Saturday, 20 December 2014

Nine Georgian Buildings, heading for a fall...


Georgian buildings are a lot safer than they were, as a rule, but demolitions still happen. Here are nine that are likely to disappear in 2015 - and one has already gone, in spite of our and others' best efforts.  



In Liverpool, we are attempting to avert the demolition of 29 and 31 Pembroke Place, proposed as part of a scheme to extend the neighbouring Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. The two buildings are all that are left of a late-Georgian terrace of five substantial houses that originally flanked St Silas’ Church. That was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1942 and Nos.25 and 27 were demolished in 1994, one of a welter of incremental losses that have quietly eaten away at the heart of Georgian Liverpool as calculated neglect and opportunistic developers have taken their toll. Both buildings are worth preserving simply as survivals, but No 29 additionally has a 1930s Art Deco shopfront dating from its time as Galkoff’s kosher butcher’s shop and so has value as an evocation of Liverpool’s Jewish and eastern European émigré history. For that reason it is listed. The proposed scheme pays lip service to all this by retaining the tiled shopfront as a freestanding piece of public art. In our view this deprives it of its context and ignores the fact that, as ever, the protection offered by listing is designed to cover the entire building, not just the façade. No 29 in fact retains its historic plan form on the upper floors and decorative plasterwork in its drawing room. As a complete building, it provides a useful link to 35-39 Pembroke Place, which still have their courtyard-dwellings at their rear - a once-numerous but now almost extinct building type. 



In Bristol, we are speaking up for another threatened Georgian terraced house that was converted to shop use. This one, in Stokes Croft, is also listed, as well as being in a conservation area, but is now formally at risk after sustaining fire damage in 2013. Nominally, the scheme retains the building, but effectively it rebuilds it; substantial demolition, additional floors and radically altered interiors are proposed, the effect of which would be to divorce the building from its historic neighbours both in scale and appearance. A more respectful and less intensive scheme is called for. 





The late Georgian terrace in Dalston Lane, Hackney, remains under imminent threat of demolition after a Judicial Review hearing (instigated by the local pressure group OPEN Dalston and part-funded by The Georgian Group) found that the local authority had acted reasonably in approving demolition to make way for a new mixed-used development. The crux of the objectors’ case was that the council had failed to take adequately into consideration an alternative, conservation-based scheme that would have rehabilitated the badly-neglected terrace. The result of the High Court judgement at the beginning of December paves the way for total demolition, although attempts are still being made to negotiate retention in whole or part and transfer to the Spitalfields Trust, which has undertaken to take on and restore the buildings. The terrace has been reduced to a state of acute vulnerability by a combination of studied neglect, leading to dereliction, and from post-Olympics uplift in the area, which has created a robust local market for new-build apartments. It remains the objectors’ view that the original terrace, properly conserved, can make at least as significant a contribution to the vitality and viability of the immediate area as an anaemic substitute. Here as elsewhere, the authenticity, texture and sense of place offered by historic buildings provide a valuable anchor for new development.
Bognor Regis has few surviving Georgian buildings, so what is left has rarity value as well as architectural and historic interest. In late November, Arun District Council approved a scheme to replace Belmont Lodge (currently offices) with flats, despite forceful objections and the building’s links to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who occupied part of it in the 1870s. Listing was refused in 2010 but the option of local listing remains.Certainly some tangible acknowledgement should be made of the strength of local feeling, reflected in the remarks of several councillors on the planning committee. Cllr Ann Smee described Belmont Lodge as ‘one of the last jewels in the crown of Bognor’, Cllr Elaine Stainton said that it would be a ‘very sad day’ if the building went, adding that she had lived in Bognor all her life and seen many Victorian and Edwardian buildings pulled down. ‘It’s a very attractive building and I want to try and save it’. Cllr Barbara Oakley remarked that ‘we have so many ugly buildings in Bognor it seems a shame to lose one of the ones which is good to look at. It is elegant, graceful and an asset to Bognor.’ Cllr Simon McDougall observed that ‘the street scene in that road is very much that building. If you take that away, you take the street scene with it.’ An online petition is running with the objective of saving the building, notwithstanding the permission to demolish. 



The juggernaut of Crossrail has already crushed several historic buildings in London, notably in Soho where two blocks of Dean Street were lost to accommodate a booking hall, but its negative effects also extend to outer boroughs such as Greenwich, where the prosaically-named Building 11, part of the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, is threatened with demolition to make way for a taxi turning circle – exactly the same fate as that suffered recently by late-Georgian buildings in Llanelli. It adds insult to injury to replace historic buildings with thin air. In Woolwich, the endangered building protrudes into what is intended as a decompression zone outside the entrance to the Crossrail station, but foresight and competent planning could easily have avoided this supposed competition for space. As with Belmont Lodge in Bognor, Building II was turned down for listing in 2010, this time on account of its altered interiors, but it has compelling claim to retention. Yes, it is much altered from the 1740 original, having been recast from a Royal Artillery barracks to officers’ houses and then refaced in the 1850s, but it is a rare echo of an ensemble of military accommodation that has largely disappeared. Sweeping it away because inadequate provision was made by Crossrail for passenger circulation seems to us wholly unacceptable: those responsible should think harder about an alternative solution.



So much for urban threats. Vernacular and rural buildings are also currently at risk, including three listed at Grade II – the kind of territory where it often makes sense to focus our limited resources, not least because modest buildings with the lowest listing may be friendless but for us.Twin Cottage in Withersfield, Suffolk, a charming thatched cottage in a conservation area, dated from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. It had been extensively restored since 2008 but was severely damaged by fire just days after being sold for a reputed £675,000. Sadly, St Edmundsbury Council granted consent for demolition of the remains and the cottage has now disappeared. Its architectural evolution was difficult to unravel even before the fire and we argued that demolition was premature as the age and significance of what remained was not fully understood. Significant elements of the timber frame survived and time should have been allowed for structural analysis. 




 

In Yorkshire, we are speaking up for Rycliff (above), a substantial mid-seventeenth century gentleman’s farmhouse in the former mining village of Ryhill. It forms part of an important group with an extensive range of long-derelict late seventeenth and eighteenth century stone farm buildings which are separately listed at Grade II. Current plans, yet to be determined by the planning authority, involve complete demolition and replacement with housing. There are significant lacunae in the application, not least a failure to explain in any convincing way why the most significant parts of the complex could not be converted to new uses. Cawne Close, Wilshamstead, Bedfordshire (below) is an unassuming cottage, disused for several years and now in poor repair, with its immediate setting compromised by new development but nonetheless in the Bedford commuter belt and probably capable of attracting a sympathetic owner if marketed at a realistic price. The house is originally late seventeenth or early eighteenth century and was recased in brick in the early nineteenth century, when its interior was also remodelled. Despite its lengthy abandonment, it retains at least one large inglenook fireplace, batten doors, fire grates and a carved sixteenth century beam reputedly imported from the long-demolished Houghton Hall.




Last but very much not least, consent has been granted for the total demolition of the former rectory at Bowers Gifford, near Basildon in Essex, in spite of our objections and a subsequent request for spotlisting, which was rejected partly on the curious grounds that 'the addition of mid-nineteenth century wings has resulted in an unbalanced, awkward façade at variance with the simple symmetry of the eighteenth century building'. It seems counter-intuitive to condemn the Georgian building on account of removable excrescences. The house sits on an early moated site and was in use as the rectory from at least the 1780s, later being converted to offices. It will now almost certainly be replaced by five houses.  

There are of course, plenty more buildings that we save, or where we stop damage in the first place by steering people towards better options at pre-planning stage. If you would like to help us protect buildings like the ones above, please join The Georgian Group - your support will be much appreciated.