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2.5 National Heritage

‘A cultural change between the 1970s and 1990s caused that the British spent more leisure time and money on visiting historical sites and exhibits’ and ‘the heritage industry noted fast grew ‘(Childs 306). There was established Government’s statutory adviser on the historic environment called English Heritage in England based on the National Heritage Act from 1983. English Heritage looks after the historical environment as a whole, including historical buildings, monuments and areas, and archaeological remains. The establishment of English Heritage and its support of historical buildings bear evidence of importance of buildings for the English nation. For instance, the importance of religion is not the only thing which gives the religious building a national value. Today are cathedrals (such as Canterbury Cathedral), as well as other religious buildings, both religious centres and centres of tourism (Childs 281) and they are symbols of national faith and cultural identity at the same time.

Popularity of historical buildings is also proved by numbers of tourists who visit historical places. For example, over 1 million people visit the Westminster Abbey and about 1 million of tourists visit Canterbury Cathedral every year (BDRC Group 51).

Furthermore, there is also The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. Four of the seven buildings mentioned above are inscribed on the World Heritage List which proves their historical and cultural value. To be included on the list sites ‘must be of outstanding of universal values meet at least one out of ten selection criteria’ for example ‘to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius’ or others (UNESCO World Heritage Centre).


There are dozens of concepts of national identity and definitions of the terms ‘nation’, ‘identity’, ‘national identity’ and ‘nationalism’. I therefore found it almost an impossible task to bring up something new and original. However, in my opinion, these definitions will remain questionable and would be sources of many discussions because of various approaches of scientists and different concepts often based on various disciplines. I attempted to stress one of the aspects of elements of national identity and that would be shared historical experience, the evidence if which are many historical buildings, retaining both their functions for the nation and the symbols of historical continuity and significance at the same time.

There are different notions of identity within the United Kingdom - the unifying British identity and the identities of the separate nations in the British Isles (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). The identities of the single countries should not be marginalized because of their own histories which created their individual national identities. Nowadays, some scholars, as for example Blunkett, share the opinion that the English nation experiences an identity crisis; the English rarely identify with the British, although they seem to be equated with the British immediately. Kearney explains in detail the problems connected with the so-called Englishness and Britishness. In such a short space it would be impossible to always refer to the individual nations in Britain, I therefore selected the nation of England and discuss the English national cathedral and palaces. It is very difficult to apply Kearney’s rule to the historical buildings; clearly here the British and English overlap, as for example Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the Sovereign.

National identity, regardless of the fact whether the British or the English, consists of many elements, such as cultural components (history, language, religion, art, traditions) and national symbols (anthems, colours, flags). Here I would like to point out the significance of the historical buildings, often connected with the historical memory and ritual, for example the changing of the Guard in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, a well-known tourist attraction today.

Every settled society produces architecture and buildings are perceived as cultural and political symbols of a nation. Each building is constructed to fulfil some kind of specialization of an individual or a group of people. The best possible examples of such buildings, representing symbols of the English national identity, are religious and governmental buildings, especially churches, cathedrals, castles and Royal residences. The most famous representations explored are located in the capital of Britain. London is at the same time a mixture of cosmopolitan styles and place of historical buildings which point out British history and tradition.

There are two groups of the buildings selected, valued not only because of their historical meaning but also for the symbolical one – these are religious and governmental buildings. Religion still plays a vital role in the lives of the English and British, and the churches and cathedrals remain visible evidence of religious membership and associations. About three-fifths of the British identified themselves as religious people and the most important and oldest Church in England is the officially established Church of England. There are thousands of historical religious buildings all over the United Kingdom; however I selected Canterbury Cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. These are among the most monumental and unique symbols of English religion, offering memorials and symbols of famous English people and therefore also symbols of the English nation and national identity.

Governmental buildings are Royal residences and various offices of government. The monarch is closely tied to the national identity because it serves as a symbol of the unity of the nation. Royalty and government are symbolized by many buildings; I selected those situated in London and in its vicinity: Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament and Tower of London. These buildings are symbols of the English nation and the national identity as well as the religious buildings stated above.

Both religious and governmental buildings described are the unique synthesis and symbols of the historical memory, splendid architecture and political continuity of the national institution. Historical buildings are not only connected with the history but also with present England and the whole of the United Kingdom. Despite their still-existing functions, they are among the best-known tourist centres and remain national symbols of the United Kingdom all around the world.


List of Works Cited

Ackroyd, Peter. London: The Biography. London: Chatto & Windus, 2000.

Allsopp, Bruce. English Architecture: An Introduction to the Architectural History of England

from the Bronze Age to the Present Day. Leeds: Knight and Forster, 1979.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of

Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991.

Bagehot, Walter. The English Constitution. London: Collins, 1963.

Baker, Mike. “How about some British history?” BBC News. 27 January 2007

Blunkett, David. A New England: An English Identity within Britain. Speech to the Institute

for Public Policy Research. 14 March 2005

Boswell, James and Johnson, Samuel. The life of Samuel Johnson. Chicago: Encyclopaedia

Britannica, 1952.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (Selected): An Interlinear Translation.

New York: Barron's Educational Series, 1970.

Childs, Peter and Storry, Mike (eds.). British Cultural Identities. London: Routledge, 1997.

Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: Allen&Unwin, 1915.

Gellner, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.

Guibernau i Berdún, Maria M. The Identity of Nations. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007.

Hall, John. Westminster Abbey: A Strategy for 2020 and Beyond. The Dean and Chapter of

Westminster, 2009.


Johnson, Samuel and Green, Donald J. Samuel Johnson: Major Works. Oxford: Oxford UP,


Kearney, Hugh. The British Isles: A History of Four Nations. Cambridge: Cambridge UP,


Kumar, Krishan. The Making of English National Identity. Cambridge UP, 2003.

Levy, Imogen. “Westminster Abbey – Thousand Years of History.” Westminster Abbey from

960 to Today. 2009

Maitland, Frederic William. The Constitutional History of England. McMaster UP, 1908.

Office for National Statistics .“National Identity.” Living in Britain. 17 December 2002.

Office for National Statistics. “Population Change”. 27 August 2009.

Newbolt, William, Charles, Edmund. St. Paul’s Cathedral. London: Read Books, 2009.

Paxman, Jeremy. The English: A Portrait of A People. London: Penguin Books, 1999.

Robbins, Keith. History, Religion and Identity in Modern Britain. London: Hambledon Press,


Smith, Anthony D. National Identity. London: Penguin Books, 1993.

Thompson, Kenneth. “How religious are the British?” in Thomas, Terence(ed.), The British:

Their Religious Beliefs and Practices 1800-1986. London: Routledge, 1988.

UK Parliament. “Architecture of the Palace” Living Heritage,. 13 November 2009.

UNESCO World Heritage Centre. “The Criteria for Selection”. UNESCO World Heritage Centre Online. 16 Nov. 2009.

UNESCO World Heritage Centre “World Heritage List”. UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Online. 16 Nov. 2009.

Weber, Max. The Sociology of Religion. London: Methuen, 1965.

List of Works Consulted

BDRC Group .“Annual Visits to Visitor Attractions Survey 2008 – Final Report”. August



Black, Adam and Charles. London and its Environment. Edinburgh: R. and R. Clark, 1862. Burnby, John. An Historical Description of the Metropolitical Church of Christ, Canterbury.

Canterbury: Simons and Kirkby, 1783.

Elder, Gregory. “Thomas Becket - Chancellor, Archbishop and Saint”. Redlands Daily Facts.

28 December 2006.

Masters, T., Fallon, S., Maric, V. London: City Guide. London: Lonely Planet Publ., 2008.

McDowall, David. An Illustrated History of Britain. Harlow: Longman, 1989.

Percy, Reuben. The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction. London: Aird and

Burstall, 1845.

Porter, Roy. London: A Social History. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1996.

Richards, James Maude. The National Trust Book of English Architecture. London: Book

Club Associates, 1981.

Thomson, John.A.F. The Transformation of Medieval England 1370-1529. London:

Longman, 1983.

Watkin, David. English Architecture: A Concise History. London: Thames and Hudson, 1979.

List of Reference Sources

Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 07 Nov. 2009

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. “Nation.” Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

Online. Oxford UP, 2005.


This thesis tries to elaborate on significance of English historical buildings for the English nation. It deals with definitions and concepts of the terms ‘nation’, ‘national identity’ and ‘nationalism; and tries to bring reasons for the statement that historical buildings should be perceived as symbols of national identity. National identity of each nation is an extensive complex created by a large number of various elements. All these elements are related to concrete nation by its historical, social or representative values. The elements could be various, such as national anthems, colours, language, religion and history.

This thesis points out one of the elements, i.e. the shared historical experience related to the whole nation and historical buildings as still-existing evidence and visible memorials of the development of the nation and its identity. The connection of history and buildings is displayed on religious and governmental buildings situated mostly in London because religion and royalty played an important role in history of the English nation. Moreover, the thesis provides an outline of history the selected buildings experienced, related to themes of religion and royalty. The selected buildings are examined on the basis of their individual histories and their connection to famous historical events and historical figures, considering buildings’ both functions for the nation and the symbols of historical continuity and significance at the same time.

Most of selected buildings are located in London - a mixture of cosmopolitan styles and place of historical buildings perceived as symbol of English and British national identities. Additionally, Historical buildings are not only connected with the history but also with present England and the whole of the United Kingdom.


Tato bakalářská práce se snaží zdůraznit význam anglických historických budov pro národ. Zabývá se pojmy jako „národ“, „národní identita“ a „vlastenectví“, na základě kterých obhajuje názor, že jsou historické budovy považovány za symbol národa a národní identity. Národní identita každého národa je obsáhlý celek tvořený velkým množstvím elementů. Všechny tyto elementy jsou spojeny s národem na základě historických, společenských a reprezentativních hodnot. Jako například národní hymny, barvy, jazyk, náboženství nebo historie.

Tato práce zdůrazňuje jeden ze zmíněných elementů, společnou národní historii, a historické budovy jako trvalé svědectví o minulosti národa a viditelná památka na události spojené s vývojem národa a jeho identity. Spojení historie a budov je zobrazeno na příkladech náboženských a vládních převážně londýnských budov, protože náboženství a monarchie hrály pro Angličany vždy důležitou roli a také práce nabízí přehled historických událostí týkajících se jednotlivých náboženských a vládních budov. Zvolené budovy jsou zkoumány na základě jejich spojení s historickými událostmi a historickými osobami což je podkladem pro tvrzení, o významnosti budov a jejich funkci jako symbolů historie a národní identity.

Většina zvolených budov se nachází v Londýně, metropoli známé především jako místo s obrovským množstvím historických budov, považovaném za symbol jak anglické, tak i britské národní identity. Historické budovy nejsou pouze památníky historie národa, ale také symboly současné Anglie a celého Spojeného království.

1 Early and influential theologians and writers in the Christian Church, particularly those of the first five centuries of Christian history.

2 Inigo Jones (1573-1652): he first significant British architect of the modern period, and the first to bring Italianate Renaissance architecture to England; his most famous works are Queen’s House in Greenwich and the Banqueting House at Whitehall. He was important not merely for establishing a change of style but also a change in the intellectual and social status of the designer of buildings. (Watkin, 96)

3 Westminster Abbey held a status of a cathedral only until 1550.

4 Britain's highest order of chivalry; English order of knighthood founded by King Edward III in 1348, ranked as the highest British civil and military honour obtainable; established to commemorate an incident in which Edward was dancing when one of his partner’s blue garters dropped to the floor, as bystanders snickered, Edward gallantly picked up the garter and put it on his own leg, admonishing the courtiers in French with the phrase that remains the order’s motto, “Honi soit qui mal y pense”

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