Sunday, 19 April 2015

What's in a Name?

Apethorpe 'Palace' © English Heritage

In the continuing effort to conserve and hold on to our built past, it is sometimes worth stopping and asking ourselves what should be preserved? As I have said in previous blogs, our historic buildings can't remain in aspic. Sometimes we need to be pragmatic and accept new buildings, new vistas, and even new towns! Somehow, some way, we carefully move forward holding onto the past but attending to the present.

However, there is an aspect of our heritage that does not need to change to keep up with modern times. It is something that doesn’t get in the way of the present. It doesn’t cost anything to maintain and most significantly links us directly to our past and our heritage.

I am talking about place names. The origin of these can stretch back centuries even millennia. Today modern England is full of ancient names for cities, towns, villages, streets and alley ways. These names root us in our history, whether that is Roman, Saxon, Norman or later. Sometimes names have changed in the last 1000 years, but this has been through social evolution, common usage over the long slow passage of time.

With this in mind, I am surprised that English Heritage, our national champion in protecting our built past has allowed one of our most historically important buildings to have a cosmetic change of name. 

Apethorpe Hall has been renamed Apethorpe Palace. No reason for this change appears to have been given. It has just been presented as a fait accompli in the listing description. There is only one other non-royal residence in England with the title “Palace” and that is Blenheim Palace. The difference is that that early 18th century house was always called a Palace. That is its original historical legacy.

The East Courtyard © Ellen Leslie
South Range © Ellen Leslie
View from the East Courtyard © Ellen Leslie
Apethorpe Hall is a beautiful Grade I manor house with origins that go back to the 15th century. In my opinion one of the most impressive houses England can boast about, and England has many. Its long history is full of highs and lows, from being the residence of the future Elizabeth I, the weekend retreat for King James I, later becoming an approved school in the 1970s and finally being rescued by government compulsory purchase. It was however, never called Apethorpe Palace, even during its days as a royal residence. 

The new owner is Frenchman Jean Christophe Iseux, Baron von Pfetten. Apparently he is very sympathetic to the house’s history and says “Our vision for Apethorpe is to help this house regain the place in British history that it deserves." I think that is heartening, even laudable. But by changing the name, in a stroke you deny its past. If the name Apethorpe Hall was good enough for King James, it should be good enough for Baron von Pfetten and certainly English Heritage.