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‘We must forget in order to remain present, forget in order not to die, forget in order to remain faithful.' (Augé, 2004).

Photo by Antonia Maria Grüter (2020) on Unsplash.

Up until the recent acceptance of 'post-preservation' – the initially radical idea of letting go to remain honest with our heritage – conserving sites in a traditional way through upkeep of their physical presences, was becoming a burden. Maria Balshaw, in a talk for the Heritage Exchange event in 2014, spoke of ‘[the heritage system being] constipated’, and that [it was] ‘time for a no-blame conversation about letting some things change and even letting some things go.’ (Balshaw, M. 2014).


Mullion Cove, a harbour on the edge of Lizard point in Cornwall, is a live example of these somewhat provocative ideas playing out. The harbour’s fate depends on a plan produced by National Trust, sent for approval from the local council and then contested by both English Heritage and the local community. Investigating this within ‘Curated Decay’, Caitlin Desilvey wrote of the harbour being a ‘vestigial link to now all but extinct livelihoods and an anchor for a small community's identity’ (Desilvey, C. 2017); it certainly seems far more significant to them than the minimal description in the National Trust’s handbook suggests. The preservation plan itself was orientated around the eventual disintegration of the site, but with an edge of reassurance that repair efforts would continue ‘until a catastrophic event’ (Lizard National Trust, 2014). This ambiguity was, needless to say, much to the frustration of locals.


It is hard to say whether there is a right or wrong way for a site such as Mullion. Responsibility and care has inadvertently been taken on by many different parties – some focused on the use of post-preservation methods to combat a saturated heritage system, and others concerned with the physical loss of a far more personal monument. As it stands, Mullion will fade over time, its reinforcements falling away to the sea until its non-physical identity finally stands alone. The sense of loss felt by the villagers is arguably more authentic to the harbour’s history than the cycle of continuous repairs, that imitate its previous physical state and functionality. What was once a functional object ‘equipment’ over time morphs into an almost decorative façade when robbed of its function by decay. It is still perceived to be a harbour, but as the potential for it to perform as this disappears and it gradually becomes unrecognisable, its existence seems to peter out. Perhaps this is what it means to be, in Augé’s words, ‘faithful’. But to what? Perhaps to the sense of duty we take on when a place or object means something to us. What ‘was’ the harbour becomes a prompt for our attachment, memory and ultimately, love of it.

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