View from the marina of Melville Building, Royal William Yard, Plymouth
Melville Building, Royal William Yard. Urban Splash has made great progress in transforming the Melville Building into new workspaces for Plymouth. © Urban Splash
Melville Building, Royal William Yard. Urban Splash has made great progress in transforming the Melville Building into new workspaces for Plymouth. © Urban Splash

Heritage at Risk in Devon and Cornwall Revealed

Historic England today (Thursday 17 October, 2019) 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 2019. The register provides a snapshot of the health of England’s most valued historic places, and those most at risk of being lost.

Over the last year 62 historic buildings and sites have been saved in the South West, 37 of them in Devon and Cornwall. Imaginative uses have been found for empty buildings, providing new homes, shops, offices and cultural venues for the local community to enjoy. Monuments in our landscapes have been lovingly cared for, often by dedicated teams of volunteers. Communities up and down the country have celebrated the things that make their conservation areas special and saved valued historic places for future generations.

The message is clear – investing in and celebrating our heritage pays. It helps to transform the places where we live, work and visit, creating successful and distinctive places for us and for future generations to enjoy. But there’s more work to do. There are buildings still on the Heritage at Risk Register that are capable of being brought back into meaningful use and generating an income, contributing to the local community and economy. These are the homes, shops, offices and cultural venues of the future, as the Melville Building in Plymouth’s Royal William Yard shows.

Historic England’s experience shows that with the right partners, imaginative thinking and robust business planning, we can be confident in finding creative solutions for these complex sites.

Rebecca Barrett, Regional Director at Historic England South West

The Heritage at Risk Register 2019 reveals that in the South West, 195 Grade I and II* buildings, 1,048 scheduled monuments, 149 places of worship, 17 registered parks and gardens and 26 conservation areas are at risk of neglect, decay or inappropriate change.

There are 1,435 assets on the Register in the South West, 20 fewer than in 2018.

Sites added to the Heritage at Risk Register 2019 in Devon and Cornwall include:

Added: Anchor Studio, Newlyn, Cornwall

Anchor Studio was built in 1888 by Arthur Bateman for Stanhope Forbes, painter and founder of the internationally renowned Newlyn School of artists. Along with the Porthmeor Studios in St Ives, it is thought to be one of the oldest purpose-built artist’s studios in the country.

The Grade II* listed building is a good example of a late Victorian custom-built artist’s studio, but it is now in a fragile condition with much of the timber frame, timber cladding and slate roof needing urgent repair or replacement.

The building was bequeathed to the Borlase Smart John Wells Trust in 2002 which has carried out urgent repairs. In June 2019, the National Lottery Heritage Fund confirmed an award of £320,000 and the much-needed repairs are now under way. Anchor Studio will continue to be a live-work space to attract internationally important artists to Cornwall.

Find out more about Anchor Studios

Added: Market Building, Penzance, Cornwall

Penzance’s Market Building is an outstanding piece of architecture. A large two-storey structure dating from 1837 and crowned with a dome and octagonal lantern, it stands in a commanding position overlooking Penzance town centre.

But the Grade I listed building is currently part-occupied, in need of urgent attention and a new use. Although repaired in the last five years, the roofs continue to leak and let water into the building, causing damage to historic plasterwork and creating the ideal conditions for timber decay.

The community are optimistic about the Market Building’s future at the heart of a thriving town centre, and have included proposals for its repair and reuse in a bid to the Government’s Future High Streets fund.

Added: The Old Postern, Dartington, Devon

Once a parsonage and now a much-loved home to internationally renowned Schumacher College, The Old Postern has evolved from its origins as a 15th century medieval hall house with additions and alterations over several centuries, including work attributed to William White (c. 1861) and Rex Gardner (1928-29).

The Grade II* Old Postern is located on the Dartington Hall estate in south Devon and was once the principal seat of John Holland, half-brother of Richard II. Having fallen into disrepair, the estate, including The Old Postern, was bought by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst in 1925 becoming the base for their ‘English experiment’. Learning and the Arts remain central to the work of the Dartington Hall Trust which now manages the estate.

At the core of the Schumacher College campus, The Old Postern was vacated in the winter of 2018/19 following an inspection which concluded that the roof was at immediate risk of failure. A project is now underway to repair the roof over the next two years. Traditional slate work and training opportunities will be central to the success of the project. Following completion, The Old Postern will be returned to educational use.

Visit Dartington

Added: English Garden House, Mount Edgcumbe, Plymouth

The English Garden House was built by 1729 for Richard, 1st Lord Edgcumbe (1680-1758) as a banqueting house and place of entertainment for his friends and family. It welcomed royalty when King George II and Queen Charlotte visited in 1789. The Garden House was extended in 1809 and became a bath house complete with sunken marble pool and well-appointed private rooms. Gradually, it was used less for entertainment and more for accommodation, and for most of the 20th century it was used as staff housing.

The building retains fine carved wood and moulded plasterwork from the 18th and early 19th centuries, but water is now getting into the structure and damaging these precious features. There are plans for the Grade II* listed building to be repaired and to find a new use to help generate income for Mount Edgcumbe Park.

Visit Mount Edgcumbe

Sites saved in the past year in Devon and Cornwall include:

Saved: Trethevy Quoit, Cornwall

Trethevy Quoit is a remarkably well-preserved example of a type of burial chamber known as a portal dolmen. Dating to the Early Neolithic period (around 3500–2500 BC), portal dolmens are relatively rare nationally, but there are three in Cornwall. Trethevy is probably the most famous of them all - its dramatically sloping capstone makes it one of the most impressive portal dolmens in the country.

Trethevy Quoit was placed on the Heritage at Risk register in 2016 when the sale of the surrounding field threatened its future. A monument of such importance cannot be managed in isolation, so Historic England helped the Cornwall Heritage Trust with a grant to purchase the surrounding field. This allowed the Trust to complete repairs to the monument and make improvements to its setting, including reconstructing a Cornish hedge. They have also been able to provide better access to the Quoit.

In July 2019 an archaeological dig in the newly-acquired field produced exciting new discoveries and inspired huge public interest in the monument and its fascinating history.

Saved: Mill complex and ropeworks, Hayle, Cornwall

The Making Space for Nature project has been transforming urban green spaces across Cornwall, including the ruins of the historic mill complex and ropeworks in Hayle. The scheduled monument dates from the late 18th and 19th century and is one of many sites in Hayle which tell the story of its industrial past.

Over the last two years Making Space for Nature has delivered much-needed repairs and improvements to the site, improved its biodiversity through woodland management, and created better public access to the area. Local children have also worked alongside archaeologists to discover new information about the mill complex, including revealing a beautiful brick floor in one of the buildings. The monument is no longer at risk and is once more a source of local pride and interest.

Saved: Stone hut circle settlement and later shelter known as Will May’s House, Dartmoor

Thanks to Monument Management Schemes, 28 archaeological sites at risk across England were saved for future generations in 2019. Monument Management Schemes are funded by Historic England to help local authorities and local communities conserve vulnerable archaeology in their area.

In the South West, Historic England and Dartmoor National Park have been working closely for over 20 years to help look after vulnerable archaeology across Dartmoor.

Dartmoor is particularly rich in archaeological remains from the early prehistoric period and the stone hut circle settlement at Gidleigh is a relatively rare form of prehistoric village. Its seven stone hut circles survive as circular walls, and sit alongside a later worker’s shelter known as Will May’s House.

Volunteers trained in conservation techniques by the National Park team carried out repairs to the walls of the shelter and removed damaging gorse from the entire monument, making it visible in the landscape once again. As a result, the site has been removed from the Heritage at Risk Register in 2019.

Saved: St Michael, Great Torrington, Devon

Most of the 21 places of worship removed from this year’s Register in the South West have been saved by the efforts of their local community and funding support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

St Michael and All Angels in Great Torrington is one example. This imposing medieval church, famously partially rebuilt following an explosion in the Civil War, was placed on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2016 when its tower and spire were found to have serious structural problems. A major restoration appeal was launched and a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund was awarded in April that year.

In March 2019 the repairs were successfully completed and the church removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.

Good progress: The Melville Building, Royal William Yard, Plymouth

Urban Splash has made great progress in transforming the Melville Building into new workspaces for Plymouth. The Grade I listed building, which stands at the heart of the Royal William Yard, is one of the last to be restored in a 20 year regeneration programme.

The Yard is one of the most remarkable and complete early 19th Century industrial complexes in the country, built in an imposing neo-Classical style to manufacture food and drink for the navy on an industrial scale.

The Melville building was built between 1826 and 1832 as the yard’s offices and stores. Following repair and refurbishment, it will be home to new businesses and will welcome visitors to a cinema and restaurants.

In June 2019, Urban Splash and their project partners marked the completion of major repairs to the roof, stonework and internal structure with a topping out ceremony. The Melville Building is due to welcome its first new occupants in early 2020.

Headline statistics for the South West region

This year 62 entries have been removed from the Register, while 48 entries have added because of concerns about their condition. In Devon and Cornwall, 37 sites have been saved, and 29 added to the Register.

The Heritage at Risk Register 2019 reveals that the region is home to 1435 historic places at risk of neglect, decay or inappropriate change, including 195 Grade I and II* listed buildings and structural scheduled monuments, 149 places of worship and 1048 archaeology entries.

Over the past year Historic England has spent £1,512,409 in grants to help some of the region’s best loved and most important sites.

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