An interior view of Morecambe Winter Gardens showing the ceiling and stage
The plaster ceiling at Morecombe Winter Gardens spans 36 metres © Historic England Archive DP234040
The plaster ceiling at Morecombe Winter Gardens spans 36 metres © Historic England Archive DP234040

Heritage at Risk in the North West 2019

We have today published Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register (Thursday 17 October). It is the annual snapshot of the health of England’s most valued historic places, and those most at risk of being lost as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development.

Over the last year 19 historic buildings and sites have been saved in the North West. Imaginative uses have been found for empty buildings, providing new visitor attractions and cultural venues for people to enjoy.

Communities, working with funders and local authorities, have saved valued historic places for future generations.

Removed from the Register in 2019

Saved: Long Street Methodist Church Sunday Schools, Arts and Crafts simplicity in Middleton

The Sunday Schools and Methodist Church complex in Middleton, near Rochdale, are a fine example of the craftsmanship of pioneering architect Edgar Wood.

The Long Street complex was built as a Wesleyan Chapel and schools between 1899 and 1901. Art Nouveau curves in the church contrast with a clean vernacular aesthetic in the schools. Their Arts and Crafts detailing picks up on local architecture.

The Sunday Schools were built to provide free education for children who worked in the nearby textile mills. They are now in the care of Greater Manchester Building Preservation Trust, part of Heritage Trust for the North West.

Opening for community use

They will soon be opening for community use following a major conservation project. The attached church is still in use for worship. It’s an Arts and Crafts gem, regularly open for visits. The Sunday Schools are now gleaming and repaired, following four years on the Heritage at Risk Register.

The building was previously affected by a leaking roof, causing dry rot, inappropriate pointing causing the bricks to weaken, cracks to render and decorative stonework, and missing and broken slates.

Edgar Wood (1860-1935) built in various styles, sometimes using an aesthetic decades before it became prevalent. Born in Middleton, Wood enjoyed an international reputation, yet was largely forgotten after his death until ‘rediscovered’ in the 1950s.

The Edgar Wood Society works hard to promote his legacy.

Repairs

The Schools were repaired as part of the Edgar Wood and Middleton Townscape Heritage Initiative, co-funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Rochdale Council. More than £620,000 has been invested in their conservation.

Other funders were Viridor, community groups and individuals who donated £30,000 towards restoration of the windows. Repairs included works to the roof, structural repairs, ironmongery, plasterwork, pointing and asbestos removal.

A further phase of work to repair the floor was funded by Greater Manchester Building Preservation Trust. With this recently completed, the building is soon to be available for hire.

The complex today

Three rooms are available as small meeting spaces, perfect for community events, while the lofty interior of the hall provides an open space with stage and gallery. The hall can host large events, but retains an intimate feel for smaller gatherings. It hosted its first wedding since reopening in early October. This was a special moment as the bride was none other than the repair scheme’s architect!

Edgar Wood would surely be proud that his building is held in such high regard by those tasked with its care.

Read more about the restoration project

Read about the building on the National Heritage List for England, and take part in Enriching the List where you can share your own photographs and facts about the building.

Where good progress is being made

Good progress: Morecambe Winter Gardens

Morecambe Winter Gardens is a flamboyantly ornate 19th-century theatre on Morecambe’s seafront.

It’s a riot of decorative detail, featuring terracotta, tiles, stained glass, and a fibrous plaster ceiling. The building was designed by Magnall and Littlewood, and opened in 1897 as a variety theatre and concert hall. Known as The Albert Hall of the North, Elgar performed there. The building’s coastal location is echoed in the seashells and sea-serpents incorporated in the tiles and plasterwork.

The theatre is on both Historic England and the Theatres Trust’s Heritage at Risk Registers. An action group formed to save the Winter Gardens when the adjoining Oriental Ballroom was demolished in 1982. Both buildings had sadly closed five years earlier. Water ingress, lead theft, and even seagulls’ eggs blocking gutters are amongst the maintenance challenges.

Stronger together, working in partnership

Historic England, the Theatres Trust and Lancaster City Council are working in partnership to support the Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust. In turn, the Trust, Friends and Volunteers are working tirelessly to repair and make the theatre viable.

Work to make governance more resilient has recently started, thanks to a Theatres Trust grant. A consultant will be working to support the Acting Chair, Trustees and Advisory Board.

Ceiling repairs

We are supporting the Trust’s application for a Historic England repair grant to enable survey and repair of the fibrous plaster ceiling.

The ceiling spans a huge 36 meters. Its advanced design means that the stage is fully visible from all parts of the auditorium, unlike many other historic theatres which have obscured views.

The project aims to engage a plaster specialist and structural engineer to fully survey the ceiling, and enable specialist repair. Fibrous plaster ceilings (common in 19th and 20th century theatres and grand public buildings) are suspended by hessian ties, known as wadding, sometimes reinforced with wire. These will be carefully re-tied, ensuring that the ceiling is safely secured. Access for future maintenance will be provided.

The need for action on ceilings of this age became shockingly apparent in 2013, when the ceiling at the Apollo Theatre in London collapsed, injuring 67 theatregoers. It has since become a requirement for all suspended plaster ceilings in theatres and places of entertainment to be fully surveyed.

Historic England’s Conservation Team has been leading research in to the history and conservation of fibrous plaster ceilings. Morecambe Winter Gardens benefitted, having a preliminary survey in January. This identified the need for further survey and conservation. Thankfully, the ceiling was not assessed as being at immediate risk of collapse.

An area of ceiling in the Gods which was destroyed in a fire will be reinstated. This will help to bring the upper stories of the theatre back in to use. Alongside this, a campaign to sponsor replacement of the original seating in the Grand Circle is developing apace. The theatre’s chairs were recently found in a masonic hall, and have now been returned them to their original home.

Looking forwards

The Winter Gardens Preservation Trust has been awarded Coastal Communities funding to install a much-needed new heating system. This will be sensitively designed to ensure that the decorative interior isn't harmed, and that the system can cope with future levels of use. Once completed, the ceiling conservation and heating project will extend the use of the Winter Gardens, allowing visitors to enjoy it deep in to the winter months.

The Winter Gardens looks set to be Morecambe’s next heritage success story, joining the restored 1930s Midland Hotel as a must-see building. The future is looking rosy for Morecambe, with plans afoot for an Eden Project in the North. This will attract a whole host of new visitors to this historic coastal resort, who can enjoy the town’s heritage buildings.

Added to the Register in 2019

Over the last year 16 historic buildings and sites have been added to the Register because of concerns about their condition.

Added: Central Barrow Conservation Area

Historic England has been monitoring the Central Barrow Conservation Area for the past 12 months in order to assess the deterioration in its condition. Following a site visit with the local authority and Historic England it was clear that it needed to be added to the Heritage at Risk Register.

Part of the Conservation Area, including Duke Street and surrounding streets characterise the 19th-century ‘boom town’ which contributes to the diversity of conservation area but are in need of regeneration. Fortunately Barrow is part of the High Street Heritage Action Zone project. As such it'll be receiving a share of a £95 million pot from Historic England to help regenerate the high street and breathe new life into enhancing it for the future.

The funding will be used to develop an exciting programme of cultural activities, provide training for building owners in heritage skills to help them look after their buildings, and to repair and bring new uses in to the high number of vacant buildings on the high street.

It is hoped that more people will choose to live in the centre in future, helping to revive the economy and bring a renewed vibrancy. Duke Street used to be Barrow's bustling major shopping street. The High Street Heritage Action Zone will provide funding for the repair of its fine 19th-century civic and commercial buildings, and help re-charge this energy.

Heritage at Risk in brief

Across the North West 19 entries have been removed from the Register for positive reasons, while 16 entries have been added because of concerns about their condition.

Over the past year, Historic England has spent £647,280 in grants on helping some of the region’s best loved and most important historic sites.

The Heritage at Risk Register 2019 reveals that in this region:

  • 113 Buildings or Structures - (Grade I and II* listed buildings and structural scheduled monuments)
  • 138 places of worship
  • 86 Archaeology entries (non-structural scheduled monuments)
  • 7 parks and gardens
  • no battlefields
  • no protected wreck sites
  • and 69 conservation areas

… are at risk of neglect, decay or inappropriate change.

In total, there are 413 entries on the region’s 2019 Heritage at Risk Register.

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