Heritage Matters

Does Heritage actually matter 

in Hampshire in the 21st Century?

If we reflect upon what Heritage actually represents or encompasses, then it is generally accepted now to focus primarily on who we are and where we live. This can include the place we were born, the road or street we inhabit, the places where we work, the clubs we play for, belong to or support , the sports grounds we frequent, the local park and other places we visit. It is about stretches of the beautiful countryside, villages and boroughs, towns and cities, magnificent cathedrals and rural churches, treasures in all kinds of museums, our piers, town halls and pavilions, ornate gardens, ancient roads, canals and railways - and so much more besides. In summary, it embraces anything from Britain's past deemed worthy of preservation, by virtue of its significance, associations, historical value or beauty. 

It is also where the potential loss or destruction of anything in the aforementioned list of examples might potentially threaten the quality of any of our lives and environment. We are constantly challenged in our daily lives with what we keep and what we throw away. Is it surplus not just to our requirements, but those coming after us? Do we sell it, give it way or throw it away? If we do keep it, why are we keeping it and how do we store it? The pace of technological change constantly ask questions of how we adapt and embrace opportunities to save what really matters in a more accessible form for others. Do we need to retain the physical article, when there is already an electronic copy? What space have we allocated ourselves to save what we want to keep, while ensuring valuable future additions will also be accommodated? 

In many ways, threat has always been the major driver to inspire conservation and heritage. If the aims of heritage may be best summed up as protection, possession, prevention, proactivity, promotion and participation, then it is particularly significant in Hampshire where world famous examples abound. Within two miles of the Burnaby Road Ground in Portsmouth, you have, for example, Charles Dickens’ birthplace, HMS Victory and the Mary Rose. Hampshire’s Literary and Military Heritage are just two marquee examples of where this famous county’s need to preserve and showcase its rich past to inspire others in the future, has been worthy of sizeable investment, careful thought and great resourcefulness. 

Currently heritage plays many roles: it includes seeking to preserve local, national or international treasures, displaying works of art, preserving beautiful landscapes, campaigning against new building projects, explaining history, selling traditional artefacts to finance other conservation projects, and promoting culture of many kinds. 

The period between Hampshire County Cricket Club’s formation in 1862 and the first participation by the team in the County Championship in 1895 coincided with the first great wave of Victorian conservation and heritage projects. It was, of course, a period during which the National Trust came into existence. The wide expansion of the railway network was instrumental in defining this era. Along with other vast factors like urbanisation, this typified huge and wide-reaching change;  for some it represented unimaginable mobility and opportunity - compared to everyday life in the recent past - while for others it meant destruction and expense at every turn. You just need to read Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son” to realise the impact of the construction of the railway lines out of the grand metropolis where the author lived at the time.

There has, of course, been an existential threat to County Cricket throughout its history. The legacy of those who have fought to preserve the County Championship lives on, despite its continuing uncertain future. That battle in itself deserves true recognition and absolutely needs to be maintained by those who still cherish it as a meaningful competition in the 21st Century. Hampshire’s rescue by Rod Bransgrove - and the move away from venues which could no longer sustain the county game in Hampshire - are two themes amongst many which we want to document, preserve and educate others about in the Archive Room and on the Website. 

If the Victorians were destructive, especially when they built the nation’s railways, they were also creating much of the fabric of what today in public life is regarded as quintessential heritage. Manchester, near where I live, saw a total transformation in the second half of the nineteenth Century as a city with its great public buildings, municipal town hall, museums and libraries, churches, canals, mills, terraces of housing, and public parks. Its sporting and musical heritage is what still draws me most to it today as a favourite, yet constantly changing, city. 

Over the past forty years the regular summer car journey south to Southampton to watch my beloved Hampshire has been more than halved - despite the fact I increasingly drive slower than ever! In the mid 1990’s the conservation versus progress argument became noisiest at Newbury, which used to be where the biggest traffic jams occurred. This was at a time when the A34 bypass united grassroots activists and county ladies in protest. For the last 50 years, the battleground has become new roads and motorways, notably, of course, the M3 at Winchester. The bypass right through the middle of some of the most stunningly beautiful countryside in the land was especially problematic. Winchester’s heritage and beauty are both never lost on me every time - all too frequently probably for my very genial hosts who live there - that I am lucky to enough visit as part of a Hampshire Cricket related trip. 

When you do arrive at the ground here on Marshall Way, history is being made every day. Based on the premise “standing still is not an option!” the whole site continues to evolve and develop dramatically. The leadership at the club has been totally driven to make it a top international venue, hosting the most important games on the Test calendar. When the Ashes arrive here in 2027, it will be a dream come true for a great many. Hampshire fully deserves to have its rich cricket heritage marked in this special way. Back in the first season of 2001, when Robin Smith’s hundred against the tourists inspired his team’s memorable victory in the Tourists game, none of us could have foreseen that an Ashes game less than thirty years later would be played in the middle of the same arena. The fact that it actually should definitely have been less than twenty is a topic for another time! 

Here at Hampshire Heritage with the Archive Room, we want to be ready to capture the moment in July 2027 far more efficiently. Every time I go into the Shane Warne Stand through the entrance doors, I still can’t quite believe he played for us or, far more poignantly, that he is no longer with us. Saving and recreating memories is how we want to help. We also want to show the Australians who visit how we, in this county, are so closely linked as a club with our nation’s greatest rivals. It gives us a tangible and realistic focus to work towards. 

Over the next three years, we have countless questions to answer and challenges to meet when organising, decluttering, cataloguing, filing, labelling, storing, displaying and sharing the Heritage Collection. The one answer we quickly reached when we reformed in the Autumn of 2023 as a working team was that the heritage of Hampshire’s men’s cricket in its widest sense matters most to all of us. We also recognise that we need to adapt to welcome others who can help us properly incorporate women’s cricket and matches played by Southern Brave at the ground into the long term project. 

It promises be fun all the way, given the friendship, mutual respect and cooperation that already exists amongst the volunteer group undertaking to complete the project by then. It is a privilege to be able to volunteer for HCH. We are united by our love for this club, our interest in collecting and our shared ambition to do justice to the collection. That of course means opening it up securely, but in a really interesting and accessible way, to our own HCH supporters. If you value Hampshire’s heritage for any of the reasons mentioned in this piece, please enrol to become an HCH supporter. We hope to count on more support from you to realise our own Ashes 2027 dream.

JC Winter February 2024