Black and white photo of high brick casemates with arched openings at ground level and circular windows.
Fort Amherst, Medway, Kent
Fort Amherst, Medway, Kent

Heritage at Risk in the South East Revealed

Historic England today reveals the historic sites most at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development by publishing the annual Heritage at Risk Register 2020. The Register provides an annual snapshot of the critical health of England’s most valued historic places, and those most at risk of being lost.

Highlights from the sites saved in 2020

Over the last year 20 historic buildings and sites in the South East have been saved thanks to the determination of local communities, charities, owners, local councils and Historic England, who together want to see historic places restored and brought back to life.

Saved: Charing Gatehouse, Charing, Kent

The gatehouse to the former Charing Archbishops Palace is at the heart of a palace complex in rural Kent, which was the residence of more than 50 Archbishops of Canterbury and played host to many of England’s kings. The gatehouse was probably built by John Stratford, Archbishop from 1333-1348, whose favourite residence is said to have been Charing.

Eventually becoming a roofless ruin, the Grade I listed building had been subjected to the British weather for many years and was added to the first Heritage at Risk Register in 1998. It was later bought by the Spitalfields Trust who, working closely with Historic England, carried out a major programme of conservation work. Alongside repairing the adjoining cottage, the gatehouse has been restored and converted to residential use, securing its long-term future after so many years of neglect.

Saved: The Dairy at Cobham Hall, Kent

The Grade II* listed Georgian model dairy in the grounds of Cobham Hall was designed in the late-18th century by famed English architect James Wyatt, known for his romantic country houses.

Ornamental estate buildings were the height of architectural fashion at this time and the Dairy at Cobham Hall was conceived to represent a tiny chapel topped with a bell tower.

Supervising the making of cream, butter and cheese was a recognised country pursuit for elegant Georgian women and the picturesque exterior concealed double-height dairy and living quarters for a dairymaid. It had been empty for decades but has now been fully repaired and furnished by the Landmark Trust as a luxury holiday let and the highly decorative central dairy is now the main living room space.

Saved: St Mary’s Church, Guildford, Surrey

St Mary’s, situated just off the High Street, is the oldest church in Guildford. Its Saxon tower is the oldest surviving structure in the town, even older than Guilford Castle.

The Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as the children’s author Lewis Carroll who wrote 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking Glass', preached here when staying with family nearby and his funeral was held here in 1898.

The Grade I listed church was at risk primarily due to decaying stonework including the tower and window surrounds. The building has had several stages of repairs carried out in recent years, which have now been successfully completed thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Saved: Fort Amherst, Medway, Kent

Fort Amherst is part of the major 18th-century Brompton lines of defence to protect Chatham Dockyard and the river Medway against possible French invasion by land. Past grants from Historic England and others had conserved some of the fort but thanks to a joint project between Medway Council and Fort Amherst Heritage Trust, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, more of the repair works needed have been completed, and most of the site opened to the public.

The project called ‘The Command of the Heights,’ has substantially improved the condition of the unrestored parts of the fort and transformed other areas. The Spur Battery, once used for troop encampments, siege warfare and military punishment, has been turned into an amphitheatre for outdoor performances. Re-landscaping work to the river end of Barrier Ditch has created new public open space which is now part of a local public open space at Gunwharf. Today, visitors can better enjoy and understand the site and its vital role in Medway’s history.

Highlights from sites added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2020

18 sites in the South East have been added to the Register because of concerns about their condition. Over the past year, Historic England has offered £1.9 million in grants to help some of London and the South East’s best loved and most important historic sites.

At risk: Madeira Terrace, Brighton, East Sussex

Madeira Terrace is the most striking feature of Brighton's eastern seafront, but is in a very poor condition. It is a remarkable example of 19th-century engineering with its iconic 805 metres of cast iron arches, creating an evocative sense of its late-Victorian heyday and the fashion for promenading. Today its structural stability is a serious concern, and it has been closed off to the public since 2012.

The cast-iron covered terrace and walkway had its listing upgraded from Grade II to Grade II* in March 2020. The upgrade recognised the structure’s architectural and historic importance, and allowed for it to be added to the Heritage at Risk Register for the first time.

Brighton and Hove City Council, the owner of the site, has welcomed the news that this special piece of seafront heritage has been added to the Register. It has appointed a design team to look at options for regenerating Madeira Drive and Terrace and Historic England has been working with the council providing specialist advice. The restoration of the terraces is a multi-million pound project and will involve funding applications to a number of grant-giving bodies so that it can be saved for future generations.

At risk: Rubury Butts Bowl Barrows, Three Barrows Down, Kent

This scheduled monument covers three Bronze Age bowl barrows, which are not only remarkably well-preserved (particularly for Kent) but are a considerable and impressive height. They are a rare and valuable resource and have the potential to further our understanding of this type of prehistoric feature.

The barrows have become the victim of serious erosion through illegal motorbike riding, as well as through natural processes such as tree and shrub growth and badger burrowing. They are in need of attention. The Shepherdswell and Coldred Historical Society and the landowner are working together to discuss plans to save these incredible monuments. The aim is to improve their condition and make them more accessible to the public, so that they can be enjoyed by all.

At risk: Shinewater Bronze Age Settlement Site, Eastbourne, East Sussex

Shinewater is an archaeological site which preserves the remains of a Bronze Age settlement and trackway. Previous excavation has already revealed that the site contains a wealth of rare and important remains, from fabrics and food remains to early metalwork and tools.

This site has been added to the Heritage at Risk Register this year because it is at serious risk of decay. Eastbourne Borough Council and East Sussex County Council Archaeologists are currently working with Historic England to secure funding for initial investigative works so that we can better understand the condition of the surviving archaeology, and identifying possible solutions for its preservation or salvage. We hope that a programme of investigative fieldwork will take place next summer, Covid-19 permitting. With community involvement a high priority, it is hoped that this fieldwork will provide a unique and exciting opportunity for many to explore this site and contribute to its rescue.

At risk: St Catherine’s Hill Fort, near Winchester, Hampshire

This exceptional hillfort dates to the Iron Age (around 250 BC) and sits on a steep-sided chalk hill to the south of Winchester. The scheduled monument also includes the remains of a 12th-century Norman chapel and a 17th-century mizmaze, or turf maze. The hillfort and surrounding area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Open to the public and managed by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, the site’s popularity has resulted in visitor erosion as well as the gradual encroachment of scrub and trees. There has been illegal metal detecting on the site which is also destroying evidence of its history. Placing it on the Register will allow Historic England to prioritise the site and work with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and others to produce a management plan that will balance the need for archaeological management and the ecological interest of the site.

South East Heritage at Risk statistics

The Heritage at Risk Register 2020 reveals that in the South East:

  • 154 buildings or structures (Grade I and II* listed buildings and structural scheduled monuments across England, plus Grade II listed buildings in London)
  • 75 places of worship
  • 147 archaeology entries (non-structural scheduled monuments)
  • 25 parks and gardens
  • 3 protected wreck sites
  • and 66 conservation areas

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

In total, there are 470 entries across the South East on the 2020 Heritage at Risk Register.

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