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Historic England says Government has no problem with it linking village halls to slavery past

Christopher Hope
·2-min read
Oliver Dowden has set up a working group to produce guidelines to put the Government's 'retain and explain' policy into practice - Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
Oliver Dowden has set up a working group to produce guidelines to put the Government's 'retain and explain' policy into practice - Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

The Government's official heritage adviser has shrugged off criticism of a controversial study detailing the slavery pasts of village halls, saying "it is a proper thing to do".

Villages were branded part of the "transatlantic slavery economy" by Historic England in a review of halls, churches and pubs aimed at making heritage appeal to diverse communities earlier this month.

Chapels in which historical figures worshipped and were buried have also been audited in research that notes the graves of slave profiteers and their relatives.

The study infuriated the Common Sense Group of Tory MPs and prompted Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, to say he had asked officials to work "closely with Historic England to ensure that the Government's policy of 'retain and explain' is clearly understood".

However, asked on BBC Radio 4's Front Row arts programme whether Mr Dowden had "a problem" with the slavery research, Duncan Wilson, Historic England's chief executive, replied: "I don't think so – provided it is done objectively.

"That piece of research was actually only a summary of a lot of other research conducted over the last 30 years and unless we can actually study that kind of issue objectively then we won't get the facts out there and we will be talking about anecdotal information and the issue will become inflamed.

"The issue needs to be done calmly, but I think there is a recognition that it is a proper thing to do."

Historic England was one of 25 heritage bodies and charities called in for a summit to discuss how they present Britain's past at Whitehall last week.

Mr Dowden set up a working group to produce guidelines to put the Government's "retain and explain" policy into practice "so that more people can engage with our shared past".

The Common Sense Group is due to meet with the Culture Secretary this week to make its case for practical steps to "retain, explain and acclaim" Britain's heritage.

Sir John Hayes, the group's chairman, said: "This is about building a sense of shared belonging through pride in how are and pride in what we have done.

"We should retain and explain but not judge. We should not judge the past through the prism of the preoccupations of the present. You should not exercise contemporary judgement about things that happened 200, 400, 700, 1,000 years ago."