The OD Issue 3 - page 7

2014 · ISSUE 3
As Director of Heritage Protection and Planning at English
Dr Edward Impey
(OD 1975) managed the study, Listing
and protection of historic buildings and archaeology. Today that
can mean power stations as often as palaces. Reminiscing about
Dragon days, he explained some of the pressures faced by those
guarding the nation’s historic environment. He has recently moved
on to become Master and Director General of the Royal Armouries.
Edward Impey’s career is rooted in his
study of History and Classics at the Dragon.
Having pursued these subjects throughout
school, he became a Junior Research Fellow
at Oriel College, Oxford. He then joined the
professional heritage fraternity as Historic
Buildings Curator at the Historic Royal
Palaces Agency, later becoming Curator. This
rarefied setting was swapped for a broader
canvas when he joined English Heritage
in 2002, initially as Director of Research
and Standards.
Reflecting upon his career direction, he
simply says: “We had some excellent History
teachers at the Dragon. In spite of normal
schoolboy resistance, we learned a lot.”
Edward has written about numerous
architectural and historical subjects,
including the official illustrated histories
of the Tower of London and Kensington
Palace – both buildings with long histories
reflected in their venerable architecture.
However, much of his time has been spent
considering the merits of far more modern
structures as ever more 20th Century
buildings are nominated for protection.
“Buildings that were completely reviled 20
years ago, such as the Central Bus Station
in Preston, of novel concrete construction,
are now loved by enthusiasts,” he confirms.
“Appreciation of what matters evolves
over time and the more removed we
become, the more objective we can be.”
English Heritage is frequently criticised
for listing buildings which many people
dislike, but likeability is not the chief
criterion for listing; rather buildings must
be of special architectural interest to be
protected. And the question of what is
interesting changes: a generation ago,
structures from the inter-war years and even
many Victorian and Edwardian buildings
were thought of very little significance. Forty
years on the view is somewhat different.
Edward explains that in the last decade
most listings have originated in requests
from the public. Although these suggestions
are not always motivated by heritage
concerns: “People see the house next
door is for sale and worry that the garden
will built over. They submit the house for
listing because they think that will stop it
happening,” says Edward. However, English
Heritage itself is now increasingly pro-active
in listing, concentrating on buildings which
are little understood or of unquestionable
‘special interest’, particularly if under threat.
An example is Didcot Power Station which
closed in March 2013, as Edward explains:
“Some who live in Didcot hate it. For many
people who view it from afar, though, it’s
a wonderful, familiar thing. In the end the
decision was to advise against listing, but
we certainly considered it. There are dozens
of similar sites around the country and one
or two will need to be added to the List.”
When asked what inspires him to
remain in contact with the Dragon,
Edward replies: “It’s a bit of your life you
remember very well, you can’t erase it. The
Dragon is a cult school.” He fondly recalls
it being slightly ramshackle. “It wasn’t a
sort of take it or leave it place, it put its
stamp on people very much. But of course
what we didn’t know while we were there
was that it wasn’t like other prep schools.
We were all rather scruffy in those clever
indestructible blue corduroy uniforms.”
In touch with many contemporaries,
Edward recognises their Dragon
characteristics. “I was at a Ford Lecture
recently,” he says. “An OD came up
to me who is a history don now.
Those seven years leave a mark which
gives you a common ground.”
“We had some excellent
History teachers at the
Dragon. In spite of normal
schoolboy resistance,
we learned a lot.”
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