English Heritage receives £1m donation

Generous donation from the Michael Bishop Foundation for vital conservation work at four historic sites across England

It’s been a very encouraging start to the New Year for English Heritage as the charity announced a £1m donation from the Michael Bishop Foundation today to secure the future of some of this country’s most important historic sites. This generous gift will fund vital conservation work at Dover Castle in Kent, Hardwick Old Hall in Derbyshire, North Leigh Roman Villa in Oxfordshire and Brodsworth Hall in South Yorkshire. Thanks to the Michael Bishop Foundation’s support, English Heritage will be able to open up more of Dover Castle and Hardwick Old Hall to the public. The donation is the second largest private philanthropic gift since English Heritage became a charity in 2015.

Sir Tim Laurence, Chairman of English Heritage, said: “Wind, weather and weeds regularly take their toll on the historic landmarks of this country. However, thanks to the support of the Michael Bishop Foundation, four of our sites – dating from the Roman era to the Victorian age – will be protected against the elements for generations to come. This is a major donation for English Heritage and we’d like to thank the Foundation for its generosity and its vote of confidence in us.” 

Lord Glendonbrook, Chairman of the Trustees, The Michael Bishop Foundation, said: ''The Michael Bishop Foundation is joining the many other supporters of English Heritage for the first time. It is making a donation of £1,000,000 towards the restoration of four iconic heritage sites, of which Dover Castle is an appropriate inaugural project.

“The Foundation's policy is to give support to heritage projects where urgent and important restorations are required to safeguard buildings of significant historical interest but which are not in the mainstream of fundraising. I believe Dover Castle is in this category and its restoration is long overdue, as a location which has for a thousand years been the most significant port of entry to England in peace and war.''

The donation from the Michel Bishop Foundation will go towards supporting the following conservation projects:

  • Known as the ‘Key to England’, Dover Castle in Kent has played a crucial role in the defence of the realm for almost two millennia, but with over a mile of curtain walls, conserving this great fortress is a momentous task. Not only is it vast, but the castle was designed to be difficult to access, so parts of the masonry are hard to reach. Now with the support of the Michael Bishop Foundation, English Heritage will repair the northern part of the castle’s defences, a remarkable show-case of military engineering from across the centuries. Externally, the work will involve repairing the masonry stone by stone, and repointing crumbling mortar; inside the defences, English Heritage will repair the historic plaster and restore the unique arrow loops. Once the work is complete, previously closed areas of the mighty fort will be open to the public.
  • Built for Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, or ‘Bess of Hardwick’, between 1584 and 1589, Hardwick Old Hall in Derbyshire is an early and important example of a medieval ‘great house’. The Old Hall has been closed to the public since 2018 due to the decay of its masonry. The loss of large areas of roof covering has led to some deterioration of the interior and exposure to inclement weather. Conservation work required at Hardwick includes removing vegetation, repointing masonry and repairing the plaster.
  • Considered to be one of the larger villas of Roman Britain, North Leigh Roman Villa in Oxfordshire was at its most extensive in the early 4th century, when it included three bath suites, 16 mosaic floors and 11 rooms with under-floor heating. Today, two ranges of the former courtyard arrangement of the villa are visible and a fine mosaic tile floor dating to the early 4th century still survives. As a free-to-enter English Heritage property (of which there are more than 250), this site benefits from an enthusiastic group of local volunteers keen to become involved in hands-on conservation. However, although it is free-to-enter, it is not free to maintain and the Michael Bishop Foundation grant will support the repair of the rusting tin roof over the mosaics, the cleaning of the Roman mosaics, and converting the 19th-century custodian cottage into an education and interpretation space. 
  • Brodsworth Hall in South Yorkshire was built between 1861 and 1863 for Charles Sabine Thellusson and it survives as a mid-Victorian vision of a comfortable country house, with many of its original furnishings. Having fallen into disrepair by 1990, it was then given to English Heritage and the house’s fragile interiors have since been carefully conserved, while the gardens returned to their earlier formality. However, Brodsworth’s roof, which is currently vulnerable to leaks, requires replacing to protect not only the historic hall but also its collections. The support of the Michael Bishop Foundation will go towards making the roof of this South Yorkshire heritage gem wind and weather tight.

As a conservation charity, English Heritage restores and maintains over 400 heritage sites spanning six millennia, looking after unique but vulnerable properties, their grounds, interiors and collections, and invests around £20m a year in the conservation of these sites and their artefacts. Through conservation projects, the charity also supports stonemasons, carpenters and joiners, millwrights and ironmongers who have honed their craft for generations, as well as specialist collections conservators and scientists who look after precious archaeological artefacts and fine art objects.

'step into englands story