As we tell everyone the news that Jodrell Bank is going forward for nomination as a World Heritage Site early in 2018, this is a good time to take a step back from it all and reflect on the journey that has brought us to this point.
To be honest, back in 2010, when the first proposal went in for consideration for the UK shortlist (known as the ‘Tentative List’), we had only a vague grasp of what was involved in becoming a World Heritage Site. Since then it’s been an eye-opener, to say the least!
The process we have gone through in the intervening years has taught us a lot – both about the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and also about Jodrell Bank site itself.
We have uncovered layers of history, some fantastic stories, and the role that Jodrell Bank has played in the emergence and continuing development of the field of radio astronomy.
Although it’s something we have known for decades, it has brought home to us the long-standing contribution that Jodrell Bank has made, and is making, in its field. It’s a privilege to work at the earliest radio astronomy observatory in the world that is still in existence. It’s also inspiring to consider that it is now the one remaining site, worldwide, that includes evidence of every stage of the post-1945 emergence of this new science.
As we have researched, consulted, written (and re-written) documents, pored over maps and plans, a truly remarkable story as emerged. It’s human to its core – a mix of vision and challenges; determination and chance; politics and personal relationships – and, perhaps even more remarkably, it’s a story that is laid down upon a site and its landscape, embodied in its buildings and telescopes, and the traces of former structures that remain.
Of course, to people in the UK, and in the North of England in particular, Jodrell Bank is synonymous with the Lovell Telescope. An icon of human creativity, of science, engineering and pure ‘can do’ spirit, it seems an astonishing and audacious structure even to this day.
We think that it’s probably the only Grade 1 listed structure that’s on wheels. And, until earlier this year, it was the only Grade 1 listed structure that detects radio waves that have travelled for millions or even billions of years at the speed of light from distant objects far off across the Universe.
Now, of course, the Mark II Telescope is also Grade I listed, so the site is bracketed by two world leading scientific instruments that are also protected at the highest level possible within the UK because of their role in the emergence of radio astronomy.
We are looking forward, now, to January 2018, when the full nomination dossier will be submitted to UNESCO for consideration. And hopefully, around 18 months afterwards, the site will be inscribed on the World Heritage List.
We’re already looking forward to it.
Professor Teresa Anderson