Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by The Society for Nautical Research (arts 181)


The key points in this submission are that :

· the Country’s present financial situation must be addressed. The Society recognises this may mean a severe reduction in central government funding for some years yet

· the Advisory Committee on National Historic Ships has done invaluable work and its key functions and funding need to be retained

· Government can facilitate maritime conservation by signalling its national value. This should help unlock purse strings in the private sector

· National Lottery Funds have proved invaluable to maritime conservation. While recognising that public money must be properly accounted for in the bidding process, in accordance with Government policy, the process can surely be made less tedious

· the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck sites should not be abolished before its members’ experience is transferred into English Heritage and its counterparts in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

· the scope of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 should be extended from the 12 mile Territorial Sea to the whole of the UK’s 200 mile Economic Zone. The limitations of the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 should be reviewed so that remains before 1914 can be protected

· a settled policy on the management and exploitation of historically significant wrecks or other underwater archaeological sites is needed. As part of this, earlier decisions that the UK should not sign the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage should be revisited

· new burden costs for English Heritage and its counterparts in the devolved administrations should be funded or at the very least Government should indicate that they will be funded after the worst of the economic crisis is over

· it is important to scholarship that reductions in funding do not reduce the standards of care by which archive material is preserved and that access to archives for research and study is not reduced.


1. This written evidence is submitted on behalf of the Society for Nautical Research1.


2. The Society for Nautical Research was founded in 1910 to foster the study of ships and seafaring throughout all ages and in all seas. It has an international membership open to all. Its refereed journal, The Mariner’s Mirror, is recognised internationally as the pre-eminent English language journal on naval and maritime history, nautical archaeology and all aspects of seafaring and lore of the sea world wide and in all ages.

3. The Society’s first conservation achievement was in January 1922 when HMS VICTORY was moved into dry dock No. 2 at Portsmouth following a campaign by the Society to save her before she sank at her moorings. She was docked successfully and then surveyed. As a result the Admiralty decided that she must stay in dock but that the cost of restoration was so high that it could not be met from public funds. On 10 June 1922 the Board of Admiralty wrote to the Society to say that if the Society was prepared to raise money to pay for the ship’s restoration to her 1805 Trafalgar condition the work could be done in the dockyard on the basis of the Society’s expert advice. The Society’s ‘Save the Victory Fund’ was set up and funds raised. A plaque on board was unveiled by King George V when he visited the newly restored ship in 1928 to record the Society’s close involvement with this work. The ‘Save the Victory Fund’ still exists and still provides monies that assist the maintenance, display and conservation of the ship. The Society also continues to provide the Chairman for the MoD’s VICTORY Advisory Technical Committee.

4. The Society’s collection of artefacts at Portsmouth has grown through the Society’s VICTORY Gallery which was opened in 1938. It became a key component firstly of the Royal Naval Museum in 1972 when the collection and the Gallery was gifted by the Society to the Secretary of State and more recently of the National Museum of the Royal Navy. The Society was instrumental in facilitating the Act of Parliament that established the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in April 1937 and in securing the Macpherson Collection numbering many thousands of maritime prints, paintings and other items now in the Museum. In more recent years the Society played its part in establishing the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust and in 2005 deposited the John P Bethell Water Craft Information Resource with the National Maritime Museum, Cornwall.

5. The Society has also been engaged in one way or another with conservation projects for HMS IMPLACABLE, HMS FOUDROYANT (now restored at Hartlepool under her original name of TRINCOMALEE), MARY ROSE at Portsmouth, RSS DISCOVERY when she was moved from the Thames Embankment to Dundee, the return of SS GREAT BRITAIN from the Falkland Islands to Bristol and with giving advice about the Victorian steam fishing vessels/whale catchers still in South Georgia. Most recently the Society has given advice to the Trustees of the CUTTY SARK in connection with their restoration plans and particularly the structural problems that might follow from lifting her from the bottom of the dry dock.

6. In the inter war period members of the Society measured and recorded the details of fishing and other inshore craft. In 1992/93 the Society built, presented to HMS VICTORY and now finds the volunteer crew for a 25ft sailing and rowing cutter built from 1805 drawings. She makes appearances at various sailing events to publicise the Royal Navy, HMS VICTORY and the work of the Society. The Society organises a ‘new researchers’ conference each year with the British Commission and is engaged with an international conference at least every other year. It also provides grants to help researchers and runs its own lecture series as well as contributing to others.

7. In the 100 years of its existence the Society has had practical experience of ship and boat conservation as well as the display of artefacts to museum standards. It has done so when the only funding for such activities had to come from private sources and it has done so when public funding was available; though it must be remarked that funding for nautical purposes always seems much harder to come by than funding for shore based purposes. Perhaps as a consequence there is a plenitude of country houses and a relative scarcity of maritime artefacts. Indeed, the maritime artefacts do not yet tell the story of the maritime power that was the United Kingdom and neither do they represent the modern reality that in excess of 90% of the country’s trade is still carried by sea.


8. The Society is well aware that the country’s present financial situation must be addressed and that in the short to medium term this may require a severe reduction in central government funding. Historically, maritime conservation has been underfunded and so all reductions will be felt severely.


9. The Secretary of State announced on 26 July that he intended to declassify the Advisory Committee on National Historic Ships and transfer its functions to another body. We are not too sure what the term ‘declassify’ means in this context but understand from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that it means that the Committee’s Non Departmental Public Body status will change as will its accounting structure. It would have been useful to know before preparing this evidence what the Secretary of State has in mind as a successor body because National Historic Ships has an important role that should not be lost or diluted. The Society hopes that this change does not mean that National Historic Ships’ core funding from DCMS – less than £260,000 a year – will be lost.

10. In the few years of its existence National Historic Ships has placed over 1,000 vessels on the National Register of Historic Vessels. This list includes the National Historic Fleet being vessels spanning the spectrum of UK maritime history. (The National Maritime Museum, Cornwall has followed this lead and created and maintains the National Small Boat Register.)

11. But National Historic Ships has done much more than make lists. It has, for example, intervened to prevent the demolition of the clipper ship CITY OF ADELAIDE and is now working with the Scottish Government to find a conservation solution in the light of the fact that the Scottish Maritime Museum can no longer afford to maintain her or afford the space that she occupies. (It seems likely that a long term solution that will save this important Australian emigrant ship will be in place before too much longer.)

12. National Historic Ships has also been able to broker the transfer of World War 2 High Speed Launch 102 and Motor Gunboat 81 from private ownership to the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust boat collection. These two boats are on display for all to see at the Gunwharf, Portsmouth this year. National Historic Ships also played a key part in the ground breaking exercise of persuading HM Treasury to accept the boats in the Windermere Steam Boat Museum in lieu of death duties. This collection has thereby been kept together and in its context. It is understood that the Lakeland Arts Trust (as successor to the Museum) is committed to a plan which will result in the effective conservation of these boats and their public display again in due course. Without this intervention by National Historic Ships this unique collection would have been dispersed.

13. National Historic Ships has brokered activities which help to give an economic life for historic vessels. It successfully brought together a French company wanting to move high value wine by wind power and the owners of the only working topsail schooner in the United Kingdom – the KATHLEEN & MAY - built in 1900. This resulted in 3 contracts being won for this vessel to move wine between France, Ireland and south west England.

14. National Historic Ships has recently launched the Shipshape Network. This is a national initiative to develop regional networks of skills, suppliers (including an online directory of skills and services) and to act as a base for training initiatives. Shipshape Solent, Shipshape Mersey, Shipshape Bristol Channel and Shipshape Thames are already operating and the network is, we understand, to be expanded over the coming year.

15. With grant aid from the Society for Nautical Research and the Headley Trust, National Historic Ships is about to publish the UK’s definitive conservation manual on the principles of ship conservation. The publication has been endorsed by Mr John Penrose MP, the Minister for Tourism and Heritage. (Paragraphs 19 et seq. comment on the difficulties and challenges of ship conservation.)

16. These examples illustrate the advantages that have accrued to maritime conservation from the work of National Historic Ships. Its functions and the way that they are exercised will continue to be important. It is a unique repository for knowledge and skills essential to conserve and restore historic vessels. These skills are just not available in the various Museums. A way needs to be found for these skills to be kept and used and for National Historic Ships to be acknowledged as the foremost body in the vessel conservation discipline. It would no doubt be possible to construct a new body separate from government but one which still received core funding through DCMS. But one wonders whether this would really be worthwhile or is, indeed, necessary?

17. The Society understands that National Historic Ships costs the taxpayer just £257,000 per year. But as National Historic Ships spend some £50-60,000 per year in small grants and can and does broker arrangements between those who have funds and those who need funds, the state has a body which makes a real difference to vessel conservation at minimal cost to government. National Historic Ships has told the Society that it generates 3 times its costs in investment in historic ship projects and raises other money as well for its own projects. The Heritage Lottery Fund has accepted National Historic Ships as their principle advisor for all historic vessel applications. All this gives a very good deal indeed for the state and we urge that National Historic Ships be allowed to continue to receive core funding from government and to continue to be the officially recognised vessel conservation body. With core funding and official recognition of National Historic Ships’ effective, if frugal, maritime conservation can continue.

18. By signalling the national importance of vessel and, indeed, maritime conservation in general in this way Government should help to unlock partnership funding. Government could further contribute at very little cost by explaining the value of maritime heritage to the public at large. For whatever reasons, the country nowadays seems totally disconnected from its maritime or industrial heritage. Because of this disconnection voluntary donations are harder to come by than is desirable; and significant philanthropic donations are even scarcer. Signs of Government interest in this work would help to secure funding from charitable and private sector sources. Donors would be much more aware that they are helping a necessary cause including maintaining scarce skills and thus employment. Downstream they are also helping to develop and maintain new businesses based on income from visitors. And additional tourist destinations boost the economy more generally.


19. It must be said that ship conservation whether of a wooden hull or an iron or steel hull is far from easy. Firstly ships are large and they are expensive to rescue, restore and conserve. Secondly they are designed for their weight to be carried on water and so are subjected to many fewer unintentional stresses when afloat than in a dry dock. Their design purpose, whether for a naval vessel or a merchant vessel, was very specific and as such rarely lends itself to conservation in a form where they can easily be used for another purpose which will bring in significant sums of money to help with their conservation.

20. Display also provides its own problems. The need is for a body of water accessible by sea and by land and near to centres of population that can and will visit and contribute through admission charges. There are many bodies of water suitable; but with notable exceptions few are situated in parts of a dockland area that many would chose to visit – though a well featured vessel may turn out be the key to strategic development of a rundown area. That there is a real interest and demand to see well displayed vessels and related artefacts in sympathetic surroundings is borne out by the fact that at the very high quality nautical heritage centres including Anstruther, Bristol, Chatham, Greenwich, Hartlepool, Liverpool and Portsmouth visitor numbers are consistently high.


21. The decline in funding from private sources has in some ways been offset by the availability in the last 20 years or so of funding from the National Lottery. The lottery clearly appeals to the public and taps a funding source not otherwise available. As far as the Society is aware, match funding has always been secured for any project for which lottery funds have been pledged. This income stream from lottery sources for historic conservation projects should not be lost and should be enhanced if possible – perhaps by making the application process significantly less tedious. One of the aims of the Government is, of course, to simplify governance. As already noted above, clear signs that the Government regards maritime conservation activities as being of importance and that National Historic Ships is the principal advisor to the Heritage Lottery Fund for historical vessel applications would help to guide additional private sector match funding into the maritime conservation.


22. Also on 26 July the Secretary of State announced the abolition of the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites. There is presumably an argument that all the significant sites are already known. That view has limited force because we do not know what still remains to be discovered; and as the capabilities of underwater technology is increasing rapidly we just do not know what will be discovered. This is not an idle statement. As recently as 24 August 2010 MoD announced that the wrecks of HMS CASSANDRA (1918) and HMS GENTIAN (1919) had been found in the Baltic. These wrecks legally belong to the British Government. In May of this year the Swedish Government announced the discovery of other wrecks in the Baltic including some that they believe to be from the 17th and 18th Century. If the Advisory Committee on Historic Wrecks has to be disbanded then the Society believes that an effective Group able to advise English Heritage, Historic Scotland, CADW and the Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service on the significance of wrecks needs to be put in place. National Historic Ships may also have a new role to play in this area.

23. The Society’s recollection is that the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites was brought into being in 1978 - and the Archaeology Diving Unit (ADU) at St Andrew’s came into being at much the same time - because the major Maritime Museums refused to contribute their resources to this work. The museums’ skills in this area have been dispersed but the ADU continues (now within Wessex Archaeology) and since 1978 English Heritage has built a small maritime team based at Fort Cumberland. We suggest that the skills and knowledge of the individuals who make up the Advisory Committee should be transferred to English Heritage and the similar bodies in the devolved administrations and that the work of their Ancient Monuments Committees should as a consequence be expanded to include advisory work on wrecks.

24. In the light of the difficulties that DCMS is discovering in developing a policy to manage the recently discovered 1744 wreck site of Admiral Balchin’s HMS VICTORY because it lies outside the 12 mile Territorial Sea, English Heritage’s jurisdiction and the scope of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 should be extended out from the breadth of the Territorial Sea to the further limit of the UK’s 200 mile economic zone (or to median lines with adjacent countries). Real consideration should also be given to reviewing the limitations of the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 so that remains before 1914 can be properly protected.

25. It is important that the United Kingdom has a coherent policy on the management and exploitation of historically important wreck sites and other items of archaeological significance that may be discovered underwater. As part of developing this policy earlier decisions that the UK should not sign the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage should, perhaps, be revisited but in the knowledge that there is a greater role for the knowledgeable amateur diver to play than UNESCO seems to recognise and that not all sites are best served by leaving them untouched. The marine environment is harsh and natural changes in it may lead to rapid deterioration of sites and artefacts that have apparently been ‘safe’ for years.

26. The centenary of the First World War is not too far distant and there are clear advantages in having a fully developed policy about wrecks from this period and others before this war and its battles at sea are commemorated. The Jutland wrecks are the obvious example.

27. English Heritage should, of course, be funded in accordance with new burdens rules so that it can carry out all additional work that the Secretary of State or Parliament may give to it even if at this stage of the economic cycle this can be no more than an undertaking that new burden funding will be provided once the worst of the crisis is over – say from 2013/14.


28. Maritime archives are to be found in the National Archives at Kew, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, the National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth, the Naval Historical Branch of MoD (also at Portsmouth) and at numerous other museums or archives funded by national government, local authorities or others. It is crucial to the development of scholarship and education that funding cuts are not allowed to result in long term harm to the condition of these records and that access to them for research and study is not curtailed.

September 2010

[1] The Society for Nautical Research is a company limited by guarantee. It is also a Charity and by a Charity Commissioner s ’ Scheme is the Trustee of the Save the Victory Fund whose object is to assist in the maintenance, upkeep and presentation of HMS Victory and is the Trustee of the Macpherson Collection Endowment Fund whose object is to augment the Macpherson Collection held by the Trustees of the National Maritime Museum and to assist in the maintenance and exhibition of this collection.