Commonplace historical heritage


A knowledge system for adding environmental values

 to places where we live



‘The Century of Invention’; 2000 seen from 1851

1  The Lowestoft model

 Cultures appear when people share the following three humanising structures of time. 

  • Looking to the past for our origins (e.g. gods in heaven);

  • Stabilising human relationships in the present (e.g.’men’ as a collection of people and their natural resources);

  • Coming to terms with human death in the future (spiritual life after death).

 A culture emerges when these three fundamental human concepts are the basis of a harmonised blend of belief, education, work and leisure.  The culture is one of reassuring stability bonded to place through the continuity of customs, institutions and behaviour.  When any one of the humanising structures of time changes irreversibly through economic progress or decline so does the culture. 

The educational proposition is that the East Anglian community of Lowestoft is currently bound to ‘place’ by events which brought about widespread cultural behavioural change in the second half of the 19th century.  It is focused on the life of Samuel Peto, a master builder at the dawn of British civil engineering, whose ambition was to capitalise on geographical possibilities for the economic development of Lowestoft and Kirkley, its neighbouring village, then both relatively small fishing communities confined at the extreme eastern edge the British Isles. 

 Lowestoft’s pre-Peto sense of culture was evident nationally in its porcelain factory, which was in production from c.1757-1801. The first English porcelain manufactories were established in the 1740s and 50s and the Lowestoft factory is of particular importance as it was the only one to be set up in East Anglia. Lowestoft also holds an important position in the story of British ceramics as no other factory produced so many dated and inscribed pieces. This means that we have an exceptionally clear picture of who was commissioning which individual items at what date, providing an unparalleled profile of the customer base of a factory of this kind. In addition Lowestoft is also the only factory known to have made birth tablets, painted discs made to commemorate the birth of a child. The porcelain has further significance as a valuable record of Lowestoft in the late eighteenth century when it was becoming established as a popular holiday resort: many of the factory produced objects, decorated with transfer printing, were intended as souvenirs. Pieces feature local scenes such as the church, beach, lighthouses and there is one of the earliest depictions of a bathing machine. Bernard Watney has observed: ‘no other English china evokes quite the same sense of belonging to a particular place’. Equally we also know that much of the factory’s output was exported to Europe, a significant example of Lowestoft’s close links with the Continent, which were to be intensified by Peto for a broader maritime trade. 

By the time Peto arrived in Lowestoft porcelain had not been produced for almost a  generation.   He was attracted to the town by the obvious capacity of an expanded railway network to increase both the supply of marketed commodities and labour, and the demand for marketed-products.  In this context he was a national investor whose personal energies and money triggered sudden “changes in taste” for Lowestoft’s fresh fish and Kirkley’s long sandy beach for people wanting seaside holidays.  These are local examples of the resultant behaviour changes brought about by mass transport on railways, whereby Lowestoft became a major player in the combined growth of the British fishing industry and what is now called the ‘holiday hospitality industry’.  Peto’s model was Lowestoft’s neighbour, Yarmouth, a few miles up the coast, which had been developed for these purposes by his uncle.  The coming of Peto’s railway to Lowestoft transformed the relationship between space, culture, society and history. In particular, it provoked transnational flows of people, capital and ideas into the town with profound impacts on urbanisation and social dynamics that shaped the identity of migrants and their affiliation with a capitalist economy.  

Peto’s projects were duplicated nationally by other Victorian inventors, entrepreneurs and developers and brought about a widespread reallocation of family labour from goods and services for direct consumption, to marketed commodities. The national outcomes were the appearance of proto- industrial production, the intensification of work, the extensive use of female and child labour and the commodification of leisure time.  A few decades later this aggregation of traits would be used to portray the industrialised economy in Britain and recommend its material values to the rest of the world.  In the period 1750-1900 industrialization has knit the world together -not just in having wrought profound technological change, but also in the consequences, both economic and social, of that change. Industrialization allowed for the mechanization of Euro-American societies and the mass production of commodities and finished goods. At the same time, industrialization facilitated the destruction of local environments all over the world with pollution and resource depletion. Signs that Lowestoft’s fishing industry was playing a role in the destruction of North Sea fish stocks had appeared by 1900. 

Industrialization also provided the means by which Europeans, Americans, and the Japanese dominated cultures and societies around the globe through both formal and informal imperialism. As a result, the “progress” of the nineteenth century should be viewed globally, with truly global consequences that by the mid 20th century were challenging the entire planet and its peoples.  By the 1970s it was becoming clear that the world would have to face up to a global crisis of resource utilisation and some educationalists were becoming dissatisfied with the inadequacies of single subject syllabuses to tackle the problems of world development as a multidisciplinary system.  It was in this vein that Jack Walmsley, Headmaster of Kirkley High School, launched an initiative in the 1980s to involve his teachers in the evaluation of a new multidisciplinary subject dealing with world development entitled Natural Economy.  The syllabus had been devised by the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate for their International GCSE.  Subsequently this was assembled as the on-line educational framework of cultural ecology ( by Denis Bellamy, Professor Emeritus of the University of Wales.  The evaluation process incorporated teaching materials on the social history of Kirkley and Loweststoft provided by David Butcher of Kirkley High School, David Peachey, education officer of the Lowestoft government fisheries research institute, Trevor Westgate, a Lowestoft journalist and Ruth Downing a Suffolk local historian.   

This Lowestoft model of the cultural ecology of ‘place’ is currently being assembled, as an element of a teaching resource entitled ‘Living Sustainably’, with the C-MapTools knowledge modelling kit (Fig 1), created by the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition (a university affiliated research institute:   It will be presented in the ICOPER Internet Discourse Space as part of a mindmap abouit living sustainably  (  The host site is dedicated to educational  issues related to concepts and standards.  The overarching mindmap of ‘living sustainably’ showing the position of the concept of ‘historical heritage’ is set out in Fig 2. 

 The online resources will be interactive in that each object is hyperlinked to websites, images and files that amplify its meaning.  The aim is to provide templates for the local assembly of knowledge about cultural heritage as part of a community toolkit for adapting to behaviour change (environmental re-socialisation).  Urban space never stands still: the process of long-term economic development has produced today’s historic environment, and the pressure for change is today more intense than ever. The historic environment has the potential to contribute to the future success of our towns and cities, for it provides people with a sense of belonging to somewhere distinctive and special.  

It is an essential component of place making, for identity derives largely from history, and especially from its material evidence. Understanding of the historic environment is, therefore, crucial to our lives: it tells us what is important and why, it explains how our towns and cities have evolved, and it helps people to define, protect, care for and appreciate the special qualities of the places where they live.  

Fig 1 The Lowestoft cmap of cultural heritage


Fig 2 Mindmap of the knowledge framework for ‘living sustainably’


2 Cultural heritage: the wider perspective

 “Our Landscape Characterisation work has identified distinct landscape types and areas. The smooth, rolling, purple heather moors in the north give views to the granite massif of Dartmoor and to the mountains of the Brecon Beacons across the Bristol Channel. The coastal heaths top the spectacular hogs-back cliffs with a blaze of magenta and yellow in summer; while the gently folding uniformity of the central grass moors gives a feeling of wildness, space and tranquillity, especially in winter. The open, heathy hills of the southern moors provide a contrast to the surrounding landscape patterned with small beech-hedged fields; like a series of wilder stepping stones amid the more heavily managed farmland, The Brendon heaths stand out as breathing spaces, within the surrounding conifer plantations and act as reminders of the once extensive moorlands in this area”. ( Exmoor National Park Moorland Landscape Partnership; (2007)).  

Human generated climate change has finally put an end to the old ‘pristine myth’ of the existence of natural environments unaffected by human activity.  A scenic view of an area of land anywhere in the world is now unequivocally an ecological unit of spatial human economic development.  At the same time, gradual acceptance of the concept of landscape as a carrier of spiritual messages is also putting an end to the division of the world into a rationally progressive West and an irrationally traditional non-West.  The adoption of the latter attitude has been the driver for all post-colonial development efforts. However, in all parts of the world, a spiritual sense of place may be strongly enhanced by the landscape being written about by poets, novelists and historians, or portrayed in art or music, and more recently, through modes of codification aimed at protecting, preserving and enhancing places felt to be of value  (such as the ‘World Heritage Site’ designations used around the world, the  ‘English Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and the American  ‘National Historic  Landmark’ designation).  However, these modes of highlighting environments, which are special to certain individuals or organisations, devalue environments that are not selected in this way. In this respect, it is not uncommon to find an intensification of the impulse to select a certain feature of an otherwise unremarkable vernacular landscape, which generates an indefinable unanalysable emotion. 

Nevertheless, a blending of material and spiritual values in landscape is becoming a unifying thread in landscape management plans visualised by conservationists who set the level of their ambitions to better provide environmental goods and services. Leitão and Ahern (2002) placed these management objectives within four principle currents of planning; namely physical planning, economic planning, social planning and integrated planning.   Paul Opdam developed these currents conceptually with the goal of providing planners with criteria, indicators and tools for effective conservation management as follows.  

1) The ecophysical landscape is visualised as a mosaic of ecosystems composed of a non-living component and a living component. Humans and other animals are actors and their actions may have an impact on the ecological functioning of the landscape. This is the landscape of spatial ecologists, of eco-hydrologists and physical geographers. 

2) The social landscape is visualised with its historical narratives and emotions.  It is the notional landscape used by tourists to promote their well-being.   It is the domain of environmental psychologists, of social and medical sciences, of cultural studies and anthropology. 

3) The economic landscape is visualised as a system providing goods and services of economic value.  These include the effect of increased health on labourproductivity and the economic value of tourism.  This is the landscape of environmentaleconomists. 

4) The decision-making landscape is the unit of integrated planning and design. It is the landscape of spatial planners, landscape architects, and politiciansand conservation planners.

Opdam’s model of the four dimensions of landscape and their interrelations is set out in Fig 3.  It is a conceptual area matrix (CAM), which, for any geographical unit, can be expanded in the form of a mindmap of conceptual propositions based on the strategic and operational objectives of the management plan.  The aim of a CAM is to identify, link and quantify the interrelations between all landscape constructs.  A particular advantage of conceptualising a landscape as a set of spatial perspectives is being able to conceptualise historical events from these multiple perspectives and to evaluate and relate historical data within these to current management objectives. 

Figure 3. Opdam’s model of the four dimensions of the landscape, with their interrelations  


A concept map is a way of representing relationships between ideas, images or words, in the same way that a sentence diagram represents the grammar of a sentence, a road map represents the locations of highways and towns, and a circuit diagram represents the workings of an electrical appliance. In a concept map, each word or phrase is connected to another to make a proposition and linked back to the original idea, word or phrase. Concept maps are a way to develop logical thinking and study skills, by revealing connections and helping students see how individual ideas form a larger whole  The concept map of cultural ecology brings the CAM into a generally applicable educational framework of environmental management that begins with the following proposition: 

‘Cultural ecology is exemplified by places, where a special combination of ideas, environment and people has led to human advancement through wealth,  freedom of thought, and well-being; thereby, the environment may be valued for its material resources, beauty or spirituality and used for monetary profit, recreation, leisure, health and education: most are working communities and some are defined as heritage sites.

 Fig 4. Mindmap of cultural ecology of place 


The proposition can be applied by a national park committee or a neighbourhood community group, and is the basis for environmental protection by organizations, free spirits, dreamers and pioneers. It is presented as a mindmap in Fig 4.  As the basis for a ‘do it yourself’ guide to participatory citizenship it prompts a structured response to the questions.  What was our neighbourhood like before human settlement? Which individual or group made plans for human advancement? What are the valuable heritage features that remain as indicators of this human endeavour? 

3  Sense of place

Areas said to have a powerful  “sense of place” have a strong identity and character that is deeply felt by local inhabitants and by many visitors. Sense of place is a social phenomenon that exists independently of any one individual’s perceptions and experiences, yet, paradoxically, is dependent on individual human engagement for its existence. Such an affinity may be derived from the natural environment, but is more often made up of a mix of natural and cultural features in the landscape, and generally includes the people who occupy, or have occupied, the place.

At an individual level, deep down we all want to know how we fit into a greater scheme of things, and this type of question motivates us to try to understand the neighbourhood where we live.  Some may take a spiritual viewpoint, others require a scientific, political or celebrity explanation.  Underneath it all is our innate curiosity about our surroundings. We all quickly develop a mental sense of place wherever we may be.  More than ‘environment’, ‘place’ exists only after people have imagined it. These imaginative structures create a feeling of belonging and unify land and its peoples in powerful ways. Sense of place is linked to meaning and permanence because places have a way of claiming people within the context of notions associated with them.  This is the essence of conservation, because people come to value the biophysical elements of town and country scenery as visual triggers to relive the past.  Historical connection with the streets we walk is thus a significant way to social action to protect our neighbourhood. Thinking historically about our surroundings in this way also allows us to embrace the connection with each other.  Also, it has been said that engagement with history answers all the great questions of life. Like faith it explains everything.

Many early studies on the relationship between culture and ecology were focused on indigenous peoples, and the links between culture and environment defined as ‘culture areas.’  The two universally dominant ideas are that culture determines environment, and environment determines culture.  The latter viewpoint says that the natural environment sets certain possibilities for establishing a life style from which cultures, conditioned by their history and particular customs, may choose in order to move forward.

Environmental possibilism marks in many ways an important shift towards an interactive view of the survival relationships between cultures and their environment, which is central to cultural ecology.  A cultural core of subsistence patterns is seen as having developed largely in response to particular local natural resources.  Furthermore, this cultural topographic core may shape other cultural features of social organization.  Therefore an ‘ecological cultural core’ plays an interactive role for both environment and society, to shape cultural adaptive behavioural change for a different future.  In this sense, the combined study of culture and ecology is orientated towards an understanding of the processes or causes of the ‘evolution’ of culture.  This occurs by explaining the choices made by cultures, which are presented to them by their history as well as by their environment, and the way in which these interactions may produce different and unpredictable paths of economic development. Sense of place is thus a binding thread for community members, and also signposts the future.  When a place claims very diverse kinds of people, then those people must eventually adapt to live with each other; they must learn how to reconcile their different views of space.  History is riddled with examples of cultural extinctions produced by dispassionate Europeans in the name of acquiring living space.

All these links between culture and place may be regarded as behavioural features of survival value to individuals, families and their communities.  They are essential for the question ‘Where do you come from?’ to mean something.  These days people live everywhere, which is the same as living nowhere. Like a vitamin deficiency, a contact deficiency with local history weakens the body, the mind, and the spirit.  The great challenge of our times is to rebuild connections into our self-conscious lives, by reaching out to others and by being part of something larger than ourselves. Connectedness has to be the key to living a full and rounded life and an ability to cope with rapid economic change. The problem is much larger than family history, which essentially involves chasing a Y chromosome, which reinforces a kind of divisive non-adaptive tribablism.  We need genealogical models designed to capture human unity in a more realistic way. One thing we can learn from family history is that our ancestors did not follow a random mating model.   In this respect, family trees illustrate the tendency of individuals to choose mates from the same social group, and the relative isolation of geographically separated groups.  Recent genetical research into this system of non-random mating indicates that the genealogies of all living humans overlap in remarkable ways in the recent past.  While we may not all be brothers, these models suggest we are all hundredth cousins or so with everyone else on planet earth.

Three vital ties to place that give our days meaning, focus on places in the present where we can make connections with our ancestors, and fit these people in the wider context of global history and the cosmos.  For example, there are:-

·         Places of landing.

We are by nature a migrant species, and we should mark and celebrate our places of arrival and departure.

·         Places of settlement.

There are some places in every country that have a particular significance for particular groups of people, because they are where their ancestors have built kinship networks. Places of settlement are where we meet up with nature by destroying ecosystems and displacing or exterminating wildlife 

·         Places of interaction between peoples

So many of our places of historical encounter are hidden in the landscape, with little more than a sign to point to them. Many of these are places of conflict, telling stories that we need to know to understand grievances that have been handed down from generation to generation, but there are others that symbolise cooperation, productivity and friendship.   

·         Places of spiritual significance

Sacred or holy places are found in different cultures, past and present, all over the world.  Such places are frequently marked or embellished by architectural structures and art. In most cases, it can be shown that the sacredness of a place is linked in some way to natural objects, and features such as trees, stones, water, mountains, caves and forms in the landscape. It can further be shown that these natural objects and forms lie at the root of the forms and shapes employed to mark or embellish a sacred site.  The development of modern science has made incredible much of the content of traditional belief of religions based on a supernatural god.  Sacredness and spiritualism without God means that the quest for transcendent living, which is satisfied in nothing else but genetic demand for inner and outer order, has evolved the concepts of  intelligence‘, ‘love‘ and ‘free being’. Silence and contemplation are not just for monks and nuns, they are natural functions of human biology.  Places become special where there is space for silence and contemplation of the land; when ‘two plus two equals five’ and there is no longer a deep suspicion of thoughtfulness. 

4  Sense of culture

 Culture, according to Vijay Sathe is, 

“the set of important understandings (often unstated) that members of a community share in common.”  

These shared understandings consist of a community’s, values, attitudes, beliefs and lifestyles.  The understandings and the ideas we live by are always mediated through things we make.  Therefore the things we make are perhaps the most tangible manifestation of a sense of culture.  There are numerous expressions of making: such as tools; clothing and jewellery; costumes and props for festivals and performing arts; storage containers, objects used for storage, transport and shelter; decorative art and ritual objects; musical instruments and household utensils, and toys, both for amusement and education. Many of these objects are only intended to be used for a short time, such as those created for festival rites, others may become heirlooms that are passed from generation to generation; most are expendable and and become neglected when out of fashion. 

Until the invention of mass production, objects were of necessity all hand-made and the term art referred to the skills necessary for any kind of making process. Art as a special object had no separate reality. This inclusive definition existed until the fifteenth century when art and craft were not yet considered to be separate entities. The idea that “art” is a revered product of creative inspiration, while “craft” is the production of useful items had no meaning. In the 1470s, the Confraternity of St Luke in Florence listed 42 members, 32 of whom specialised in figurative painting.  There were 54 workshops specialising in marble and stone decoration and 44 gold- or silversmiths, 30 painters, 22 sculptors and 14 masters of perspective. The number of individuals serving daily material needs is revealing.  For instance, that there were some 70 butchers and 66 spice merchants operating in Florence at that time. This kind of information suggests that, unlike in our own society, where art objects are luxury goods produced by named individuals directed to satisfy a small and expensive market, the demand for a more anonymous art in fifteenth-century Florence, and, presumably, in Italy as a whole, was almost as great as the demands for basic everyday commodities. 

The skills involved in creating objects are as varied as the items themselves and range from delicate, detailed work such as producing paper votives to robust, rugged tasks like creating a sturdy basket or thick blanket.  In 15th century Florence, which was growing rich on banking and a European-wide trade in luxury goods, people began to select the objects that they like to live with. They began the intensive cultivation of their family domain to package themselves with their belongings.  It has been said that all objects are “packaged” to deliver certain meanings. And desire packages everything. When we dress, we package our bodies. In fact, every thing has a skin through which it speaks. We have personal feelings about these ‘mantelpiece objects’.  We project into them, and communicate through them. There is a ritual relationship to these domestic collections that occurs on a daily basis. 

Now, in our advanced industrial Western society, mass-produced objects are found on consoles, on tables, on countertops. These counters and tables are vehicles of presentation; they are also functional objects, but they also have cultural skins and histories. It was desire, fuelled by personal wealth that made people tap into a limited supply of well-crafted objects, which were elevated to the status of ‘art’.  Along with this ‘object inflation’, the methods and materials used to educate craftsmen changed considerably during the Renaissance. Throughout the period, most received their early training as apprentices. However, during the 1400s, learning about a growing art theory centred on making pictures, gradually became as important as mastering practical skills. By the 1600s, making art objects had evolved from a craft into an academic framework of values and critics.  In a wider contemporary context it is the making of things that shapes the way we encounter the world. Thus the concept of a culture and the design of objects it uses are intertwined.  Cultural evolution in turn, reflects and determines developments in design.  

Contemporary design not only satisfies the needs of our material life, but also increasingly considers the needs of our spiritual life. It provides people with many kinds of enjoyment in practice, in emotion and in mentality, and it attaches more and more importance to the added-value product. When this is overdone the products are classified as kitsch Though its precise etymology is uncertain, it is widely held that the word kitsch originated in the Munich art markets of the 1860s and 70s, used to describe cheap, hotly marketable pictures or sketches. Designers take great efforts to infuse the crafting value, culture value and aesthetic value into the creation of a whole organic entitiy.  From this point of view the public have come to understand that art may apear in commonplace mass produced objects without an artistic intention.  Such objects emerge in the market for antiques and collectables and are valued according to the rarity that comes from chance survival. 

John Ruskin was the first to move attention away from a “disinterested” contemplation of an artwork, and toward a broader examination of the society from which the work arises.  The connection of art with the tastes of popular culture was not part of a definite cultural movement until pop art appeared in the mid 1950s in Britain and in the late 1950s in the United States.  Pop art challenged tradition by asserting that an artist’s use of the mass-produced visual commodities of popular culture is contiguous with the perspective of fine art.  Pop removes the material from its context and isolates the object, or combines it with other objects, including kitsch, for contemplation.  Regarding kitsch, makers were able to maintain legitimacy by saying they were quoting imagery to make conceptual points about the culture that prouced it, usually with the appropriation being ironic. This is the common ground where art meets the Antiques Roadshow. 

5  Conclusions

 Commonplace historical heritage is found when values are placed on objects that we wish to keep it – perhaps after their useful life. These may be aesthetic, social, scientific or historical.  We may value something for the story it has to tell about the past, or because it was associated with events or people. Something may have an intense personal value, or it may hold memories for us as individuals or as communities. The heritage organizations, large and small, look after those social assets, whether through protecting buildings, funding projects, opening sites and displaying objects and information to the public.  The word ‘liveability’ has been invented to sum up how people interact with where they live and how that influences their whole attitude to their surroundings. This is one of the routes to sustainability because sustainable communities are only sustainable if they command the loyalty and passion of the people who live there. It is widely accepted that there is no more effective way of engaging people in new or renewed communities and neighbourhoods than by engaging with their own history, which through made objects focuses aesthetic value (beauty, harmony); spiritual value (understanding, enlightenment, insight); social value (connection with others, a sense of identity); historical value (connection with the past); symbolic value (objects or sites as repositories or conveyors of meaning); authenticity value (integrity, uniqueness).  These values derive from a broadly cultural discourse about the significance of art and culture in human affairs. 


Lowestoft porcelain inkstand, circa 1795

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