Wherever you’re planning to be for Remembrance Day this Thursday (November 11 2010), the chances are you’ll be somewhere near a site which owes something to a fund set up as a memorial to the sacrifices of servicemen and women.
From the Mary Rose and SS Britain to Titian masterpieces and the Anglo-Saxon gold of the recent Staffordshire Hoard finds, the National Heritage Memorial Fund has awarded at least £300 million to more than 1,200 projects since 1980.
Although the non-departmental body looked like it might have needed saving itself in the run-up to the Government Spending Review earlier last month, it has survived, albeit with an annual grant-in-aid of provision of £10 million-per-year slashed to £20 million for the whole four-year period until 2015.
“We are pleased that in difficult circumstances the important role of the National Heritage Memorial Fund – the emergency fund to save our most important and precious heritage – has been recognised,” says Chair Dame Jenny Abramsky, who concedes the reduction in their protective arsenal is “disappointing”.
“The NHMF responds to urgent and unpredictable circumstance, so its annual budget is flexible. In spite of difficult times, we will continue to do our utmost to play a vital part in saving great heritage right across the UK, in memory of those who have given their lives for the nation.”
Launched in response to outrage at the 1977 knockdown sale of one of the country’s most decadent mansions, Mentmore House, the concept was originally coined the National Land Fund in 1946, but its £50 million original provision lay unused by the treasury until the National Heritage Act allowed the NHMF to be formally created 30 years ago.
Making vital contributions to a “truly extraordinary diversity of treasures”, Abramsky says its legacy has helped historic sites which form “part of our national identity” and provide a “fitting and lasting memorial to those who have died for the nation.”
Some are deeply personal – last year it siphoned £550,000 to save First World War poet, author and soldier Siegfried Sassoon’s personal archive for the University of Cambridge, offering his private diaries and notebooks from the battle he thought would be “the war to end all wars”, including A Soldier’s Declaration, his statement which is regarded as one of the earliest anti-war writings.
The acquisition caused Abramsky to observe the “sharp focus” the recent death of the UK’s last surviving First World War veteran had given to remembrance, highlighting the Fund’s duty to “safeguard our heritage as a lasting memorial” to the men and women lost in conflict.
The Fund also gave £1 million to HMS Cavalier, the Royal Navy’s imperious World War II c-class destroyer at Chatham Historic Dockyard, and one of its first projects was a £48,000 gift to help buy Wimpole Avenue, a navigational landmark for RAF pilots and former home of Rudyard Kiplings daughter.
Like all of its investments, the Cambridgeshire site has stood the test of time. “There is much to be proud of and enjoy, but we know that there are challenging times ahead,” warns Abramsky.
“We will do our utmost to continue the work of investing in the most important and priceless heritage, which once gone is lost forever.”