I am slowly catching up with the changes to English Heritage [ EH ]. These are visionary or desparate, according to taste. EH is to be broken up: one part, still to be called English Heritage, will become a charity with a remit to manage historic sites. The other bit will be called Historic England [ HE ], whose role will be EH's current responsibilities for advising on and helping conserve England's wider historic environment. The old EH will set up the new charity, with a tax-payer grant of £80m or so – for monumental upkeep. This will not go far across its 400 sites. The new EH will be expected to be a money-spinner with income from members, visitors, sponsorship, and other sources.
If you're thinking that the new EH charity role sounds just like what the National Trust does, you are not alone. So, we are going to be twice-blest with two charities looking after England's old and pleasant land. Or, competing, more like, for increasingly hard to come by cash. Well-placed heritage-types think the NT is bound to win this particular race. The ace up its sleeve, of course, is that it owns properties that a significant well-heeled slice of the public actually want to visit and spend money in. This does not apply to EH to the same degree.
Recent visitor stats are instructive: EH sites get about 6m visits a year (1m of which are at Stonehenge). The NT, by contrast, gets 19m, but the most popular of these (Stourhead) only gets 350,000 visits with a further 18 properties that charge for entry getting over 200,0oo visitors. By contrast, EH has only two properties (apart from Stonehenge) that have over 200,000 visitors. This shows the magnitude of the problem EH has.
So, Stonehenge is key for EH – a newly revamped Stonehenge, with its new toilets that are no longer a disgrace to the civilised world. Actually, the old ones would have been something of a disgrace to the Neolithic. EH has done well to find a few €zillions to separate tour buses and stones, close roads and create a visitor centre that critics actually like. I have been watching this building emerge out of the Plain for a few months now, as I have travelled to and from the A303. To my bemusement, what I took to be scaffolding turns out to be architecture! Rumour has it that is just what Neolithic folk said when Stonehenge was built. Looking forward to visiting the centre; whether I shall go to the stones is another matter.