Gowers at 70: The Fate of the Country House since 1950

Gowers at 70: The Fate of the Country House since 1950

This symposium, supported by the Historic Houses Foundation, marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of the Gowers Report on the future of Britain’s buildings of ‘outstanding historic or architectural interest’ (1950). This event will consider the report’s legacy for the conservation and use of historic houses, both independently owned and owned by organisations including the National Trust and English Heritage, seventy years on.

 

The experienced public servant Sir Ernest Gowers was commissioned by the Labour Government in 1948 to carry out an enquiry into the care and protection of country houses. Many houses faced challenging conditions at that time, as estates adapted to the new economic and social realities of peacetime life. The Committee was tasked ‘to consider and report what arrangements might be made by the Government for the preservation, maintenance and use of houses of outstanding historic or architectural interest which might otherwise not be preserved, including, where desirable, the preservation of a house and its contents as a unity’.

 

The Committee’s report, published on 23 June 1950, concluded that important country houses ‘should, so far as possible, be preserved as private residences occupied preferably by the families connected with them’. This was a startling conclusion to some, who had anticipated a new era of state-owned nationalised heritage. However, the Committee recommended that historic house owners who opened to the public should receive aid for their maintenance costs in the form of grants and tax reliefs, and that public acquisition should only be considered a last resort.

 

The majority of the Committee’s recommendations – such as on the listing system and on tax concessions to support maintenance – were not accepted immediately, but subsequent governments of different political stripes later adopted them into government policy on heritage. Today, it remains official government policy that ‘so far as possible property of this kind should remain in private hands and that its owners should be encouraged to retain and care for it and display it to the public’ (Capital Taxation and the National Heritage: published 2013, updated 2018) – words that could have come directly from the pages of the Gowers Report.

 

We invite researchers and heritage professionals to contribute 20-minute papers that address, but are not limited to, the following themes:

• The post-war landscape of built heritage preservation • How government policy towards country house preservation has changed since 1950

• How country houses have fared in relation to other types of heritage asset, such as churches, monuments, and industrial buildings

• International comparisons to built heritage preservation policy in Britain

• The role of country houses in popular culture and the collective imagination after the War

 

The symposium will culminate in a roundtable discussion on the future of historic house conservation, reflecting on what a Gowers Report for the twenty-first century might consider to be the main issues facing historic houses today.

 

Details for submission Paper proposals should include a 300-word abstract and a 100-word biography, and should be emailed to gowersat70@historichouses.org by 17 February 2020.

 

For any questions about this Call for Papers and/or the symposium, please contact Elena Porter (University of Oxford & Historic Houses DPhil researcher) or Emma Robinson (Director of Policy & Public Affairs at Historic Houses) via gowersat70@historichouses.org

 

 

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