31 and 32 Portland Square
Case study: St Paul's, Bristol (South West)
List entry number: 1208879
Background and history
Portland Square is considered the best surviving example of formal Georgian town planning in Bristol. It consists of a central square garden framed by classically detailed symmetrical terraces on its four sides. It was laid out between 1789 and 1820. Numbers 31 and 32, both grade I listed, sit within the terrace on the western side of the square. They form an integral part of this elegant composition.
These buildings were created as four storey houses in this then fashionable residential area of Bristol. However since the middle of 1880s the houses were converted to different uses. Numbers 31 and 32 were occupied by commercial businesses which used them as their offices. Other houses in the square were even adapted to light industrial activities, notably as shoe factories.
In 1939 a fire destroyed the original interior of number 31 and the building was abandoned. The Second World War (WWII, WW2, World War Two) further damaged the terrace, destroying the houses next to the buildings on their northern end.
Is it at risk?
The buildings have been on the Heritage at Risk Register since 1998.
They have been the focus of ambitious redevelopment proposals which have never been realised. Meanwhile they have remained vacant. Apart from some roof repair funded by Historic England, their deteriorating conditions have never been addressed.
A particularly violent storm in 2005 caused the façade of number 31 and part of number 32 to collapse. Some cement render was sprayed as an emergency measure to retain the masonry. Internal scaffolding was erected. The buildings have been left at the mercy of those temporary holding repairs ever since.
What's the current situation?
After decades of neglect the area is being slowly regenerated to create a vibrant, safe and appealing neighbourhood. Many terraced houses have been repaired and reoccupied after years of redundancy and inappropriate alterations.
Numbers 31 and 32 remain the only buildings around the square in need of repair and reuse. Planning Permission for repair and redevelopment has been granted however work has never begun. This Planning Permission has already been renewed three times.
The only changes on site in the last decade have been increasing physical decline. Those internal architectural features that remain are at risk of loss. Externally, more masonry and cement render is falling onto the pavement.
Historic England has actively engaged with the owner and the Local Planning Authority to see the repair project started. Planning Permission is in place to convert the buildings into residential units. It has generated a lot of local interest as the only remaining eye sore in the area.
This is a difficult case that need not be. The challenge is to overcome the stagnancy surrounding the site and see the consented repair works finally implemented.