Photo of Dalby Square in Cliftonville, Margate - terrace houses dating to 1870s

Dalby Square, Margate © Historic England DP032178
Dalby Square, Margate © Historic England DP032178

Dalby Square Proves Sustainable Future of Victorian Houses

Research to study the environmental performance of Victorian seaside houses found that, as well as being reservoirs of embodied energy and aesthetically pleasing buildings; they also have a highly sustainable future.

The Dalby Square Conservation Area, dating from the 1860s, is situated in Cliftonville, Margate. Until the First World War, Cliftonville was one of the most exclusive seaside resorts in England. With the opening of the Cliftonville Hotel at one end of the square in 1868, the area grew rapidly in popularity. However, it began to decline during the interwar period and during the Second World War the south end of the square was badly damaged. The Cliftonville Hotel was demolished in the 1960s and with the downturn in the British holiday market in the 1970s, many of the large houses in the area were converted into bedsits, hostels and care homes.

In 2012, Thanet District Council secured a £1.9 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for a Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) for Dalby Square. This scheme focused on:

  • Repairs to the outside of buildings as well as reinstating lost architectural features
  • Bringing empty buildings back into use
  • Much needed public realm works to the square including railings and street lighting
  • The remodelling of the gardens.

Overall the £2.5 million project (75% Heritage Fund and 25% Thanet District Council) set out not only to improve the historic environment but looked to increase community cohesion and foster positive attitudes towards Cliftonville as a place to live and visit.

One of the most exciting and ground breaking projects within the THI scheme was the climate change adapted, multigenerational house at number 12A Dalby Square.

Photo of Dalby Square in Cliftonville, Margate - terrace houses dating to 1870s
Dalby Square, Margate © Historic England DP032178

Thanet District Council began a test project by securing funding of £100,000 from the Government’s Technology Strategy Board to study the environmental performance of Victorian seaside houses when subjected to the projected climate of the year 2080. By then, it is predicted that summers will be much hotter and dryer and winters warmer and prone to sudden torrential rainstorms (based on a climate change computer model produced specifically for Dalby Square by Exeter University). Thanet Council worked closely with the Kent School of Architecture (Centre for Architecture and Sustainable Environment) and Daedalus Environmental as part of the Design for Future Climate Change study and will use 30 Dalby Square, a mid-terrace, five storey house built in 1870, as the test house.

It transpired that this 1870s structure performed much better in hot climates than many modern buildings, due to its traditional construction (external and internal solid brickwork walls), terraced configuration and high ceilings. The project also highlighted how important it is to have a basic understanding of how houses functioned environmentally when they were first built, before contemplating making changes to their layout, form or function.

The plan form of nearly all the Dalby Square properties revolve around a grand staircase which runs continuously from the basement to the top floor, acting as a natural ventilation stack. The subdivision of the original staircase is inevitable when these properties are converted into self-contained flats, as many have been over the past 40 years. This sort of alteration to the historic-plan form has not only resulted in the loss of original detailing, but has also greatly reduced the buildings’ capacity to naturally ventilate.

The study also looked at the Square’s central gardens and the role they play in climate moderation. The gardens (and their planting) have a cooling effect in hot weather, generating airflow and providing shade. In the winter the planting acts as a windbreak. Shaded public gardens have an important role to play in the quality of life in hot climates.

The conclusions and findings of the research project at No. 30 were then translated into practice at the identical No. 12A on the opposite side of the square (with additional support from architects, the Lee Evans Partnership).

12A Dalby Square also dates from the 1870s and was continually operated as a hotel or guest house from 1881 until it closed in 2011. Kent County Council bought the freehold of the property in 2012. Detailed adaptations for the building were drawn up which sought to provide a model for multigenerational living, preserve the historic character of the building and enhance thermal performance, drive natural ventilation, conserve water and energy and generate renewable energy on site.

Black and white photo of crowds gathered on the beach at Margate.
Margate was one of the first settlements on the Isle of Thanet to be developed into a seaside resort. Photo taken 1890-1910 © Reproduced by permission of Historic England OP00633 | Explore the Historic England Archive

In June 2018 a family, consisting of four generations moved in to 12A, initially on a two-year lease. Carbon dioxide levels, temperature, humidity and energy use were monitored before occupancy and for over a year whilst the family were in occupation. Extensive post-occupancy evaluation, along with the monitoring of the internal conditions, showed the family found the house ‘very comfortable’ in terms of temperature and were ‘very satisfied’ with the overall thermal performance of the building, along with other benefits such as greater affordability as a result of being able to share bills.

The project proved that the houses of Dalby Square are not just reservoirs of embodied energy and aesthetically pleasing buildings; they also have a highly sustainable future. A Sustainable Heritage Toolkit is due to be created to help inform similar regeneration projects, particularly in other historic coastal locations with a legacy of larger older buildings.

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