Centre for Critical Heritage Studies


Svalbard global seed vault (Photo credit: Rodney Harrison)


Successful Awards 2022 with the National Trust

Successful Awards 2021-22

Exploring the Untold Stories of Sissinghurst’s Long Library: Anglo-German intellectual and cultural exchange in the 1920s-30s

Kathryn Batchelor (Centre for Translation Studies, UCL), Eleanor Black (Collections and House Manager, Sissinghurst, National Trust), Lesley Chamberlain (author), and Rowena Willard-Wright (Cultural Heritage Manager, National Trust). 

This project explores the many German language books and English-German translations in the National Trust Sissinghurst collection with the goal of telling two forgotten stories. The first centres on the property owners, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, and Vita’s 1931 translation of the Duino Elegies by the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, recently republished by Pushkin Press. Rilke’s ground-breaking work had a powerful immediate impact on British poets and was published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press. As a translation, Vita’s version was quickly superseded. Much of the context in which it was produced has also been forgotten, the vibrancy of the Weimar Republic’s literary scene and of Anglo-German intellectual exchange supressed through the tireless repetition in the UK of nationalist historical narratives. This story of rich intellectual exchange is the second one that the exhibition will seek to tell, exploring the potential of the Sissinghurst collection to contribute to our understanding of the wider context and to challenge dominant retrospective accounts of the interwar period.  


Sissinghurst Long Library
The end result of this project is the exhibition ‘Affairs in Berlin: Harold in Germany, Vita in Love’, 26 September 2022 to 17 February 2023, Long Library, Sissinghurst Castle Garden. The exhibition showcases German books and English-German translations from the Sissinghurst library holdings, using the books and their associated inscriptions and annotations to tell the story of the owners’ German connections. In addition to Vita Sackville-West’s translation of Rilke, the exhibition focuses on Harold Nicolson’s diplomatic posting to Berlin in 1927-1929 and his subsequent role in British politics in the 1930s. The library itself is the exhibition space, the vibrancy and modernity of Berlin brought alive through original silent film footage and music.  


Award : £4000
Image: The Long Library at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, © National Trust/John Hammond. 

Visitors’ perceptions of the lighting in National Trust interiors 

Luz Maria Frias Hernandez (UCL Bartlett School of Environment Energy and Resources), Nigel Blades (National Trust)

Across historic houses managed by the National Trust, daylight is widely used as the main source to illuminate showrooms due to the authenticity that it provides. However, its control often comes with challenges, making it difficult to create a balance that satisfies both visitors’ visual needs and conservation requirements for collections. 

The Volury room at Ham House, National Trust
 Good visibility influences people’s overall enjoyment of a heritage site. This project aims to engage with visitors to Belton House to understand what is their viewing experience of the historic interior, providing them with a platform to express their opinions and perceptions of the lighting. Through this public engagement activity, it would be possible to identify acceptable illuminance levels and assess whether these are also sustainable for collections’ conservation. 
The outcome will be a set of practical recommendations that inform of suitable daylight management improvements in National Trust interiors. The purpose is to continue looking after the heritage we have through a more sustainable conservation approach that not only considers the requirements of the objects on display but also the visual needs of people to appreciate and enjoy the collections and interiors. 



Award: £1976.12

Picture : The Volury room at Ham House, National Trust, © Frias Hernandez, L. M. (2021)

Sediment of reading: analysing the dirt found in historic books

Robyn Adams (CELL, UCL), Yvonne Lewis (NT)

 image spider
Our project examines the evidence to be found in the crevices of books in the historic library at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire. Particular areas of these books (printed between 1450-1800) provide a suitable canvas for trapping the sediment of reading; hair, skin, dust, pollen, food particles and more. These deposits have traditionally been viewed as ‘waste’ and have been ignored, removed or cleaned off. But this dirt, if sampled and analysed, can offer clues to the reading and book-use practices of former owners and readers. We are seeking to establish from this material information about the reader and their environment, such as gender, reader interests beyond the text within which they are found, seasonal readings and storage conditions. We will do this by extracting this material out of the gutters of the books (central area where book is folded) and analysing the dirt found within. 

Currently there is inconsistent documentation guidance and methodological enquiry surrounding the presence of this material, due to ambiguous professional guidelines. This project aims to discover more about the reading practices of the Wimpole inhabitants, and to further develop the methodology for finding and recording the material left within historic books, to define a language and workflow which can be implemented at varying scales across historic collections.


Visit The Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL)

Award: £2000

Imagedetail of Niccolò Machiavelli, Princeps (Basel, 1575) Sig F8v, (copy from UCL Special Collections Ref Collection B Strong Room Ogden 262/1) © Dr Robyn Adams ((2020)

Lakes, lives and landscapes: diverse histories of people and their standing waters

Helen Bennion (UCL Geography), Carl Sayer (UCL Geography), Seth Gustafson (UCL Geography), Stewart Clarke (National Trust), Imogen Sambrook (National Trust)

This project brings together natural and social scientists from UCL and practitioners from the National Trust to explore how the ecological, landscape and cultural histories compare and interact for lakes and ponds and to better understand the past values attached to different types of waterbody. As vital elements in an early agricultural world, ponds developed a rich associated culture, with uses and meanings that are both little understood and written down. By delving into historical archives and hearing the stories of a diverse range of people, a fuller understanding of the creation of, and change at, these sites could be achieved, in turn making a valuable contribution to conservation ecology including re-instatement of old management practices. 

Stowe photo National Trust
 This small grant will support a scoping study and associated workshop, involving colleagues from other relevant UCL Departments and beyond, to identify key research questions, approaches and potential partners, to be developed into a fuller research proposal in future. This project will provide an important opportunity to utilise cross-disciplinary approaches such as palaeoecology and archival research to raise awareness of the, as yet, unearthed rich cultural history surrounding ponds in the countryside, enabling the National Trust to narrate the histories of their sites to visitors in novel ways. Critically, the knowledge gained on historic management of the landscape has the potential to inform future conservation management plans and restoration goals.




Award £1982
Image: Temple of Venus across the lake at Stowe. Many wealthy families had lakes created as part of their fashionable parks and gardens; these lakes added to wider landscapes already rich in farm ponds which had more practical functions and were perhaps no less important to people. 
 ©National Trust Images/Hugh Mothersole

Everyday Things: Engaging with Photography, Collections and Archives in the Community 

Nathaniel Télémaque UCL Geography (Practice-related) PhD Candidate & Anita Bools National Trust Senior National Conservator, Paper and Photographs 

Picture of a man holding a camera
 “Everyday Things: Engaging with Photography, Collections and Archives in the Community” will intiate a collaboration between Nathaniel Télémaque’s practice-related PhD work and the National Trust’s historic and photography collections. Throughout the course of his doctoral research, Nathaniel Télémaque has been collaboratively working with young Black communities living on the White City estate in West London. His work is focused on engaging with their contemporary Black experiences through photographic practices, photo-elicitation interviews and the dissemination of archival photographs from the area. This collaboration will initiate a series of three events; a panel discussion, a conservation care workshop and a collaborative display featuring photographs by Nathaniel Télémaque, archival images featured in his doctoral project and images from the National Trust’s historic photography collections. The outcomes of this collaboration will be the publishing of a photo-book containing Télémaque’s work, with a foreword written by the National Trust, as well as a publicised digital blog before and after the events. 



Award: £2000

Picture © Nathaniel Télémaque

Cultural Heritage in Extreme Environments: “Looking after what we’ve got” with Autonomous Robotic Mobile 3D Mapping Systems to Improve the Sustainability and Digital Accessibility of Hazardous Historic Sites

Dr Vijay M. Pawar, Mr Harvey Stedman (Department of Computer Science, University College London) & Mr James Parry, Dr Keith Challis (National Trust)

Located within the St Just Mining District, Levant Mine and Beam Engine is a prime example of an important historical site under threat. Stretching a mile out to sea, access to its unique underground tunnels and man engine is currently difficult for National Trust (NT) practitioners to survey regularly. More widely, due to the hazardous working environment, it is hard for the NT to obtain the necessary quantitative 3D information to better manage this important landscape using evidence-based approaches. Similarly, due to health and safety concerns, large sections of the site are closed to the public meaning that the rich heritage of the site is currently inaccessible. For example, the shafts, adits, and stopes contain extensive material remains relating to the operation of the industry (cogs, wheels, rails, pipes, etc,), wooden implements (tool shafts, barrows, etc) that reflect the nature of the hard labour required in hard rock mining.  The underground spaces themselves also carry an intense atmosphere, the sound of industrial machinery and miners working that extended underground dulled by narrow passageways in one space then breaking out into cavernous echoing stopes, candlelight being the only form of light reflecting off the glistening wet granite as the miners worked. As discussions of reopening the site for rare earth minerals and renewable energy solutions gather pace, if improperly informed, these plans could threaten the survival of this finite resource and its history and heritage could be lost.

Levant Mine
 Using existing research results in mobile 3D mapping usable in hazardous environments from the Autonomous Manufacturing Lab, we propose to use this system to survey one section of the site currently not open regularly to the public; a tunnel that connects the old Miners dry with the Man Engine Shaft. Once captured digitally, we intend to understand how best to represent this information for use with NT practitioners, cultural heritage researchers and support greater engagement with public audiences. A key contribution will be exploring how to record and conserve our harder-to-reach underground environment (BBC One - Coastal Path, Underground at Levant Tin Mine) and translate this information to the public.

•    Visit UCL Autonomous Manufacturing Lab, Department of Computer Science
•    Watch BBC One - Coastal Path, Underground at Levant Tin Mine
Award : £2000

Photo: Levant Mine © 

Ventilation and airtightness risk assessment in National Trust buildings

Hua Zhong (UCL The Bartlett School, Nottingham Trent University), Josep Grau-Bove (UCL Institute Sustainable Heritage), Nigel Blade (National Trust Curation & Experience)

The aim of this project is to understand better the role of air leakage and ventilation in maintaining a healthy indoor environment and the scope for retrofit measures improving air tightness in National Trust historic buildings, without adverse consequences for the health of the building, collections and occupants.  

 The research will apply the Pulse technique to measuring and benchmarking the air leakage characteristics of a sample of National Trust buildings.  At the proof of concept stage the measurements will be in smaller buildings such as 575 Wandsworth Road and Woolsthorpe Manor but it is planned that the technique could be scaled up to larger mansion properties in the future.  The work will serve to improve the technical viability and practicality of measuring airtightness of non-residential buildings using the Pulse technique, contribute to the National Trust’s understanding of the ventilation characteristics of its historic buildings and help improve the Trust’s retrofitting procedures for energy efficiency in historic buildings.

This field trial-based research project, potential future outcomes include:
o    A dedicated research collaboration between Universities, National Trust and industries to develop a practical, technically feasible and financially viable methodology for retrofitting historic and listed buildings;
o    Collaborative research between Universities, National Trust and Industries in the fields of developing low carbon and healthy buildings through Pulse-based building airtightness study, onsite sensors monitoring and ventilation assessment




Award : £2000
Photo: Woolsthorpe Manor © National Trust Images / Annapurna Mellor