The news that Avoncroft Museum has been vandalised on its first day back open to the public (2 May), is a reminder that industrial heritage museums face more challenges than the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Data gathered by the IHSO project on vandalism on industrial heritage during lock down since March 2020 shows that it remains rare.
In 2020 trespass and vandalism was reported on a number of heritage railway sites, including the Bowes Railway, Churnet Valley Railway, Peak Rail, and Swanage Railway. In 2021 reports of vandalism on industrial heritage sites during the third lock down encompassed the destruction of information boards at the South Tynedale Railway, and trespass by members of the public on preserved railway lines, including the South Devon Railway and Tanfield Railway.
Linear industrial monuments such as canals and railways are difficult sites to police and to increase security along. But smaller sites, especially those largely volunteer-run, are also vulnerable to such attacks. The Avoncroft vandalism is a type well known in the museum sector over many years, though thankfully rare, and has promoted a positive response from members of the public and museum supporters: ‘Outpouring of support’ for vandalised Avoncroft Museum – BBC News . Other types of vandalism include metal theft – with fluctuations in commodity prices coinciding in the last decade with rises and falls in metal theft on a variety of industrial heritage sites from railways to stationary steam engine sites.
Historic England have been reporting and supporting strategies to combat Heritage Crime for over a decade. They have been working with local police forces, judges, local authorities, and a variety of heritage partners to provide advice and guidance on how to prevent and report a variety of heritage crimes. For more details on prevention and reporting follow this link: Heritage Crime | Historic England.
In one unfortunate sense, the vandalism at Avoncroft Museum is a sign of a return to normal, unwelcome, trends.