CENTENARY celebrations have been launched for legislation that has helped protect the North East’s top heritage sites.
The Ancient Monuments Act 1913 was originally introduced to prevent American collectors buying historic houses and interiors, removing panelled rooms, staircases, fireplaces and even ceilings and shipping them across the Atlantic.
The Act provided protection for privately-owned monuments and effectively established a national collection of historic sites that ranges from Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall to a 1960s Cold War bunker.
The Act gave the government compulsory powers to protect historic sites from damage or demolition by their owners and also widened the scope for monuments to be taken into public guardianship.
Among the first four sites acquired in 1913 were Lindisfarne Priory on Holy Island, Northumberland, and the ruins of Penrith Castle in Cumbria.
Lindisfarne Priory was one of the most important centres of early Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England and is still a place of pilgrimage today. Next North East sites to come under the protection of the Act were Finchale Priory, County Durham, in 1916; Warkworth Castle, 1922; Berwick Castle, Norham Castle and Warkworth Hermitage, 1923; Egglestone Abbey, 1925; Dunstanburgh Castle in 1929; and Berwick Ramparts and Bowes Castle in 1931.
Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: “Imagine the North East without Lindisfarne, Warkworth or Berwick, imagine the North East without its great castles, abbeys and historic monuments.
“It is largely thanks to the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act that these stone and brick eye-witnesses to our past survive today to tell their story.”
The Act also introduced the process of scheduling sites as ancient monuments and saw the formation of a team of monument experts which was the forerunner of English Heritage.
There are now around 20,000 scheduled protected sites in England.
The centenary will be marked with exhibitions, BBC television series and book on the heritage protection movement.
Lord Curzon, a key figure in passing the Act, said in 1912 that the country’s buildings set to be protected under the legislation were “documents just as valuable in reading the record of the past as any manuscript or parchment deed”.