Enhancements like these can make a real difference to the way in which we understand a building. For example, until recently the entry on Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham in The National Heritage List for England was very accurate, but did not give much information about Lady Waldegrave and the Stern family who inhabited the villa after Horace Walpole. Working with Historic England enabled us to correct this lacuna, which makes it possible to contextualise these figures better from a socio-cultural perspective, and to understand some of the architectural changes they made in a more articulate way, such as the stained glass windows in the Round Drawing Room, and the copious use of heraldry and the parquet in the main Gallery which has been a central feature of the original listing. The current digital exhibition The Unexpected Jewish Past of Strawberry Hill highlights all these connections, providing with a new layer of information which can only make the visit to the House more interesting and exciting.

Altogether, some 43 enhancements to the List have been made through this programme, illuminating what has until now been a hidden dimension of our national heritage for future researchers to explore. We are delighted to think that this programme might serve as a constructive model for future initiatives as well.

Abigail Green, June 2021


Listen to Radio 4's Sunday programme talk to Abigail Green about 'Enriching the List'

BBC Radio 4 - Sunday, Turban Confusion; Jewish Heritage; Hong Kong Christian Activists

Join the programme at 32.02 minutes to hear Abigail Green discuss this initiative with William Crawley

Image: detail from the Grant of Arms to John Braham (photo Strawberry Hill House)