Weavers' Cottages - Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust
- Nominee: Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust
- Project: Weavers' Cottages, Kidderminster
- Category: Best Rescue of a Historic Building
Long before Kidderminster was known for producing carpets, it was famous for spinning and weaving cloth. Three (previously) neglected Weavers’ Cottages on Horsefair might not have looked much to passers-by, but the modest buildings had always held an important place in the town’s history as a centre of the cloth industry. Their rescue has replaced a thread that connects Kidderminster with its distant way of life.
Pride in the area
As far back as the 1600s, Kidderminster was famous for producing cloth. Its output was controlled by the Society of Weavers, which issued a seal of approval for every piece. Many weavers worked at home on handlooms to produce bombazine, the expensive cloth woven from silk and worsted yearns that was often dyed black for mourning dress for which the town was particularly famous.
The three derelict cottages at 20–22 Horsefair were the only physical trace of this tradition, in particular No 22, a 300-year-old building with a large weaving attic. In 2000, the terrace of cottages was Grade II listed - but the battle to save them was not over. The cottages had been empty for many years; all had fallen into disrepair and were propped up by internal scaffolding. Eventually, it was decided that the Weavers’ Cottages were unfit for conversion and all three were destined for demolition. The cost of renovating them was considered prohibitive and the renovation too complex. However, after many people in the local community expressed their reluctance to lose this early remnant of their weaving history, the Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust (WBPT) stepped in to explore sustainable options, eventually producing a detailed design scheme that could be used to convert the cottages for use as modern-day dwellings.
Because the buildings are quite modest in size, there were significant design challenges in introducing modern amenities which would have minimal impact on the surviving historic fabric and would not detract from the historic integrity of the buildings. There were also major structural hurdles: the front wall of one cottage had to be rebuilt painstakingly brick by brick, and a major part of the upper wall of another cottage needed reconstruction.
In May 2017, the cottages were fully restored and their future was safeguarded as private dwellings. In 2017, they will be sold and the funds from the sale will be used to repay some of the renovation costs. Their launch on the market was the culmination of years of collaboration with local communities to develop an innovative interpretation of the project.
“[What I am proudest of] is being able to justify the faith of those people and agencies who saw the potential that the cottages could be given a sustainable future use, and finding a way to bring that about, despite the end use being an unusual project for Heritage Lottery Fund support,” said David Trevis-Smith, of the WBPT.
For David, the Weavers’ Cottages project has lifted the area and could be a blueprint for other renovations. “The cottages are located on a busy road and even passing motorists have said how it lifts their spirits to see their transformation. Hopefully, that will encourage other ‘eyesore’ buildings to be looked at differently and refurbished rather than demolished,” he said. “This project could be a model for abandoned buildings in other places to be refurbished to modern standards to help tackle the housing shortage.”
Why this category?
The Weavers Cottages’ project combined a great rescue of a historic building with outstanding new interpretation. WBPT has researched and shared the cottages’ heritage of hand weaving in a dynamic use of new technology, arts, crafts and performance that has generated diverse learning opportunities. They created 360-degree films of the restoration which increased accessibility to the buildings and to Kidderminster’s early history.
To sensitively repair and upgrade the buildings for use as 21st century homes, WBPT engaged a network of collaborators to overcome significant challenges presented by the fabric of the buildings. Finding the right team to undertake the design and complete the work was key, said David, adding that the project has given local contractors involved in the project a great opportunity to develop skills for future conservation projects.
The determination of the entire team - with huge community backing - was crucial to the success of the project, said David, adding that a project that grew out of local pride could lead to the further revival of Kidderminster. “The project has encouraged greater pride of local people in the Horsefair area and an aspiration to revitalise other nearby buildings.”