Ten Places That Tell the History of England’s Art, Architecture and Sculpture Selected in Historic England Campaign

  • From Anglo-Saxon treasures in Suffolk to Yorkshire's open-air sculpture gallery and Coventry's "Building born out of love and hope made from the rubble of hate and despair", Will Gompertz has chosen the ten places that tell the history of England's art, architecture and sculpture
  • New podcast added to the series that will feature 100 places that bring to life England's rich history

The powerful Angel of the North, the 'transportative' Barbara Hepworth Museum and the iconic St Paul's Cathedral are among the top ten sites that tell the history of England's art, architecture and sculpture. The places have been selected by BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz, from hundreds of public nominations.

This is the ninth category out of ten in Historic England's campaign and podcast series, Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical. The campaign aims to find the 100 places that bring to life England's rich and extraordinary history.

The Angel of the North, 1998, Antony Gormley, lit at twilight.
The Angel of the North, 1998, Antony Gormley, lit at twilight. © Historic England DP059218

Listen to the new podcast

The 10 places Gompertz has chosen will be explored in-depth in new episodes of the recently launched podcast series- free on iTunes and Soundcloud. The podcast is presented by historian Suzannah Lipscomb and features Deyan Sudjic, the Director of the Design Museum, and Duncan Wilson, the Chief Executive of Historic England.

The 10 chosen art, architecture and sculpture places

St Paul's Cathedral, London

The jewel in the crown of London's iconic skyline, St Paul's Cathedral remains one of the country's most cherished architectural icons.  As the seat of the Bishop of London and the mother church of the Diocese of London, the Anglican cathedral sits on Ludgate Hill at the highest point of the City of London and is a Grade I listed building. The Christopher Wren masterpiece is deemed so important that it is a protected view, which ensures that Londoners from certain viewpoints around the city can still catch a glimpse of its magnificent dome.

Although the site had a church from 604 AD, the present Wren creation was part of a major rebuilding programme in the City after the Great Fire of London. Wren was inspired by the architecture of Paris, and by Michelangelo's dome at St Peter's Cathedral in Rome, to introduce something truly ground-breaking to London. It shocked some and angered others, who feared it was "too popish", but it wasn't long before it became an integral element of the city's landscape.

Testament to the close connection Londoners feel for the cathedral, it was loyally defended by civilians during the Blitz of the Second World War and seen as a symbol of hope throughout the conflict: as long as it stood unharmed, all was not lost.

Will Gompertz commented: "Sir Christopher Wren's beautiful, mesmeric design is not just an icon for London and England - but for the whole world. From afar or up close, this working church touches the soul through its sublime architecture and steadfast and beautiful celebration of form and function."

Angel of the North, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear

Antony Gormley's vast contemporary sculpture stands at more than 60 feet high on a hillside overlooking the A1, just south of Gateshead. It was commissioned by Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council, constructed between 1994 and 1998, and is a national landmark.

Will Gompertz said the reason he chose it is: "The Angel of the North is a powerful piece of contemporary sculpture that excites, heralds, and provokes. It is so far removed from the typical 'hero on a horse' statues that are dotted across the country, invisible to all. Gormley's artwork is as fresh as it is imposing."

According to the artist, the significance of the angel was three-fold: to signify that beneath the site of its construction, coal miners worked for two centuries; to grasp the transition from an industrial to an information age; and to serve as a focus for our evolving hopes and fears.

More than its artistic intent, the Angel of the North has become a poster child for public art. The project has faced criticism from many angles, including initially from Gormley himself, but the Angel has worked its way into people's hearts. It is a national icon: a tribute to the north and to the awe-inspiring quality of art.

Sculptures in field with ducks in the foreground
Anthony Caro, Promenade, 1996. Courtesy Barford Sculptures Limited and Yorkshire Sculpture Park © Jonty Wilde

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Will Gompertz selected Yorkshire Sculpture Park because it's: "a fabulous tribute to the English countryside that marries the ancient with the modern. Sculptors from Henry Moore to Auguste Rodin have shown their work in their splendid gardens. Yorkshire Sculpture Park takes that artistic instinct to an entirely new level with totally sensational results. It is, without doubt, one of the finest examples of art in the landscape anywhere in the world."

Spread over 500 acres of fields, hills, woodland, lakes and formal gardens, this open air gallery has featured the who's who of renowned sculptors from Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, to Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor. Yorkshire Sculpture Park owes its origins to Peter Murray (a lecturer who worked on the site which was then used as Bretton Hall College) who proposed siting sculpture in the Estate, and opening the landscape to the public for the first time, as well as providing artists with the opportunity to explore sculptural issues in the open-air.  This daring decision saw the creation of the UK's first sculpture park, and one which continues to champion modern and contemporary art over 40 years later.

Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, St Ives, Cornwall

Barbara Hepworth first came to live in Cornwall with her husband Ben Nicholson and their young family at the outbreak of war in 1939. She lived and worked in Trewyn studios - now the Barbara Hepworth Museum - from 1949 until her death in 1975.

It was her wish that Trewyn Studio was kept as a museum of her work, much of which was given to the nation and placed in the care of the Tate Gallery in 1980.

Most of the bronzes are in the positions in which Hepworth placed them. Her works were among the earliest abstract sculptures in England. Her lyrical forms and feeling for material made her one of the most influential sculptors of the mid-20th century.

Will Gompertz said: "I love this place. It feels so personal, as if the great Dame might pop out at any moment with a tray of tea and biscuits. Hepworth's sculptures are superbly installed both inside and out, and to see her studio as she left it, covered in plaster and stone dust, is truly transportative."

Kelmscott Manor, Kelmscott, Oxfordshire

Kelmscott Manor was the inspirational Cotswold retreat of William Morris and his family, friends and colleagues. When Morris first saw the Manor in 1871, he was delighted by this "loveliest haunt of ancient peace". Not long after, he signed a joint lease for the property with his friend and colleague Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite artist.

Will Gompertz said: "William Morris in particular, and the Pre-Raphaelites in general, developed an aesthetic that married the past with the present in an art movement that prized people and craft above industry and profit. Kelmscott embodies Morris's vision, his love of England, of tradition, of nature, and its sympathetic representation by sensitive and skilful artisans. If you want to join medieval guilds with today's hipsters you need to look no further than Kelmscott."

Rosetti lived in the house before the Morrises took full ownership and it appears in the background of his painting Water Willow, which depicts Morris' wife Jane, who was in a romantic relationship with Rosetti.

William Morris loved the house as a work of true craftsmanship, totally unspoilt and unaltered, and in harmony with the village and the surrounding countryside. He considered it so natural in its setting as to be almost organic, it looked to him as if it had "grown up out of the soil".

Kelmscott's beautiful gardens, with barns, dovecote, a meadow and stream, provided a constant source of inspiration for Morris's designs and writings until his death in 1896. Images drawn from Kelmscott appear frequently in his poetry, prose and designs for textiles and wallpapers, making the house an important part of the Arts & Crafts movement, driven by Morris. The building and its surroundings also influenced Morris' ideas on conservation for both the built and natural environments, which led to his founding of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings.

Chatsworth House with fountain and lake in foreground
Chatsworth House © Chatsworth House Trust

Chatsworth House, Bakewell, Derbyshire

Chatsworth House is one of the grandest country houses in England. It had been in the Cavendish family since the Tudor period before it was extensively remodelled during the time of the 1st Duke of Devonshire by the architect William Talman. He created one of the most important buildings in the development of English Baroque architecture, within the Elizabethan footprint.

The gardens at Chatsworth have also been shaped by some of England's greatest gardeners, including "Capability" Brown and Joseph Paxton.

The current Duke and Duchess of Devonshire are passionate about art and sculpture: the grounds are often used as a grand setting for contemporary works of art and within the house is a large sculpture gallery. Today the house contains works of art that span 4,000 years, from ancient Roman and Egyptian sculpture, and masterpieces by Rembrandt, Reynolds and Veronese, to work by outstanding modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Edmund de Waal and David Nash. The site is a startling combination of stunning architecture, art and sculpture.

Will Gompertz sums it up by saying: "Chatsworth is perhaps the finest example of the English stately home. There is a lot of history in its beautiful stone walls, some of which have been standing for nearly five hundred years. But it is still a living home with an energetic owner who makes sure that this historic building is still very much alive in the 21st century, sitting wonderfully - as it does - in the rolling hills of Derbyshire."

Tate Modern, London

For many visitors, the Tate Modern encapsulates the dynamism of England's art scene - in the sheer scale of the Turbine Hall, the freedom of access and the sweep of the river location within the capital. It also embodies that shift from an industrial river frontage to an energetic cultural one. 

The Tate Modern is housed in the former Bankside Power Station, originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and built in the 1940s and 1960s. After the power station closed in 1981, the building was at risk of being demolished. But after a campaign for it to be saved, the Tate Gallery announced it would be converted for their new gallery.

Architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Herzog & de Meuron designed the £134 million conversion which was completed in 2000. The 2016 extension was again the work of Herzog & de Meuron. The Tate Modern is now the second most-visited attraction in the country and is a stunning adornment to the Thames.

Will Gompertz said: "I worked at the Tate for seven years and know every inch of this building. It is a wonderful space to show art and to welcome audiences from across the globe to mingle and learn together. Giles Gilbert Scott, the designer of the iconic red post box, was the original architect when the building was a power station. The Swiss architects Herzog de Meuron subsequently converted it into an art gallery without losing one iota of Scott's sensibility. It breathed new life into a run-down part of London and introduced the world to a new way of showing and enjoying art."

Sutton Hoo, Woodbridge, Suffolk

In 1939, a cluster of odd-looking mounds in Suffolk were excavated, leading to perhaps England's most exciting archaeological discovery: a 27 metre long wooden ship, probably dating from the early 7th century, buried with a treasure trove of beautiful objects.

Among the finds was the now-famous helmet, made of tin and copper alloy, with a frontal mask decorated like a face, with eyebrows, nose, mouth and moustache. Archaeologists also found, among other things, a sword with a gold pommel, which must have come from India or Sri Lanka, as well as a shield, spears, silverware, bowls and a wealth of beautifully made jewellery.

The beauty and quality craftsmanship of these items stunned the world and completely re-wrote our understanding of the Anglo-Saxons, who until then were considered to be barbarians. Now in the care of the National Trust, this site and the astounding collection of artefacts which are displayed for all to see in the British Museum, demonstrate that a vibrant culture was emerging in England out of the Dark Ages.

Will Gompertz selected it because it is: "One of the great finds of objects and treasures from our Anglo Saxon past, which compellingly and sympathetically displayed for all to see. To look at them is to reach back and see our past made real and vital."

Child leaning on glass of display cabinet to draw a picture of the Anglo Saxon helmet
Visitors in the exhibition room at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk © National Trust Images Rob Pattinson

Coventry Cathedral, West Midlands

Explaining why he chose Coventry Cathedral judge Will Gompertz said: "Coventry Cathedral is a magnificent, optimistic and bold response to the horrors of war. To create a modern and ambitious building dedicated to spiritual enrichment from the literal ashes of destruction was - and is - a sublime answer to brutality. It is a building born out of love and hope made from the rubble of hate and despair."

Coventry suffered severe bomb damage during the Second World War. There was a massive Luftwaffe air raid on 14 November 1940 during which firebombing damaged large areas of the city centre and Coventry's historic cathedral, leaving only a shell and the spire. More than 4,000 houses were damaged or destroyed, along with around three quarters of the city's industrial plants. More than 800 people were killed, with thousands injured and homeless.

The decision was taken the very next day to rebuild the cathedral, not as an act of defiance but as an expression of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. The ruins of the old Cathedral were preserved as a reminder of the folly and waste of war but beside them rose a new, ground breaking Cathedral designed by Basil Spence to inspire the city and the world. In 1962 Spence's new Cathedral was consecrated and its prefabricated steel spire was lowered into place by helicopter.

The city of Coventry was largely rebuilt and the buildings of the city centre reflect the spirit of a re-born city. The generation that fought the Second World War lost a great many of their buildings and special places. They had to rebuild and reshape their England.

The Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, Penzance

Will Gompertz is enthralled by the Minack, a unique open air theatre perched on the cliffs high above the Atlantic Ocean. He said: "The Minack Theatre is an exquisite and magical place to see and experience theatre. If Shakespeare were alive today I think he'd make a bee-line for this rocky outpost and write new plays for today. No wonder it opened with the Tempest, the perfect play for the perfect outdoor playhouse."

The theatre was created by Rowena Cade, who moved to Cornwall after the First World War and built a house for herself and her mother on land at Minack Point. In 1929 she offered the garden to a local theatre group for a production of the Tempest. The rocky granite outcrop jutting into the sea made it an ideal venue, and so began its career as a theatre. She built much of the initial theatre with her own hands, helped by some gardener friends. Over the past 80 years, the theatre has evolved into today's professionally-equipped venue which brings the very best amateur and professional theatre to the far west of Cornwall. Rowena Cade's unique vision is thriving and today's audiences continue to experience the magic of live theatre in this amazing place.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: "These ten choices represent the huge range of our most  precious places, all of them special and significant around the world. They are symbols of great cultural and artistic achievement, from cathedrals and great houses to iconic sculptures, a theatre in a stunning natural setting and one of the greatest galleries of modern art in the world created in an abandoned power station.  These places all have a strong identity, and bring people together in a spirit of wonder and enquiry. They fully deserve to be celebrated."

Mark Hews, Group Chief Executive of Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: "These magnificent buildings, sculptures and artefacts were shaped by some of England's finest artists and architects, and in turn they have helped to shape our nation. The range of places in this list shows the incredible diversity and richness of our artistic and cultural heritage. As an insurer of much of England's irreplaceable art and heritage, including St Paul's Cathedral and Chatsworth House, we are proud to celebrate these special places through our sponsorship of the 100 Places campaign."

Aerial view of Minack Theatre set on top of cliff
Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, Penzance © Historic England NMR18484/09
Was this page helpful?