Dr. Simon Thurley is a leading architectural historian, a regular broadcaster on television and radio and the Chief Executive of English Heritage; the Government’s principal advisor on the historic environment in England.
Simon Thurley is a historian with a mission, he believes passionately that our past informs and shapes our future, and that to make a great future for everyone we need to understand and care for our past. Since he was a child he has been investigating English history; some of his earliest efforts digging in his parent’s garden discovered important Roman remains. After reading History at university and completing an MA and PHD he has devoted his career to working with history, archaeology and architecture always seeking to explain to the public at large why history matters.
Dr. Thurley is currently the Chief Executive of English Heritage, the body that the government set up to advise it on England’s historic environment. His time there so far has been devoted to finding ways of making heritage protection fairer and more effective; and making sure that England’s wonderful heritage plays a positive role in improving the quality of people’s lives. As protecting heritage is a technical process, in fact part of England’s planning system, he has spent a huge amount of time over the last five years working on improving heritage protection law, government planning guidance and working on training projects with central and local government. Perhaps this sounds unglamorous, but it is essential if English society is to effectively identify what is important and protect it for future generations.
Underpinning all his work at English Heritage has been a fierce determination to develop its intellectual and professional expertise. English Heritage is an expert organisation and relies entirely on the brilliance and experience of its staff. Simon Thurley has championed the compilation of a research strategy and conservation principles; the development of new research techniques; the publication of groundbreaking research; major research excavations and collaborative research projects in a wide range of disciplines.
English Heritage also manages what is in effect the national collection of ancient monuments and historic buildings. These are over 400 sites that belong to the government ranging from Stonehenge to Dover Castle. Simon Thurley has set out to achieve two things with these: to make sure that every one of them has modern, clear and engaging interpretation, is presented appropriately and has suitable visitor facilities; and to eliminate the financial operating deficit for opening the sites to the public. Over the last six years great progress has been made on both these ambitions: the operating deficit id down to £2m from over £8m a year; membership numbers are up from 300,00 to one million; more than 160 sites have been redisplayed with new interpretation and exhibitions.
Simon has championed a number of important initiatives including Heritage Counts, the annual state of the historic environment report now in its seventh year; Heritage at Risk a comprehensive register of protected sites in trouble; ‘Save our Streets’ a campaign to reduce street clutter in historic areas and the 'Inspired' a campaign for parish churches,
Over the last four years three major historic sites have been purchased to save them; Ditherington Flax Mill in Shrewsbury, the world’s first Iron framed building; Apethorpe Hall, a very important seventeenth century country house at risk and the Birmingham manufactory J.W. Evans a unique Victorian factory containing a complete archive.
Before April 2002 Dr. Thurley was the director of the Museum of London, the world’s largest city museum. There a dynamic exhibition and gallery refurbishment programme increased visitors to nearly 400,000 a year. The museum’s 300-strong archaeological unit made major archaeological discoveries including the Spitalfields Roman. In February 2002 the Museum opened a £5 million archaeological research centre in Hackney and in 2003 an £11 million new extension and entrance.
In 1989 Simon Thurley was appointed Curator of Historic Royal Palaces with responsibility for the presentation, archaeology, building maintenance and display of the six unoccupied royal palaces. In the 8 years he held the post he was responsible for a number of major restoration projects, including the completion of the fire damage at Hampton Court, the restoration of the King’s Privy Garden there and the building of the new Jewel House for the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.
Dr Thurley is a leading architectural historian. His books include the best selling Royal Palaces of Tudor England published in 1993, Whitehall Palace and in 2003 Hampton Court a Social and Architectural History. He is also a regular broadcaster and for three years had a history slot on BBC London. Television programmes include Channel Four’s six part series Lost Buildings of Britain for which he also wrote an accompanying book and Channel five's eight part documentary 'The Buildings that Shaped Britain'.
Dr Thurley is Honorary Fellow and Visiting Professor of London Medieval History at Royal Holloway College, London, and Visiting Professor of the Built Environment at Gresham College. He is a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society. He is an honorary member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, He is and has been the President of a number of archaeological and historical societies and is Chairman of the Society for Court Studies and serves on the Council of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Dr Thurley is 46 and lives in a in a medieval merchants house in King's Lynn, Norfolk, with his wife the historian Anna Keay and their two children.