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Ports, Harbours and Coastal Settlements NHPP Activity 4A3

Research carried out 2011-2015, concerned with understanding the significance of England's heritage of seaside towns and ports. This work formed part of the National Heritage Protection Plan.

The port of Tilbury in 1920 in a photograph from the Aerofilms collection of aerial photographs.
The port of Tilbury in 1920 in a photograph from the Aerofilms collection of aerial photographs. It is now the largest container port in the United Kingdom. © English Heritage Aerofilms collection EPW001396

Scope of the activity

England's coastline is home to several million people who live and work in ports and seaside resorts, as well as being a destination for millions of visitors each year. Ranging from small historic harbours to major international ports and from quiet seaside resorts to the lively, brightly-lit seafronts of Blackpool and Brighton, these varied settlements play a vital part in our national life. They have experienced major change in recent years. Many have been the subject of significant development, but others have suffered from economic decline and changes in holiday tastes.

We created this activity within the National Heritage Protection Plan to help improve the management and protection of the heritage of ports and resorts.

Albert Dock in Liverpool opened in 1846. It closed in 1972, but by the early 1980s it had reopened as one of Liverpool's most popular tourist attractions.
Albert Dock in Liverpool opened in 1846. It closed in 1972, but by the early 1980s it had reopened as one of Liverpool's most popular tourist attractions.

Expected protection results

A programme of internal and external research projects lead to the development of new heritage protection strategies, guidance documents and the identification, assessment and designation of buildings and structures of significance.

Although the fishing industry has been contracting, there are still busy fishing ports such as Newlyn (Cornwall). It was home to the famous Newlyn School of artists in the late 19th century, who were inspired by its light.
Although the fishing industry has been contracting, there are still busy fishing ports such as Newlyn (Cornwall), once home to the late 19th Century Newlyn School of artists.

Projects in activity 4A3

Ports and harbours

For centuries, coastal ports and harbours were at the heart of the economic life of England. As the economy grew, trade was focused on larger ports; smaller ones increasingly served only local needs. With the creation of the transport container system in the mid-20th century, the facilities of historic ports required radical modernisation. In some instances entirely new port facilities were created to meet the demands of the new system. Many dockyards and shipyards have closed and a number have been converted into distinctive settlements providing homes and jobs in old and new buildings.

We were aware of the wealth of England's coastal commercial heritage and the challenges facing ports and harbours. The Activity Team developed practical approaches to help ports operators to deal with the heritage they have inherited. Fisher Associates have prepared a report entitled Ports and the Historic Environment, which will be circulated widely within the ports industry. It suggests ways of strengthening the relationship between English Heritage and the people responsible for managing ports, and seeks to explain to ports why their historic environment is important and valuable.

Seaside resorts

In 2007 English Heritage published England's Seaside Resorts, a study of the architectural development of these distinctive settlements. This was followed by the publication of Informed Conservation books on two popular English resorts that were facing major, but very different challenges. Margate has been in economic decline for many years and Weymouth faced the challenge of significant change, particularly in the years prior to hosting the Olympic sailing events.

In the NHPP, we identified the need for two similar case studies. Blackpool, Britain's most popular resort has been in decline for several decades and much of its late 19th and 20th century seaside heritage is unprotected. In contrast Scarborough is an ancient town that sea bathers first visited 300 years ago, but like all seaside resorts it faces significant challenges and change in the 21st century.

We published an Informed Conservation book, about the seaside heritage of Blackpool.

A view of Scarborough’s beach and seafront Buildings.
Scarborough's beach in the 18th century would have been home during the mornings to bathing machines taking brave bathers out into the cold North sea.
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