Open letter to Government regarding the Society of Antiquaries, the Geological Society and the Linnean Society which featured in the Letters to the Editor in The Telegraph on Sunday 21 March 2021. You can access the publication here.
SIR – The Government needs to address the situation at Burlington House urgently.
The Society of Antiquaries, the Geological Society and the Linnean Society have been based at this unique scientific and cultural campus in London for over 145 years. This shared home has enabled significant contributions to science, heritage and learning. PwC estimates that the Societies contribute £39.7 million in public value to the country every year.
Yet, rising rents (which have increased by 3,000% in the last decade) are forcing the Societies towards costly relocations, threatening to disperse their priceless collections, libraries and archives. Despite assurances from the landlord, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, that new solutions would be presented, the Societies are still awaiting an update and time is running out.
Securing their future supports Government priorities to tackle climate change, halt biodiversity loss, transition to a low carbon economy, and improve understanding and appreciation of our cultural heritage.
We urge Government to work to find an affordable solution before it is too late.
Axel Rüger, Chief Executive, Royal Academy of Arts
On behalf of the Royal Academy of Arts, I write in support of our Learned Societies remaining as our neighbours and retaining the current composition of Burlington House. We lend our voice in support of their campaign to convince Government of the merits of finding an affordable, workable arrangement that allows our Societies to remain in Burlington House. Our shared historic home at the core of public life in central London is one of scientific investigation and research, intellectual rigour and artistic excellence. A microcosm for learning and artistic investigation, at the heart of Burlington House, lies the Royal Academy of Arts where our School, the oldest art college in Britain, nurtures the next generation of artists. A stone’s throw away Charles Darwin along with Alfred Wallace delivered their groundbreaking lecture on what was to become the Origin of Species in the hallowed halls of the Linnean Society. Burlington House is a home for artists and architects, scientists, scholars and thinkers, and at this time, it is our foremost challenge to protect the vital strength at our heart. The public value of retaining the composition of Burlington House is clear. These charities have stood sentinel on this site since the 19th century, preserving our histories, furthering our understanding of the world and promoting its study to bring about discoveries and advances in the field of science, history, astronomy, natural history and earth sciences. We must now protect the community and the public that they serve and support the future of Burlington House to remain a home for our heritage, the arts and culture.
Jools Holland DL OBE
Loyd Grossman CBE, (signed in a personal capacity) Chairman, The Royal Parks
Professor Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Dr Eve Lucas, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Lynne Farrell, President, Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI)
Ken Smith, President, Royal Archaeological Institute
Dr Nicola Stacey, Director, Heritage of London Trust
Heritage of London Trust holds its annual conference in the Society of Antiquaries’ Meeting Room. The conference is open to the public, staffed by young volunteers and has been fully booked for the last four years, giving so many Londoners a chance to enjoy and explore its collections. From stained glass demonstrations to painting tours, the building has played a vital role in inspiring new generations with an interest in London’s past. Events there are unforgettable, aspirational and we’ve had students change course after one day inside.
This conference is one of the many activities at Burlington House which have been made possible over more than a century by an enlightened arrangement with the government. It is imperative that the government devises a settlement which enables this revered institution to remain in the heart of London and to continue to fulfil its unique role in public education.
Advocacy Committee, International Center of Medieval Art (ICMA)
Rt Hon Lord Cormack Kt DL FSA, Founder and President, All Party Arts and Heritage Group
Rt Hon Lord Faulkner of Worcester
Rt Hon Lord Howarth of Newport CBE PC
Rt Hon Baroness Young of Old Scone FRSGS
Rt Hon Lord Wallace of Saltaire PC
Sarah Olney MP ACCA
Rt Hon Sir Edward Leigh MP
Tim Loughton FSA MP
James Gray CStJ MP
Chris Bryant MP
John Howell OBE MP FSA FRGS ACIArb
James Wild MP
Cllr Timothy Barnes, Cabinet Member for Young People and West End Ward Councillor, Westminster City Council
Professor James A. Secord FBA, Director, Darwin Correspondence Project, University of Cambridge
Emeritus Professor Nicholas Jardine FBA, Emeritus Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge
Rt Hon Professor Lord Krebs Kt FRS FMedSci, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford
Professor Sir David Read FRS, Emeritus Professor of Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield.
Professor Nick Davies. Professor of Behavioural Ecology, University of Cambridge
Professor John Dupre, Professor of Philosophy of Science and Director, Centre for the Study of Life Sciences (Egenis), University of Exeter
Emeritus Professor Peter Davis, Newcastle University
Duncan Hawley, Chairperson, History of Geology Group
Simon Milne, Regius Keeper, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Henry Howard-Sneyd, Chairman of Asian Art, Sotheby’s
Nicola Hicks MBE, President, Artists General Benevolent Institution.
If passing economics and reckless greed are allowed to dominate this beautiful meaningful and historic quarter of old London, you not only lose the heart of Piccadilly but show deep disrespect for science and learning. The world is changing and we need to pass on our great libraries and collections. We absolutely do not need any more luxury accommodation. Those wishing to turn a quick buck on a property development should perhaps be encouraged to fund existing treasures for kudos instead.
Martin P. Levy FSA, Chair, Kelmscott Manor Campaign Group
Simon King, Director, Haith’s – Feeding the Nation’s birds since 1937
Julian Luxford, President, British Archaeological Association
Professor Tim Birkhead FRS
Professor Ray Howell, Chairman, Monmouthshire Antiquarian Association
Martin Stuchfield, President, Monumental Brass Society and Chairman, Francis Coales Charitable Foundation
Robert Harrison, Chairman, The Heraldry Society
Professor James Raven FBA FSA FLS, President, Bibliographical Society
Dr Jeremy Mynott, former head, CUP and co-founder, New Networks for Nature
Joe O’Donnell, Director, Victorian Society
The Society of Antiquaries and other learned societies’ continued occupancy of these purpose-built offices represents the buildings’ optimum use. Alternative uses would require harmful changes which would negatively impact the building’s significance. We wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in December emphasising these points – we are yet to receive a response.
Nick Hodgson, President, Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon TyneJohn A Burton FLS, Founder, World Land Trust
Claire Street, Events Officer, Royal Forestry Society
Professor Clive Gamble, President, Prehistoric Society
Geoffrey Matthews, Secretary, Chelsea Arts Club (in a private capacity)
Dr P Carrington FSA, Vice-President, Chester Archaeological Society
Barry Fehler, CEO, SEIB Insurance Brokers Ltd
Suzy Middleton, SEIB Insurance Brokers Ltd
These learned societies belong at Burlington House and are part of our heritage, sitting in this unique area with the RAA attracts increased tourism. The perception that these are closed Societies is incorrect. Society of Antiquaries holds many exhibitions and does attract non fellows through its doors. Losing such a unique facility in a very centrally accessible property would not only have detriment to the square but also tourism as a whole. It is therefore extremely important to keep these Societies located in these key buildings. I understand that these discussions have been underway for almost 9 years, during this time it has restricted the capabilities of these organisations to plan and develop their business growth strategies, to have a situation of this velocity being in abeyance restricting their decision-making process, it can only impact progression. The Society of Antiquaries who also own Kelmscott Manor have been able to successfully apply and be granted lottery funding to develop and enhance the accessibility to the William Morris artefacts, something they have been able to achieve due to ownership of this very special place. This clearly demonstrates the impact and restrictions these delays can cause to a very important part of our culture and heritage. It seems a travesty that those bodies involved cannot come to an amicable solution to let these societies continue to be housed at Burlington House.
Jessica Harrison-Hall, Council Member, Oriental Ceramic Society
Clive Jacotine, Trustee, Oriental Ceramic Society
The decision reflects short-termism and narrow-mindedness. It will destroy national value.
Beth McKillop, Oriental Ceramic Society
Special interest societies like ours value Burlington House as a cultural hub. Our members -academics, art market specialists and museum professionals – gather at the Antiquaries for lectures. London’s art scene will be seriously weakened if we lose Burlington House as venue for heritage studies and events.
Robert Yorke, Chairman, Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee
Dr Jack Ogden, President, Society of Jewellery Historians
The Society of Jewellery Historians has held its meetings at the Society of Antiquaries since 1977, using its meeting room and lecture theatre, and many of our members make extensive use of the Library.
Gina Douglas FLS, President, The Ray Society
Alasdair Grant, Chairman, Anglo Chilean society
Mark Hews, Group Chief Executive, Ecclesiastical Insurance
Margaret L. Ford, Past President, The Bibliographical Society
Dr. Teresa Canepa, Independent researcher, London
Dr Claire Gapper, FSA, Independent scholar.
Paula Henderson PhD FSA
Nigel Israel FSA
The proposed rents are totally unrealistic for the survival of the Burlington House Societies in their current homes, yet the total amount is a minute fraction of what all governments waste every day. The benefit to the UK of the Burlington House gathering of the Societies is worth hugely more than any monetary amount that the government could obtain from the buildings. It is very difficult to imagine what commercial use the listing buildings with their lecture theatres and galleried libraries would actually have, unless the government completely ripped out the listed insides of all the buildings. The government should continue to honour the original agreement of a peppercorn rent, with which the Societies were persuaded by the government of the time to move from Somerset House.
Timothy Schroder FSA