According to VisitBritain.org, a little over 34 million tourists visited the UK last year. Nearly 3 million of them were Americans. On top of that, if you look at the top 10 paid English tourist attractions, eight of them involve some sort historical or preservation connection.
Why on earth am I mentioning this? Because if an American is an Anglophile, he or she would list one of the main reasons is the English “sense of history”. I never understood this particular phrase. Is it like a sense of smell? Is it a superpower? I picture the Boffin sitting down to a meal, stopping in his tracks, looking to his right intently, then stating, “Wait, I feel a change in neighborhood relations with the influx of people moving in from outside Chicago. I’m also feeling the long-term effects of the voting outcomes locally and statewide. I think I am going to need a paper bag.”
Now Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have rich and wonderful histories, but I am afraid much of the romanticism goes the English way. So I am keeping my points narrowed to England. Once again, the smaller countries get the shorter end of the stick, and I apologize.
My bachelor’s is in American History. (No jokes from the UK about my taking a weekend seminar!) So I appreciate history in any form, and English history is a rich and integral part of the culture and deservedly needs to be preserved and celebrated. I’m the one scouring the History category on BBC iPlayer wanting to watch how they made bread in the 12th century. I can be as boring as shit as the next person, thank you very much.
Living in the young country that we do, most Americans do not understand just how deep English history truly goes and what it truly means to them. The English people are, in a sense, owned by its history. I can give you a couple of examples of this depth.
Going into this paragraphs is not impossible, but let me give you a brief overview of public rights of way. Public rights of way are paths that the public can legally use because history set the precedent hundreds of years ago. Mel the Angle walked here. That was good enough. It does not matter if the land is now private property. Not only that, in many cases, the property owner is obligated to maintain these rights of way. There are different classifications for what you can do on these different rights of way. Some are designated as footpaths only. Some allow horses and bicycles too. Some even allow cars. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000 has put a deadline of 2026 to get these old rights of way on a definitive map to settle the issues for good, so it won’t be as open-ended as it has been.
I can imagine this going over will with the “get off my lawn” types over here.
Moving on, let’s go back to feudal times when the lord owned everything. Of course, we don’t live in those times now. However, all hidden treasure found on your property belongs to the Crown. Technically. And every so often there still is a discovery of something valuable tucked away in a crevice here and there. Why? Because people wanted to avoid paying taxes and forgot (or didn’t want) to tell their heirs about the loot.
So what do you do if you do find treasure in your house or yard? You take it to your local coroner within 15 days of discovery. He or she determines whether the treasure is valuable. If so, the loot is sold and the take is split between the finder and the landowner with the tax going to the government at the point, unless the finder and the landowner work out a separate deal. Regardless, the government still gets its fair share.
Of course, we Americans have to be different. While some states still maintain a form of the English law, most have a “finders keepers” rule. If you happen find something on US government land, it goes to the Feds. Maybe even humorless guys with dark suits and sunglasses will show up, if you are lucky.
England’s history is just so wrapped up in so much of what the people do that is so hard for them to imagine life without it. Like I mentioned in my last post, the Boffin and I had our windows replaced. Our single-paned ones formed ice on the inside during the winter. The Boffin was talking to an English family member about the project, and she asked if we were going to miss them because of the history. Um. Well, our house was built in the early 60s. These were Hemel Hempstead redevelopment/Levittown era windows, definitely not something to leave to the Sprog in our will. To be fair, the Boffin did keep a few panes to make mini greenhouses, but the thought of getting attached to windows that malfunctioned was a sentiment even beyond my historical sensibilities. I am Boring Bread Woman.
The English people are left constantly battling amongst themselves over what is worth hanging onto for the sake of preservation and its history and what needs to go make room for the future. It’s a huge identity crisis that we, as Americans, don’t understand nor empathize with. We just see these lovely castles, the rolling green countryside, and all the pretty art and armaments there for us to gawk at. Meanwhile, the funds, the energy, the time, and the effort are all thrown in to maintain a tourist industry for people like us to enjoy. But the English people have to decide what needs to be preserved for themselves and how much of all this is worth it in the long run. It’s not our place to say.