The future has always held a fascination for people, we’ve always imagining what new technology will bring, but particularly in the 1950s through to the 1980s thoughts of the 21st century influenced all aspects of life, from design through to adverts for Smash. The future was going to be space age, robots would be everywhere, travel would be transformed, food would be unrecognisable. Architects did their best to blot out the Victorian era from the skyscape, and interiors of old houses were ripped out and redecorated in the new style. The past was out, all eyes were looking forward.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and surprise surprise, those predictions made in the 60s of life on mars etc. didn’t come true. What has happened though is that people have started looking backwards into the past again. Maybe it’s because people have more leisure time, what with all the labour saving devices we now have. Maybe it’s because the extended family, with stories of years and family gone by, old pictures of relatives, family heirlooms and everything else that went with it, is becoming a thing of the past. Maybe it’s because of increased accessibility through the internet. Whatever, there’s no getting away from the fact that the past has become one of the boom industries of the 21st century.

Want to redecorate your house? There are some lovely reproduction wallpapers from any of the major styles from the past 200 years you can easily get your hands on. Going to B&Q for paint to spruce up the house? There are numerous shades of ‘heritage’ colours for you to chose from. Want to replace all the original features in your victorian house? Plenty of reproduction pieces out there for you. Just go have a look on Ebay at the collectors category to see what the market for old ephemera, books, etc. is like. Past, heritage, history all used to be evil words to large companies. They had to look forward, look to new technologies, they couldn’t risk being seen as looking towards the past. No more – just look at the drinks industry and the current Guiness marketing campaign – every ad harking back to advert campaigns from their past.

Family historians are visiting archives in their droves to trace their ancestors, find out who they were and what their lives were like. Companies continue to produce reproduction furniture, toys, decorations, stationery. TV companies have realised the appetite and commissioned historical documentaries, we’ve had historical reality tv shows, and the BBC is currently running a campaign ‘Who do you think you are?’ centered around family history. Indeed, one of their programmes, with Bill Oddie researching his family tree, was watched by 5.4 million viewers, twice the average audience usually tuning in to BBC2. The Guardian has branded genealogy ‘the new tv property porn’.

The heritage industry is booming, things are looking rosy. Heritage Lottery funding has meant that millions of pounds have been poured into much needed redevelopment of museums, archives, libraries. Yes some of the projects have been white elephants, but much of the money has been spent on ensuring that our past is being preserved properly, so that many more generations can get as much out of it as we are doing.

The past is back, and long may it continue!*

*disclaimer – the author’s opinions are in no way influenced by the fact that she works in the heritage industry, oh no.