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Will we choose Derry or Disney?

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE... Two former townhouses at Artillery Street in Derrys city centre share a gateway. They each form one half of a symmetrical facade. No 8, on the right, retains all its original detail. However, No 9, on the left, has lost its old Georgian door, sandstone step and original timber gate.

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE... Two former townhouses at Artillery Street in Derrys city centre share a gateway. They each form one half of a symmetrical facade. No 8, on the right, retains all its original detail. However, No 9, on the left, has lost its old Georgian door, sandstone step and original timber gate.

  • by Mary Kerrigan Walled City Partnership
 

Really old things are worth money – loads of it when they’re rare.

Antique dealers know this only too well. A unique old table will be worth far more than any imitation.

Tour guides love peppering their talks with references to ‘the first..., the oldest... the only..., the original..., or the best’.

The more of these they can say about a place, the more special it is. The more special it is, the more tourists come. Business booms.

According to the Lonely Planet Guide, Derry is the fourth best city to visit. We know this place is very special - unique.

In a very competitive market, holding on to our specialness is vital. Is this something we could lose?

Our old buildings make Derry unique.

In 2012, the Walled City Partnership (WCP) identified more than 100 buildings at risk in our three conservation areas – about 50 less than the whole of Glasgow.

A full decade after we lost Tillie and Henderson, another old shirt factory bit the dust in 2011.

Clarendon Street lost some of the nation’s oldest cast iron streetlights and granite kerbs in 2012.

Just before Christmas, a carved timber Georgian door at 9 Artillery Street disappeared, complete with knobs and knockers.

Their streets are less special now. Four less historic claims for our tour guides.

Money ringfenced to spruce up City of Culture streets fuelled replacement of really old stuff with imitation new stuff.

WCP sounded the alarm on the unnecessary removal of Clarendon Street’s perfectly durable old granite kerbs.

The Department for Social Development has told us these were in better shape than first thought and remaining granite kerbs have been kept. We’re delighted. DSD has also said the other granite kerbs will be put back where they came from. We’re looking forward to this.

Now, what about reversing the highly embarrassing loss of our unique old cast iron street lights, too?

There’s no word of these being saved from their fate as scrap metal or gracing some suburban driveway.

Is this much ado about nothing? So what if new PVC or timber look-alike windows replace original old timber sliding sashes?

Bit by bit, this turns Derry into Disney. Many visitors know the difference. We can’t pull the wool over their eyes and claim something’s historic when it isn’t.

Old things look a bit wonky and worn, battered and bruised.

This ‘patina’ is evidence of age. It adds character and heritage value. Often worth big money on the salvage market, the old stuff, in its original location, is priceless. The adage ‘make do and mend’ belongs to a virtually extinct culture.

Ironically, our 2013 cultural mindset throws priceless heritage into skips. Prudence during the worst period of austerity since the Great Depression would keep and repair our unique old buildings and streets.

The unnecessary removal of our oldest buildings, cast iron street lights and granite kerbs is maddening. Once lost, they’re gone forever.

As this keeps on happening, Derry’s specialness disappears.

With a new year comes the opportunity to turn over a new leaf.

Our choices will answer the question: ‘Will the 2013 cultural legacy for our built heritage be ‘Derry’ or ‘Disney’?

 

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