Men from the Ministry How Britain Saved Its Heritage Simon Thurley

Publication date:
15 Sep 2014
Yale University Press
224 pages: 235 x 159mm
100 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

Between 1900 and 1950 the British state amassed a huge collection of over 800 historic buildings, monuments, and sites and opened them to the public.  This engaging book explains why the extraordinary collecting frenzy took place, locating it in the fragile and nostalgic atmosphere of the interwar years, dominated by neo-romanticism and cultural protectionism. The government’s activities were mirrored by the establishment of dozens of voluntary bodies, including the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and the National Trust. Men from the Ministry sets all this activity, for the first time, in its political, economic and cultural contexts, painting a picture of a country traumatized by war, fearful of losing what was left of its history, and a government that actively set out to protect them. It dissects a government program that established a modern state on deep historical and rural roots.

'State ownership makes conservation political and Thurley knows his cannot help but be a political book- Rosemary Hill, Sunday Telegraph.

'In this absorbing book, the chief executive of English Heritage explores how, between 1900 and 1950, the British state amassed more than 800 buildings, monuments and historic sites and gave the public access to them.  Thurley is a well-placed guide to the characters who enabled this collecting spree and to the challenges that they faced; he tells a vivid story of how the country successfully established a vast open-air museum'– Apollo Magazine

'. . .[This] is a timely book documenting the long and passionate struggle for preserving historic buildings and sites.'—R. C. Richardson, THES

‘Thurley’s text [is] knowledgeable, subtle, supple, by turns celebratory and sardonic.’—David Lowenthal, TLS

‘How and why we got into this strenuously nostalgic frame of mind is the subject of English Heritage boss Simon Thurley’s engrossing book.’—Richard Morrison, The Times