The Heritage Value of Sandfields Pumping Station

To develop Sandfields pumping station as a museum it is important to understand that heritage is not the same thing as inheritance, but it touches on a sense of what has come down to us from the past that we value and wish to pass on to the future. ‘Objects of heritage’ are the things we pay attention to because they are still meaningful to us, not only because they tell great stories about the past but because we use them to tell stories about ourselves. ‘Practices of heritage’ are customs and habits which, although intangible, also inform who we are as collectives, and help to create our collective social memory.

We use objects of heritage (artefacts, buildings, sites, landscapes) and practices of heritage (languages, music, community celebrations) to shape our ideas about who we are. For example, Sandfields is an object of heritage, not because of its importance to steam engine enthusiasts, but because it is currently used as a compelling symbol that connects us with feelings about time. Sandfields is a heritage site, because it fulfils the criteria for being an outstanding example of past activity that people want to keep for the future. Unofficially, it attracts visitors who want their own experience and to find their own meanings at the site. It is this unofficial ‘cultural work’ that goes on around the idea of Sandfields that makes it such a powerful object of heritage.

Most of us are consumers, visiting museums, landscapes and heritage sites for enjoyment and learning, perhaps even collecting historic objects or restoring an old house. The way in which objects and practices from the past have survived is often the result of deliberate choices, particularly when ‘official’ heritage protection steps in. Scientific conservation involves another set of choices about what to preserve or enhance or discard; heritage tourism makes more decisions about the marketing messages; heritage curators create and select the official importance and meanings of the things they look after. Official heritage has its own history of changing ideas about how best to identify and protect heritage, and indeed an expanding definition of what ‘heritage’ is. A critical approach makes these shifts in thinking explicit and explores their implications.

Therefore it is not enough to say, well Sandfields is a place associated with some strong ideas that have had national influence. In terms of heritage one must be able to demonstrate how the site manifests those ideas, why it is important, why it has outstanding national value and then develop these themes into a useable past.

The difficulty here is that this value then has to transcend the boundaries of heritage listing. Unfortunately quite often the grounds for listing make it difficult to bring the play of local sentiment as a rational for preservation; essentially it is framed in terms of architectural and planning history rather than social  history or heritage, therefore we have to introduce other factors, for example education.