Gallery: What does English Heritage’s new chapter mean for sites such as Framlingham Castle?
- Credit: Gregg Brown
For nearly nine centuries the fearsome fortress overlooking one of Suffolk’s most prized medieval towns has played a fascinating role in the nation’s history.
Its early baronial lords were part of the rebellion that led to the formation of Magna Carta; Mary Tudor learnt she had become Queen of England while taking refuge there and later it offered shelter and employment to the poor.
But while Framlingham Castle may be steeped in history; those caring for it today say another exciting chapter is just beginning.
English Heritage, which runs the castle, along with seven other sites in Suffolk, is separating into two organisations from next month.
A new charity, retaining the English Heritage name, will be responsible for the collection, moving away from government control, while Historic England will offer expert advice on matters such as planning, as a non-departmental public body.
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As part of the transition, Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, has announced that £88million will be made available for English Heritage to invest in its collection of sites.
In Framlingham plans are already emerging to use the investment to open up an entire new floor of the 17th Century poorhouse, called the Red House, built by local nobleman Sir Robert Hitcham.
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The Red House is currently home to a number of exhibitions, however, the top floor, which has been inaccessible to the public, will allow the castle to expand its visitor offer with new displays and attractions.
Steve Bax, historic properties director for English Heritage’s east and London divisions, said the organisational change would offer new freedom to begin ambitious conservation such as this at sites across the county.
“From a visitors’ point of view, hopefully they will see more investment that we’ve had before,” he said, during a recent meeting with the EADT at the castle.
“We’ve already spent £500,000 on conservation at the castle but there’s always more that can be done.
“At the moment we try to provide an overview of the castle but with this new funding there we will be able to tell more about its importance in the whole story of England.
“Like all our properties, we will be able to make them more alive, more fun and more engaging places to visit.”
English Heritage’s properties curator Shelley Garland, is also enthusiastic about what the new direction means for sites such as the castle.
“It’s a really exciting time in the history of English Heritage and Framlingham Castle,” she said.
“The castle has been of great importance since the early 12th Century, and it’s intrinsically linked with the fortunes of Suffolk.
“Architecturally it’s of great significance as it’s one of the best examples of a curtain wall castle that we have and all of the later decorations and additions make it even more special.”
Other sites in the county, such as Orford Castle and Languard Fort, and the Benedictine monastery at Bury St Edmunds Abbey are also in line for further investment, though details are yet to emerge.
The organisational change will see decreasing levels of funding support offered to English Heritage until in eight years’ time, when it is hoped to be completely self-funding.
Mr Bax said the organisation had already established a “fantastic track record” in improving its finance, helping to turn around a £7 million operational deficit, while improving visitor numbers.
As a charity, English Heritage will remain reliant on donations, visitors receipts and membership fees; but free from the constraints of governmental ties, there will also be greater opportunities for sponsorship and other funding streams.
Visit www.english-heritage.org.uk for more details.