Culture for tourists

In William Dutt’s guide book to Norfolk published in 1900, Flegg is represented by only four of its villages and their surroundings, which are described as follows.

Great Ormesby church should be visited, if only to examine its Norman doorway; then you may take the road again, which leads you past a village green and forge to Little Ormesby church and the 'Eel’s Foot Inn' and 'Sportsman’s Arms'. The hostelries are favourite resorts of anglers who come to fish the local broads.Then the whispering of reeds and the gleaming of waters speak of Broadland, for you have reached Ormesby Broad.The scene made up of lovely lights and shadows on the water, skimming swallows, quiet pastoral pictures, sallows, willows and wild flowers, is a familiar one to travellers in this part of Norfolk.You continue your journey to Martham, a small town whose church of St Mary might fittingly be the sanctuary of a place ten times its size.Apart from its church Martham has little to claim attention.My sole impressions of it are of a bank which opens for three hours on two days of the week, a green with geese, some ponds around which the willows grow so close together that they seem to be crowding each other in efforts to reach the water, and a local shopkeeper’s harvest bill, which announced that this annual event was causing ‘Great Excitement in Martham”

“Caister village, an enterprising little place, which has learned to make the most of its proximity to frolicsome Yarmouth, is too near that town to have retained any degree of rusticity. But commonplace as is its appearance, it is famous on account of its castle- a grand old ruin which fortunately, stands a little more than a mile from the village street”. He goes on to explain in about a page of writing that the castle is one of the most ancient brick buildings in England. It was the home of Sir John Fastolff a leading knight in Henry V’s invasion of France, and then the Paston family, famous for the survival of their everyday correspondence, which has thrown important light on the domestic affairs of landed gentry in Tudor times.

These extracts are an excellent example of literary economy in signalling to the urban Victorian traveller the most important features of Flegg, and what is to be gained by stopping off to explore the elements he has shortlisted because they impart a distinctive rural culture. Dutt was writing at a time when this part of Norfolk was first being promoted by topographic writers as a worthwhile place to spend a holiday.He draws attention to its worth for those interested in ecclesiastical history, political history, natural history and freshwater angling, but also points out some of the disadvantages to his readers who were used to having ready access to the amenities and excitements of an urban culture. Culture consists of learned patterns of behaviour and belief and Dutt was really contributing to the making of a new culture of mass tourism, which over more than a century has come to dominate the old village peatworkings we know as Broadland, and the beachside coastal villages between Caistor and Winterton, which are now densely populated by holiday caravan parks.Already Dutt was pointing out that the quietude that town dwellers were escaping to was already under threat from the very thing he was promoting.The more discerning tourists were already moving up the coast from bustling Caistor to Winterton.The latter place, Dutt notes, is “…a village gaining favour among people of quiet tastes owing to its splendid beach and secluded position”. Indeed, Winterton is still notable as a literary stimulus.

Sense of place

The topography of culture is expressed in the physical impact of the use of environmental resources to provide goods and services. Every landscape can therefore be viewed as a testimony to changing methods of satisfying basic needs and the impact of current needs. Needs and methods are always changing and the way a landscape looks now reflects what people demand of it today, superimposed on how they used it in past times. This view of landscape is important to produce a sense of place, because the cultural history of changing times is an important part of the mental scaffold we build around the environment to define our position in a greater scheme of things. This imagined place is a world constituted and given value from the deeper past. The visual elements in it can be used to help answer the question why humans live together, how do they do it and what they value in their social environment?

However, in 2004, an English heritage project set out to raise questions about the late 20th century's contribution of heritage. In a short pamphlet, the project, called 'Change and Creation', asked the question 'why wait?' It challenged the current orthodoxy within the heritage industry that places value on environmental features, or assigns sites a designated protective status, only once a respectable 'cut-off' period of at least 30 years has passed. It rejected the notion of objective distance that underlies this rule. Indeed it celebrated subjectivity and personal engagement as important tools for exploring rapid, radical and most importantly, recent change. It stressed that 'landscape' is a mental construct, it is an idea and a feeling that anyone can create. It is not 'out there' to be identified by scholars or experts in landscape: it is something that belongs to everyone. 'Change and Creation' also rejected the common lament that recent landscape change is only loss: the removal of hedgerows, the hollowing out of town centres, the concreting-over of the countryside. These laments mourn an imagined landscape. Landscapes have never been pristine, untouched or unchanging and the material of the long past is not better than that of the recent. On the other hand, neither should valuing the relatively new, lead to a rush to preserve things. A thing's passing is sometimes its contribution. Heritage does not need to be defined narrowly as only 'that which we wish to keep'. Literary descriptions can override historical bias, but pictorial imagery still excerts a powerful influence on what most people regard as a worthwhile holiday venue.