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Whitefield Conservation Area

Case study: Whitefield, Nelson, Lancashire (North West)

Whitefield conservation area at risk from the air
An aerial view of Whitefield showing the planned 19th century townscape, including vast mill complexes, grid-patterns of stone built terraced housing and St Mary’s Church.

Background and history

Nelson in Lancashire is a 19th century industrial 'new town'. It grew from a population of 3,500 in 1864 to almost 39,500 by 1911. Whitefield is a planned textile manufacturing community and Nelson's earliest and best preserved townscape. It is remarkably intact with textile mills, church, school and terraced workers housing.

Whitefield is characterised by its strong grid plan, shaped by the line of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The area was developed by many entrepreneurs. The buildings use the local buff coloured sandstone and have blue slate roofs.

In recent years Whitefield became one of Britain's most deprived wards. It fell within the government's Housing Pathfinder Programme. This was designed to address the symptoms of housing market failure.

In early 2002 Historic England supported local residents as principal witness in a lengthy public inquiry. Pendle Borough Council had opted to selectively compulsorily purchase and, in phases, demolish around four hundred properties. Many residents were unhappy and called for help to restore the buildings.

In September 2003 the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, decided not to confirm the Compulsory Purchase Orders. It was concluded that community cohesion would be best served by an approach which took advantage of Whitefield's distinctive Victorian townscape. Several heritage agencies grouped together to support Pendle Council develop alternative heritage led plans to regenerate Whitefield.

Whitefield conservation area at risk, Spring Cottage in 2010
The grade II listed former mill owner’s house, Spring Cottage, was in a desperate condition when first taken on as a project by the UK Islamic Mission (UKIM). The building had suffered several fires and failed attempts to save it.

Is it at risk?

In 2004, Pendle Council extended the conservation area. The Whitefield Conservation Area was added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2009. This was because of the poor condition of its historic buildings, including Spring Cottage. This was the first year that Historic England had included conservation areas in its Register.

In 2005 the Whitefield Regeneration Partnership was formed. Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund made grants available to help restore buildings and lost features. There was also a major housing group repair programme and other public sector investments.

Whitefield conservation area at risk, the restored Spring Cottage with members of the UK Islamic Mission, Pendle Council and Historic England
Members of the UK Islamic Mission (UKIM), together with representatives of Pendle Council and Historic England, standing in front of the restored frontage of the historic Spring Cottage, which is being converted for use as a mosque and community centre.

What's the current situation?

Hundreds of terraced houses have been group repaired. Works included the reinstatement of sash windows, panelled doors, traditional railings and chimney pots. The Heritage Trust for the North West has acquired and restored some notable buildings.

Confidence in the neighbourhood has returned and house prices have risen. Many of those who left the area expecting demolition have returned to family and friends. A £7m new primary school and some new terraced houses have been built.

Nelson's only surviving textile mill owner's house is now being converted to a mosque and community centre. Known as Spring Cottage, it is a Gothic style Victorian detached villa. Derelict for many years, it was acquired by the UK Islamic Mission (UKIM) charity in 2009.

Renovation is now well underway. Historic England has invested over £250,000 to restore the external envelope of the listed building. UKIM is in the process of raising funds to fit out the building's interior and restore its grounds.

Historic England is delighted to have supported Pendle Borough Council's successful heritage led regeneration approach at Whitefield. We are now able to remove the conservation area from the Heritage at Risk Register.

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