Dover Town Hall, including the remains of the medieval Maison Dieu


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
High Street, Dover, Kent


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Statutory Address:
High Street, Dover, Kent

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Dover (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Town hall, including the remains of the medieval Maison Dieu. The building principally comprises medieval fabric, heavily restored by Ambrose Poynter and William Burges in the mid-C19, and an assembly hall and civic offices designed by William Burges and over-seen by R P Pullan and J S Chapple, completed in 1883. Part of the site is a scheduled monument.

Reasons for Designation

Dover Town Hall, incorporating the remains of the medieval Maison Dieu, restored in the mid-C19, and substantially extended in the late C19 by William Burges, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * Architectural and historic interest as a medieval hospital: the building is a rare example nationally of a well-documented medieval hospital with substantial standing pre-Dissolution remains; its foundation as a Maison Dieu makes it more exceptional still; * Late-C19 extension and remodelling: the work undertaken by William Burges, and completed by R P Pullan and J S Chapple after Burges’s death, represents one of few municipal commissions undertaken by Burges: a Gothic revival architect and designer of singular creative vision, and of national importance; * Architectural interest and level of survival of C19 work: the mid-C19 restoration by Ambrose Poynter and Burges, and the later work by Burges and Pullan and Chapple, is of high quality design, finely construed; its extensive detailing is executed to a high standard of craftsmanship, and, with the exception of the over-painting of the decorative paint scheme, these phases of the building’s development survive extensively; * Historic and architectural interest as a town hall: the building’s reconfiguration as a town hall, starting in the 1830s, has created a series of distinct municipal spaces, varying from the fine interiors of the Council Chamber, Mayoral Suite, and Connaught Hall to the evocative series of C19 prison cells, and the impressive series of stained glass windows, celebrating the history of the building and of Dover.


Dover Town Hall is a building with a long and varied history, which can be captured only in brief summary here. A more detailed account can be found the Statement of Significance prepared for Dover District Council in 2015. The building's principal phases span from the early C13 to the late C19, when it underwent a major programme of remodelling to the designs of the architect and designer William Burges.

The earliest standing fabric on the site belongs to the medieval Maison Dieu, or ‘House of God’: a hospital in the historical sense, established in the Christian religious tradition of ministering to the poor and sick, and in the case of Dover, pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. The hospital was founded by Hubert de Burgh (c1160-1243), first Earl of Kent, Constable of Dover, and Chief Justice of England, in the early decades of the C13. Patronage later passed to King Henry III and subsequent kings.

Medieval hospitals took various physical forms and carried out differing roles, and while many were established by monastic orders, others, such as Dover, were founded on secular or royal patronage. Their scale varied widely too, with Maisons Dieu often being less formal institutions established in private houses. This does not appear to have been the case at Dover however, certainly not after the initial foundation: benefiting from Royal patronage, and situated on an important pilgrimage route to Canterbury, the scale and status of the Maison Dieu is clear from documentary sources and in its surviving fabric, which may include work by Michael of Canterbury (fl. 1275-1321), an eminent master mason who’s commissions included St Stephen’s Chapel at the Palace of Westminster. Further, as yet unstudied, sources may reveal still more about the building's early history and development.

Dover Maison Dieu is believed to have originated with a single principal building, known as the Pilgrims' Hall. This no longer survives, but a chapel added to the north-east end of the hall, and dated with reasonable certainty to 1227, does, although now largely encircled by later phases. The chapel is now commonly known as the Sessions House – the use most recently associated with it. To the south-east of, and running parallel to, the site of the Pilgrims' Hall, is the surviving Stone Hall and tower. These are believed to date from between 1250 and 1350. The Stone Hall is thought to have been built first, and then the tower, but their chronology is not entirely certain. The medieval stone surround on the now blocked East window of the hall has a distinctive moulding profile which transitions from convex on the jambs to concave in the arch. This has led to the theory that Michael of Canterbury was engaged at Dover.

Few hospitals escaped suppression at the Dissolution, some were re-founded, but the majority became almshouses. The precise locations of relatively few are known, many buildings were heavily rebuilt or replaced, or the sites were lost altogether. Fewer sites still are known as Maisons Dieu, with only Dover and Faversham, Kent (Grade II*) having standing buildings with significant medieval survival. Following the Dissolution, Dover Maison Dieu was surrendered to the Crown, and for much of the period from 1544 to 1834, the building served as victualling stores, and latterly (1831-4) was occupied by the Board of Ordnance. The hospital buildings certainly underwent alterations in this period, however these are not legible as a distinct phase in the building’s standing fabric.

In 1834 the building was purchased by the Dover Corporation, marking the start of its position at the centre of Dover’s civic life. The building was initially converted to use as a town hall, sessions house, and gaol, but it was in need of major restoration. A decade of fundraising began in 1848, with the architect Ambrose Poynter appointed to the Restoration Committee the following year. Restoration got underway in 1859, ten years after Poynter had produced his initial proposed scheme of works. It was also Poynter who, in 1859, introduced William Burges to the Committee. This initial phase of restoration, which seems to have been completed by 1862, was increasingly overseen by Burges, with Poynter known to have retired by this date.

The Prison Act of 1865 required improved prison accommodation, and it was at this time that the medieval Pilgrims' Hall, the earliest part of the site, was lost to a new prison block. This block has now itself been replaced, but the contemporaneous Council Chamber and the rooms beneath it, built at the east end of the Stone Hall, remains. The Council Chamber is thought to be the work of the town surveyor, John Hanvey. Only 13 years after its completion in 1868, the new prison block was demolished to make way for the next, and most significant, phase in the current building’s history since its initial construction: Burges’s Connaught Hall and mayoral suite.

Burges was commissioned to provide the town hall with an assembly room, police station, and a suite of rooms associated with the council’s civic and judicial functions. The working drawings were begun on 1 March 1881, but on 20 April 1881, Burges died. The drawings however were well advanced by this time, and Burges’s partner, and brother-in-law, Richard Popplewell Pullan, continued the business with John Starling Chapple, seeing the new works at Dover’s town hall through to completion. The assembly room was formally opened on 14 July 1883 by the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, and became known as the Connaught Hall.

Pullan and Chapple were both architects, Chapple having served as Burges’s office manager since the 1850s. On Burges’s death the pair completed a number of unfinished projects and produced two volumes of drawings of his work. The scheme at Dover was an extensive one, which included not just the construction of the substantial new range of spaces, but an elaborate scheme of interior decoration, including several suites of furniture. Experts on the work of Burges have commented that the consistency of the scheme at Dover is such that it is extremely difficult to distinguish work by Burges's own hand, and that which is later. Quite probably because of the over-painting of the decorative scheme it is believed that the importance of Dover in Burges’s canon has been under-valued in academic research and publications.

Electric lighting was brought to the building in the second half of the 1890s, and a notable addition made to the hall in 1902 was the installation of the Astley Organ, presented by local philanthropic doctor, Dr Edward Ferrand Astley. The organ was made by Norman and Beard of Norwich. The building narrowly escaped damage during both World Wars, but after regular programmes of maintenance, Burges’s decorative paint scheme was over-painted in the 1950s. During the course of the C20 the building underwent programmes of repair and some alteration, most notably the installation of a passenger lift in the medieval tower, and a platform lift in the Connaught Hall.

AMBROSE POYNTER (1796-1886) was a pupil of John Nash, and had an interest in decorative art, archaeology, historicism and heraldry. He drew and painted throughout his active years and moved in a circle of artists and sculptors. His commissions were largely made up of churches in London and Cambridge as well as several country houses. He was architect to the National Provincial Bank of England, played an important part in the establishment of government schools of design, and was one of the founding members of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Poynter retired in the early 1860s due to failing eyesight.

WILLIAM BURGES (1827-1881) was an eminent Gothic Revivalist, an architect and designer whose career was comparatively short but diverse. Studying engineering at King's College, London, he left in 1844 to become an articled pupil of Edward Blore, surveyor to Westminster Abbey. Five years later he moved to the office of Matthew Digby Wyatt, working on the Great Exhibition of 1851 and assisting with two related books 'Metal Work and its Artistic Design' and 'The Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century'. By the time of the books’ publishing in the early to mid-1850s, Burges was working with Henry Clutton, mainly employed in ecclesiastical and country house work.

He went into successful independent practice in 1856, securing his first major commission, St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, in 1863 at the age of thirty five. In the mid-1860s Burges was introduced to John Patrick Crichton Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, one of the most fruitful relationships in his career. Amongst other works for Bute, Burges reconstructed Cardiff Castle, and rebuilt Castell Coch, Tongwynlais, Cardiff. Other significant buildings include Knightshayes Court, Devon (1867–74), listed Grade I; the Church of Christ the Consoler Skelton-on-Ure, North Yorkshire (1871–76), listed Grade I; and St Mary's, Studley Royal, North Yorkshire (1871–78), listed Grade I.

As the son of a successful civil and marine engineer, Burges benefited from a private income, enabling him to indulge his interests and to travel extensively; what he saw and drew on these travels provided a repository of influences and ideas that he used and re-used throughout his career. Burges also designed metalwork, sculpture, jewellery, furniture and stained glass, and he is particularly know for his lavish and, and at times eccentric, schemes of interior design and decoration.


Town hall, including the remains of the medieval Maison Dieu. The building principally comprises medieval fabric, heavily restored by Ambrose Poynter and William Burges in the mid-C19, and an assembly hall and civic offices designed by William Burges and over-seen by R P Pullan and J S Chapple, completed in 1883.

The description below deals with the main parts of the building, named as follows: the Stone Hall; medieval tower; former chapel, or Sessions House; the Council Chamber; the Connaught Hall; and the Mayoral Suite.

MATERIALS: the Stone Hall is of Kentish ragstone rubble and flint, much repaired. Some medieval ragstone quoins and Caen stone outer window surrounds survive. C19 restoration work uses Bath stone dressings, and ragstone for some early C20 dressings. The roof is slated. The visible outer walls of the former chapel are faced in flint, with stone dressings.

The upper floors of the Connaught Hall and Mayoral Suite are faced in squared flint, with Bath stone dressings, while the ground floor serves as a plinth of irregularly-coursed, rough-faced, ragstone. The roofs are slated. The Council Chamber is of squared ragstone rubble with a slate roof.

PLAN: the building's footprint is formed principally of two, parallel, ranges: the medieval Stone Hall and Burges’s Connaught Hall. Their long axis is orientated north-east/south-west, however for ease of reference this description assumes an east-west axis.

The building is situated on the corner of the High Street and Ladywell: the High Street running past the building’s west front, and Ladywell running past the long side elevation to the north. The principal floor level - that of the two halls - is raised, the halls being double-height spaces above. The Mayoral Suite has a second floor, and the whole building has a ground floor level which opens onto the street. The current floor of the Stone Hall was inserted in the 1830s in order to create a prison beneath. The original floor level of the hall is uncertain however, and is thought to have been below the current ground level.

The Stone Hall occupies much of the southern half of the building’s footprint; its entrance faces west onto the High Street, and its length stretches to the council chamber built in 1867 at the east end. To the south of the Stone Hall, at its west end, is the square, three-stage tower, which also formed part of the medieval hospital.

The Connaught Hall occupies the majority of the northern half of the building’s footprint. Its west end fronts the High Street and its north side, Ladywell. The west end of the hall is currently given over to cloakrooms and WCs, flanked to north and south by stair towers giving access to the upper galleries which form a U around the north, south and west perimeter of the hall. The southern stair tower rises one stage above gallery height, also serving as a clock tower. The Connaught Hall is broader, but shorter than the Stone Hall, leaving a roughly square part of the building’s footprint in the north-east corner of the site. This is made up of two distinct elements arranged around a small internal courtyard. To the north and east of the courtyard, and forming the very north-east corner of the building, is the Mayoral Suite, comprising the Mayor’s Parlour and office on the first floor; the Minute room and offices on the floor above; further offices below; and several ancillary rooms connected to the Connaught Hall on each floor. These form part of Burges’s scheme, although they may include some structural fabric of the 1830s. To the south of the courtyard is the oldest standing part of the building, the chapel of c1227, now known as the Sessions House.

The chapel is enclosed by later additions, other than where it faces onto the small courtyard to the north, and a second small courtyard to the south. Its width is possibly indicative of the width of the nave of the original hospital building, the Pilgrims’ Hall, and it is possible that some of it’s surviving fabric may belong to this earlier building.

EXTERIOR: the building’s entrance front is to the west. This elevation is an irregular composition formed, from left to right, of the west ends of the wider Connaught Hall, the much narrower Stone Hall, and the medieval tower. The character of these component parts is brought together in their flint facing and stone dressings, the Connaught Hall’s Decorated styling, and it’s clock tower, which creates a focal point in the approximate centre of the composition.

THE STONE HALL’S west end has a parapeted gable, and provides the building’s main entrance, reached by a flight of steps. The moulded stone doorway has a pointed arch and colonnetted jambs, and carved-head label stops. Above is a five-light Decorated window with cusped tracery, lighting the west end of the hall. The window and door are to Poynter’s design, part of the restoration which was completed by Burges. The tower has angle buttresses and is lit by single lancets. At ground floor level the tower has two blocked arched doorways, now semi-subterranean.

The long, parapeted, south elevation of the Stone Hall is divided into six bays by buttresses; a seventh bay to the west is hidden by the tower. The buttresses terminate just above the parapet, and are each topped with a carved stone grotesque, thought likely to be reproductions by Burges. Each bay contains a large, four-light Decorated window with cusped tracery, in one of two alternating designs, and have carved-head label stops. These windows are to Poynter’s designs, but sit within medieval outer surrounds. Early images of the Stone Hall show that the windows were at one time much greater in length – their cills extending down almost as far as the current ground level. Beneath the windows are now ventilation hatches serving the hall, and below that, small rectangular windows serving the prison cells beneath the hall. Two single-storey extensions of the mid- to late C19 stand towards to west end of the elevation; these were added at various points in the second half of the C19 and relate to the changing uses of the building’s lower ground floor. The upper part of the east elevation is visible above the roof of the later Council Chamber, added in 1867. The blocked east window retains its medieval surround, the transition from a convex moulding on the jamb to a concave one in the arch, points to the involvement of Michael of Canterbury. In the north-east corner of the hall is an octagonal stair tower.

The Council Chamber has two storeys and has a south-facing, parapeted, gable end. The use of the ground floor was associated with the custodial function of the building, and has timber sash windows and a half-glazed door to the west, and metal barred windows and a solid, studded, timber door to the south. The double-height upper floor houses the Council Chamber, and this is lit to the south by a tripartite window of two, three, and two lights, with cusped tracery and carved label stops.

THE CONNAUGHT HALL’S west front is not fully square, being cranked slightly towards to the east, following the line of the High Street. It has fenestration over three floors and is punctuated at either end by a square stair tower; that to the right rising to a fourth stage with a projecting clock and a small balcony beneath. The tower terminates in a steeply-pitched roof behind a crocketed gable parapet. At second floor are five large three-light pointed-arch windows with cusped tracery: one window in each tower, and three in the central section of the elevation, which is set back from the building line, forming a balcony over the first floor below. The first floor is lit with small pairs of square and trefoil-headed lights, set within wide, flat, stone surrounds. Over the central window, part resting on the parapet above, is the Zeebrugge Bell. This was given to the town by King Albert I of Belgium in recognition of the Zeebrugge Raid and erected in 1923 to the lasting friendship of Dover and Zeebrugge. The ground floor is principally lit by two six-light stone mullion and transom windows. At the base of the south tower is a recessed doorway with a foundation stone over, and a carved shield featuring St Martin dividing his cloak with the beggar.

The north elevation is all part of Burges’s scheme, and is comprised of the side elevation of the Connaught Hall to the west, and the Mayoral Suite to the east. As with the west elevation, the hall is framed by a slightly projecting stair tower at either end, with the elevation between broken down into four bays by shallow buttresses: three of the bays are of equal width, and the easternmost is approximately half the width. The west tower and three wider bays have large pointed windows with cusped tracery at second floor, one in the tower and two per bay. First-floor windows are paired trefoil-headed lancets, within deep, segmentally-headed, flat stone surrounds, pierced over each lancet pair with a small quatrefoil window. As with the west elevation, the ground floor is principally lit by six-light stone mullion and transom windows. At the base of the west tower is a moulded stone doorway with a pointed arch and colonnetted jambs, beneath a crocketed gable. The tympanum over the square-headed door is a carved figure of St Cecilia. Other doorways in this elevation are much plainer, with square heads.

The east tower connects the Connaught Hall to the Mayoral Suite, both in terms of plan, and architectural composition, the latter being more domestic in character. The fenestration is similar to that of the ground floor of the hall, but more generous in height and with trefoil heads. The roof is lower, with eaves which are broken by a large gable-ended dormer with a mullion and transom window and the pitched roof projecting to form a bracketed timber canopy. Adjacent is a smaller flat-roofed dormer. In front of the dormers is a shallow balcony with a solid stone balustrade. The elevation terminates in a wide, projecting, gable-ended bay, with a crocketed gable parapet. The Mayor’s Parlour on the first floor is lit by a large canted oriel window divided into multiple lights with stone mullions and transoms, the upper lights having pointed heads with cusped tracery. The window rests on two stone brackets, flanked to either side at ground floor by wide segmentally-headed six-light mullion and transom windows.

THE MEDIEVAL CHAPEL, OR SESSIONS HOUSE, is largely enclosed by other parts of the building, however small elements are visible from the roof and within the south courtyard. The upper part of the south elevation is faced in flint and has three pointed arch windows set within deep relieving arches. The stone window frames and tracery are believed to be C19. The roof has a steep pitch (the ridge running east-west), which steps down over the west half of the structure. The east half is probably the extent of the original chapel, the top of its gable is visible over the lower pitched roof of the westerly half, and an inclined string course is a likely indication of a roof which abutted it - quite possibly that of the early Pilgrims' Hall. The north wall of this westerly half is visible from the north courtyard; this wall may contain medieval fabric also but has been rendered over.


THE STONE HALL interior is largely the work of Poynter and Burges of around 1860. The roof has braced king-post trusses with traceried spandrels, resting on carved stone corbels. The underside of the pitch is boarded. The lower part of the walls is faced in ashlar, with a moulded string course at cill level; above, the walls are plastered. Five moulded stone doorways with pointed arches, colonnetted jambs, and carved animal label stops, lead through to the various spaces to the north of the Stone Hall. These are set within the upper part of the blocked arches which formed a colonnade between the Stone Hall and the original Pilgrims' Hall (these arches are visible from the north). To the east, a similar doorway leads through to the ante-room of the Council Chamber. An oak screen with a gallery above, spans the west end of hall. This encloses an inner lobby between the hall and its main entrance. The screen was designed by Burges but has had some modification in the second half of the C20. The south windows have stained glass by Edmund Poynter, son of Ambrose, depicting historical events connected with Dover. The west window has glass designed by Ambrose Poynter, and depicts five figures representing benefactors of the hospital.

Beneath the Stone Hall, the ground floor is mainly arranged as two rows of vaulted prison cells either side of a central, axial, corridor. Their present configuration is thought to date from c1867, but this may be a reworking of the first phase of gaol use in the 1830s. In some areas the inner face of the outer masonry walls is exposed, and in the second bay to the east, on the south wall, two medieval arched tomb recesses are exposed. At the west end of the south wall is an arched opening, appearing to be an early entrance connecting the tower and the Stone Hall. The thick internal walls, which divide the cells and carry the floor above, are of brick construction. The cell doors of c1867 remain, complete with associated door furniture and hatches; the stone lintels above are carved with labels indicative of their use: ‘Felons’, ‘Felons For Trial’, ‘Misdemeanours’ etc.

The interior of the medieval tower essentially comprises a stair and a single room on each floor. The stair contains both medieval fabric, and later repairs or interventions. The tower has undergone various phases of alteration, with fixtures and finishes, such as they are, dating from different periods. One of the most recent being the insertion of a lift in the later C20.

THE MEDIEVAL CHAPEL, OR SESSIONS HOUSE, is divided to east and west by a wide arch resting on octagonal piers. To the east - the location of the original chapel - is a three-bay panelled ceiling supported on moulded tie beams; the panels are painted with a simple line quatrefoil design and are divided by moulded ribs with carved bosses and each bay has a central carved lozenge-shaped panel. The walls are plastered and painted, and the three moulded, colonnetted, window surrounds to the south, are mirrored in blind openings to the north. The substantial, panelled, courtroom fittings, thought to be of American walnut, survive. The author of the decorative ceiling, and the fittings, is uncertain, but they are believed to date from the mid- to late C19.

To the west of the arch the lower roof is ceiled from approximately collar height, the whole lined in acoustic tiles.

THE COUNCIL CHAMBER, and rooms beneath, are survivals from the prison-building programme of 1867 and are thought to be the work of the town surveyor, John Hanvey. The Council Chamber interior is executed in a style reminiscent of Burges, with a Tudor-arch vaulted, panelled, ceiling. The moulded principal ribs rest on painted, carved, head corbels, with secondary ribs having carved, gilded, Tudor Rose bosses. The panels are painted with monochrome motifs. In the centre of the ceiling is the original, though no longer functioning, sun-burner – a form of gas-fuelled combined heating, lighting and ventilation system. There is planked panelling to dado height, with decorative timber ventilation ducts built into the corners. To the north, a pair of pointed-arch doors with blind quatrefoil tracery connect the chamber with two ante-rooms. There are two fireplaces in the west wall; these have decorative stone surrounds, with black marble columns supporting a frieze and mantle shelf, and fleur-de-lys tiled slips. The window has stained glass designed by W H Lonsdale (of Burges's office), depicting Edward I, Edward II and Richard I: the kings known to have visited the Maison Dieu. The window was paid for with money left over from the Connaught Hall. The ante rooms are both top-lit by roof lanterns and have panelled ceilings with moulded ribs.

Beneath the council chamber is a spine wall separating two vaulted rooms originally belonging to the prison. The room to the west has late-C20/earlyC21 shop fittings relating to its one-time use as a visitor information centre. Beneath the ante-rooms are small cells, possibly part of the first gaol (c1834).

THE MAYORAL SUITE principally comprises the Mayor’s Parlour, and its interlinked office, accessed by a corridor which wraps round two sides of the northern courtyard. Directly above is the Minute room, and Minute offices, and beneath, on the lower ground floor, are further offices. A further room on each floor appears to have provided ‘back of house’ accommodation for the Connaught Hall. The most elaborate of the interiors in this part of the building is the Mayor’s Parlour, which has a deeply-coffered ceiling with the large square central panel painted with rich stencil decoration, and a central chandelier. Later paint has been stripped back to reveal what would have been an impressive and extensive decorative paint scheme in classic Burges style, which took in the walls, ceiling, and large, tapered, chimney breast. Elsewhere in this part of the building, some of the ceilings are panelled, and there is evidence of further paint schemes in several rooms and in the circulation spaces. Panelled doors with chamfered stiles and rails, and a range of fittings, ironmongery and joinery, are all part of Burges’s scheme, completed by Pullan and Chapple.

THE CONNAUGHT HALL is the second of the two great public spaces in the building (the other being the Stone Hall). The ceiling has ribbed vaulting over the arcaded galleries which line three sides. The ceiling over the main space is panelled, the panels having a ribbed quatrefoil motif. The space was electrified in 1894, with the installation of a set of five castellated electroliers to the design of J Chapple. The decorative domed voids which held the predating sun-burners remain, as do their associated funnels within the roof space. The galleries, and the vaulting above, are supported on cast iron clustered columns with foliate capitals and the gallery fronts are decorative forged and pierced metalwork panels with a hardwood handrail. At the east end is a stage and the large Astley organ. The stained glass is to the designs of H W Lonsdale. The walls, and to a lesser extent, the ceiling, had painted decoration as part of the Burges scheme; as with elsewhere, this survives beneath later paint finishes.

Beneath the Connaught Hall is an extensive series of storage and ancillary spaces.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Mordaunt Crook, J , William Burges and the High Victorian Dream, (1981)
Newman, J, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: North East and East Kent, (2002), pp. 299-300
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; entries for W Burges, A Poynter and R P Pullan, accessed 4 November 2016 from
Dover Town Hall Statement of Significance by Rena Pitsilli-Graham Architect, 30 October 2015


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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