Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A Sign of the Times

You may have heard on the news this week that the sign from the entrance to Auschwitz "Arbeit macht frei" translated as Work sets you free, was stolen although it has now been recovered. The initial reaction I had was of anger that an historic artifact had been stolen, instantly followed by a pause as to what the sign actually was. It was a cynical and evil lie that those entering the camp would be released through their own endeavours: instead they would simply be worked until dead. However despite the natural revulsion that the sign engenders, it is a tangible link with an abhorrent past that should be remembered for two reasons: firstly to remind us of the evil of Fascism and that it must not rise again, and secondly that it is a memorial to all those who died in the camp, and all the others the Nazis ran.
I've never been to one of the death camps, although I know people who have, including a padre who was at the liberation of one. I feel that I should go to one, not just as an historic site but to remember those who died there and why. The Holocaust is definitely a joint European heritage issue, one that we all need to bear in mind to so as to prevent it from happening again, although we have failed in that when we saw similar camps in the former Yugoslavia spring up for ethnic cleansing.
So I am glad the sign has been recovered and although a representation of pure evil, it should be reinstated for the reasons given above.
On a totally different note, I was in Uxbridge at the weekend, nominally to meet my brother and nephew from Paris and spending a mini-Christmas with my Aunt and family. However the snow and ice in Northern France crippled Eurostar and prevented the visit - our Christmas will have to be rescheduled! But it meant I had longer to talk to my aunt and discuss some of our family heritage and history. I know most of the history on my father's side of the family up until my Great Grandfather, especially as I met him. He died just before his 102nd Birthday when I was about five.
But I didn't know that one of my Welsh relatives in the mid 1800's had been awarded a bardic chair for his poetry at the local Eistedfordd. We have no idea where the chair is now, sadly. I also learned more about the French links we have, with my Great Grandfather on the French side being Harbour Master of Marseille. It is interesting how families seem to genetically migrate salmon like back to their roots. My brother has moved to live in France and while recently looking at houses myself I found that I was looking for properties in an area where my mother's family used to own a great deal of farmland, between Chepstow and Lydney.
Sometimes heritage catches up with you, but it is nice to know one's own roots to appreciate where we came from, and possibly why we ended up where we did. It is also the case that heritage doesn't have to be "good" to be important or necessary to our development, nor should we shy away from the reminders, and warnings, of the past. However, occasionally one comes across a gem of personal history, such as my relative's bardic chair. I suppose I'd better start writing poetry.
"There was a young lady from Stoke....."

Tim Davies


Heritage to Entertain, Educate & Inspire

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Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Bridging the Heritage Gap in Bradford on Avon

A friend passed on through Twitter a link about a proposed new pedestrian bridge in historic Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire. The Kingston Bridge is at the planning stage and the project is inviting comment from the public. Reading through the various submissions online:
it was interesting to see that many people were very keen to support the new modern look bridge, which will consist of a tall spire like structure radiating cables to form a dramatic crossing in an historic area within sight of the existing ancient stone bridge.
However there were several dissenting letters too, mainly arguing that such a modern structure was out of keeping with the area's older buildings and asking for a more historic looking design to suit the heritage feel of the town.
In my work, heritage needs to be balanced with modern day practicality. We do not necessarily want to destroy the feel of a place which has strong architectural links with the past with modern facilities and buildings, but nor should we wish to create pastiche everywhere and so rob future generations of their own heritage. Should the Kingston Bradford bridge go ahead as a modern design (and I would support the view that it should) it will serve to highlight and compliment the old around it, drawing attention to the past, not detracting from it and in itself become a representation of early 21st Century architecture for future generations. It may sound slightly silly to say that, but how else is heritage created? Heritage is only our common past, represented by actions, thought, and physical manifestation.
If you want to see a fascinating and successful blend of ancient and modern on a larger scale travel to Falaise Castle in Normandy. This castle, the birthplace of William the Conqueror was very damaged during World War 2 by Allied artillery and bombs as it had been occupied by the Germans. Whereas the French Castle in Sisteron, near the Alps was completely rebuilt after its destruction during the war to be as it had been before 1945 (and now looks like a medieval castle that has been there centuries) at Falaise the castle blends Norman stonework with glass and stainless steel. Glass floors allow light and vistas up and down, a steel drawbridge gives entrance to the keep and audio visual installations convey the history: the blend of architecture, 900 years apart, works extremely well. Have a look!
While not on the grand scale of a castle, Kingston Bridge should go ahead as a modern structure in an historic setting. As a heritage fan and business man working in the heritage environment I fully support the need to preserve our history and surroundings  but don't let this stop us from occasionally placing new structures amongst the old, otherwise we will deny ourselves the pleasure of tracing the evolution of architectural styles of our own time. It will result in stagnation and a lack of inspiration for the future. So I look forward to seeing the bridge built, complimenting the existing historic buildings in one of Wiltshire's most attractive and interesting towns.
Heritage is what we make of it. So let's occasionally create more!

Posted via email from copperphoenix's posterous

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Heroes and Heritage

With the recent announcement that actor Richard Todd had died my thoughts instantly went in two directions at once - firstly sorry that one of the great British actors of his time had passed away and secondly that another of the D Day veterans had gone.
As I think most news reports stated, Todd was very believable in his on screen military roles as he had been a fighting man himself in the Paras. His two most iconic roles are probably as Guy Gibson in "The Dam Busters" and playing the role of Major John Howard in the film "The Longest Day". The latter film saw him playing the role of his own commanding officer in an operation he took part in on the night of 6th June 1944, the capture of the bridge over the Orne Canal, one of the first actions of D Day. Amusingly, one scene shows Todd playing Howard talking to another actor playing Todd! The bridge having been successfully captured by a classic coup de main attack was later renamed Pegasus Bridge after the Airborne Division's Pegasus symbol - the bridge still exists although is now in a museum adjacent to the site and a newer though visually similar bridge has taken its place in recent years.
So Richard Todd symbolised a period in British History when Britain was undoubtedly "Great", populated by a patriotic population still hardy from the privations of the war years. Now over 60 years on, we have a new breed of actors who for the main are more celebrated for their celebrity rather than anything else and my thoughts on hearing of Todd's death perhaps tinged with nostalgia immediately thought how much the world had changed. As a nation we are possibly softer but the recent surge in support for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrates a pleasing return to the appreciation of our military services: about time too. I know from my work that when I am promoting heritage in its broadest from that anything large or small, object or person can be an excellent representation of our collective past. Richard Todd could be classed as a heritage item while he was alive for his contribution to the silver screen as well as his contribution to the war effort. With his passing his contributions have now become historic.
Luckily we can still enjoy Richard Todd's films and interviews with great fondness. However take a fresh look at what is going on today around you and see if you can spot potential future or existing heritage items. Take note and beware, as heritage can be lost so easily but just as easily be preserved. That is why I am so passionate about Copper Phoenix, promoting heritage to Entertain, Educate and Inspire: once we have lost our heritage we lose our identity, collectively and individually and what better way is there to entertain, educate and inspire us than our heroes?
Richard Todd, rest in peace but for the rest of us long live the past!
Tim Davies
Heritage to Entertain, Educate & Inspire


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