Heritage at Risk in the South West Revealed
We have today published Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register 2020. This 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.
Across the South West 53 entries have been removed from the Register for positive reasons, while 71 entries have been added because of concerns about their condition.
Over the past year, Historic England has spent £1.53 million in grants in the South West on helping some of the region’s best loved and most important historic sites on the Heritage at Risk Register.
Sites saved include the stunning hillforts at South Cadbury and Clovelly Dykes, now cleared of damaging vegetation; Plymouth’s Elizabethan House, repaired for the Mayflower’s 400th anniversary; a rare Second World War anti-aircraft battery in Bristol, restored with new interpretation; and a beautiful arts and crafts hospital at Winsford, Devon, part of which is still used for healthcare.
In challenging times such as these, heritage can provide a sense of continuity and bring us solace. We also know that investing in historic places can help boost our economic recovery. The 53 places rescued from the register this year show us that real progress is being made – sites lovingly rescued and brought back into use as new homes, businesses and community spaces. But there is still a long way to go and many more historic buildings and places which need the right care and attention, funding, partnerships and community support to give them a brighter future.
Sites saved in 2020
Saved: Hall Rings, Pelynt, Cornwall
Hall Rings is a hillfort dating to the transition between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (8th–5th centuries BC), and an important monument for understanding how prehistoric communities functioned. The site has been removed from the Heritage at Risk Register after it was included in a farming scheme to revert the land from arable crops to grass. Recent geophysical work on the site, by kind permission of the landowner, has improved Historic England’s understanding of the site.
Saved: Chambered cairn, 830 metres south of Buttern, Gidleigh, West Devon
This impressive Neolithic chambered cairn had become completely overgrown with bracken. Not only was the cairn invisible for most of the summer, the bracken rhizomes were damaging the archaeological deposits buried within. As a result, volunteers from the Sticklepath and Okehampton Conservation Group (StOC) were called in by Historic England to clear the site.
Through the Historic England funded ‘adopt a monument’ scheme, many of the volunteers had been trained to use petrol strimmers, which proved an excellent tool in cutting the bracken. The group, along with help from the local Dartmoor National Park Ranger and members of the local community, have spent two seasons clearing the cairn. The results have been dramatic with the bracken so reduced that the chamber cairn is now visible in summer. The volunteers will continue clearing until the cairn is completely clear of bracken. This monument is one of a number in the local area that have been removed from ‘at risk’ status due to the hard work and dedication of the group’s volunteers.
Saved: Clovelly Dykes, Devon
Clovelly Dykes is one of the most impressive hillforts in Devon. Unusually it does not sit on top of a hill, but instead commands an important strategic position on a plateau overlooking Bideford Bay. It is a large and complex Iron Age hillfort. Its deep ditches and steep ramparts are challenging to manage and as a result, it has been on the Heritage At Risk Register for many years due to the impact of damaging vegetation, scrub, trees and bracken.
Historic England awarded the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty a grant for a Monuments Management Scheme, a partnership project to improve the condition of the monument and increase public engagement, enjoyment and involvement.
The project brought together specialist contractors and a volunteer task force to remove the scrub and bracken, reducing the risk to buried archaeology. It also uncovered new information – research by the North Devon Archaeological Society and new drone and geophysical surveys confirmed an extraordinary level of archaeological information at the site, underlining its importance to our understanding of life in Iron Age Britain.
With damaging vegetation now cleared and under control, Clovelly Dykes hillfort has been removed from the Heritage At Risk Register. Although the site is closed to the general public at the moment, you can find more information online.
Saved: Elizabethan House, Plymouth
The Elizabethan House, in New Street on the Plymouth Barbican was built in the 1590s as part of the expansion of the city around Sutton harbour. The house was initially owned by various local dignitaries but later occupied as lodgings by merchants and sea-farers. As the city continued to expand, the area declined and 32 New Street became an overcrowded tenement, with 58 recorded inhabitants in 1891.
After the First World War the area was ear-marked for demolition under a slum clearance scheme. The Elizabethan House was saved from demolition by a number of supporters of the Old Town, and its repair became the first work of the ‘Old Plymouth Fund’, making the building notable as an early example of ‘conservation in action’ in Plymouth. Repairs began in 1929 and the house re-opened as a museum the following year.
Almost 90 years later, some of those repairs had come to the end of their life, and some further issues had come to light, and the building was added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.
Historic England grant funded initial investigations to determine the causes of decay and the repairs that were required, and has also given a grant to repair the garden walls. Extensive works, further research on the history of the house and improved visitor facilities are being carried out with support from Plymouth City Council, Mayflower 400, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Coastal Revival Fund, and The Pilgrim Trust. The building is no longer at risk and has been removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.
Saved: Winsford Hospital, Devon
This was built as a cottage hospital in 1899, designed by the brilliant arts and crafts architect, Charles Voysey, and founded by a local philanthropist, Maria Medley. Winsford Cottage Hospital remained in medical use until 1998, when a local group – the Winsford Trust – was set up to acquire and run the building for the local community. The trust soon faced an insurmountable maintenance burden, and the building needed a new use. In 2012 a Historic England grant led to the production of a Conservation Management Plan, options appraisal and costed condition survey.
The Winsford Trust then approached buildings preservation charity the Landmark Trust, who took on the site in 2018. Landmark have successfully restored the building and sensitively transformed it into inspiring self-catering holiday accommodation for up to six guests. In addition to the accommodation there remains a mixed-use community wing available for private hire, particularly aimed at freelance health and wellbeing practitioners – so continuing the tradition of healthcare in the building for over 120 years. The project was partially funded by a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant.
Saved: Cadbury Castle, Somerset
Cadbury Castle has captivated the imagination of antiquarians and visitors alike for centuries. The castle has strong associations with Arthurian legend and is known to many as the lost Camelot.
Since the late-19th century, changes in the management of the land have led to the colonisation of trees and a thick, impenetrable layer of invasive vegetation across most of the ramparts on all sides. As a result, problems have developed including heavy erosion.
In the past three years Historic England has worked with the owner to systematically clear most of the invasive vegetation, revealing for the first time in decades the sinuous line of the upper ramparts on the southern side, the prehistoric access route to the camp and the fortified Iron Age entrance.
Saved: Heavy anti-aircraft battery at Rockingham Park, Bristol
This fascinating scheduled monument forms part of the war defences that sprung up in and around Bristol from 1939, to protect the city, its industrial fringe and the docks at Avonmouth – all heavily targeted by Luftwaffe throughout the Second World War.
By 1943, 20 heavy anti-aircraft batteries could be counted in the area along with many other mobile guns. Of those, only a handful survive today.
The battery at Rockingham Park was decommissioned in 1945. Abandoned, it has slowly deteriorated. In 2014, the owner initiated the long process of recovering the site but by then it was mostly hidden under invasive vegetation. The project, recently completed, has included the stabilization of the structures and the creation of a pathway to access the structures. The site is once again open to locals and visitors alike and new interpretation panels help to tell the story of this important monument.
Saved: Church of St Peter’s, Bishopsworth, Bristol
This much-loved and very well used church was built in 1842 to a design by Samuel Charles Fripp. Its distinctive Norman Revival Style and slightly elevated position create a sense of arrival, making St Peter’s Church a landmark in the area.
Sadly, a combination of weathering, weak building materials and some poor past repairs have led to some significant problems.
With admirable efforts and commitment, throughout financial and technical setbacks, the community successfully fundraised almost half of the £185,000 needed to carry out the most urgent repairs to the building and was awarded the remaining amount by charitable foundations.
The project was successfully completed in 2019 and included not only full masonry repairs but also the restoration of the tower clock face, which won an award by the Bristol Diocesan Advisory Committee.
Saved: Southgate Conservation Area, Gloucester
To tackle the decline in Southgate Street following the development of the Gloucester Quays designer outlet centre, Gloucester City Council secured a Townscape Heritage Initiative in 2013 which ran until 2020. The £1.2 million-pound heritage-led regeneration scheme, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund at 75% with match funding by Gloucester City Council, preserved and enhanced the distinctive character of Southgate by repairing historic buildings and bringing vacant floor space in historic buildings back into use. As a result, the Southgate Conservation Area has been removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.
The scheme has also levered in a significant amount of private investment – more than double the original target – evidence that this heritage-led regeneration has been catalyst for further investment. Historic England and Gloucester City Council hope for continued success in neighbouring Westgate which was recently confirmed as a High Street Heritage Action Zone.
Saved: Market Cross, Castle Combe, Wiltshire
The medieval Market Cross is an important landmark in the heart of Castle Combe. Owned by the Parish Council, it has been a welcome shelter for visitors to the village but concerns about its condition were raised when slates began slipping from the roof in 2015.
Historic England has been working with the owner since then and awarded a grant of £9,000 that contributed to a better understanding of its defects and an answer for its repair.
In Autumn 2019, works began on a conservation project on the Market Cross to renew the Cotswold stone roofing slates and repair the roof structure, stone columns and plinth. Historic England invested a further £23,000 (matched by the Parish Council), provided technical support and worked closely with the owner’s professional advisers. The works were carried out by experienced conservation contractors and were completed in March 2020, allowing the building to be removed from the Register.
Saved: Bradenstoke Priory, Wiltshire
Founded in 1142, Bradenstoke Priory was one of only 225 Augustinian houses in medieval England, making it a very rare building of its type that still exists today. The Priory was once a large complex of buildings, but most were demolished in 1539 during the Dissolution. In 1929 the then owner of the priory, Randolph Hearst, had most of the surviving buildings dismantled and sent them for re-use to St Donat’s in Glamorgan and shipped to his estate in America. All that remained were the undercroft of the former guest house with a garderobe tower.
Historic England has been working for many years with the owners and their professional team to stabilise and repair this important medieval monument. We helped provide essential propping to the vaults 20 years ago which was removed earlier this year.
Our experts have provided support, from specialist surveys to advice on engineering and conservation repairs, and over the last two decades have invested £357,000 to conserve the ruins of the Priory which now includes a protective roof. The works were carried out by experienced conservation contractors and the building has now been removed from the Register.
Saved: Barrows near Studland, Dorset
In autumn 2019, National Trust volunteers completed the final phase of a six-year project to protect a group of bell barrows standing several metres high on the Purbeck Heaths in Dorset. Bell barrows are earlier and rarer than the more common bowl barrows, making the survival of this group important.
The monuments had previously been damaged as a result of scrub growth and, in one case, by burrowing animals, which led them to be on the Heritage at Risk Register. In 2013, Natural England gave the National Trust funding for heathland restoration – scrub growth was cleared, and the barrows which had not been damaged by animals were meshed to prevent further problems to undisturbed archaeology. The work was carried out under the supervision of National Trust archaeologists, and created an ideal natural habitat as well as protecting this important group of barrows. They were removed from the Register this year.
Sites added to the Register in 2020
At risk: Cornish Bridges
This year, 17 sites in Cornwall have been added to the Heritage at Risk Register. Three of these are historic bridges, distinctive features of Cornwall’s landscape.
Multi-span bridges – of two or more arches supported on piers – were built throughout the medieval period. Once commonplace, most have been rebuilt or replaced and fewer than 200 are now known to survive in England. Helland Bridge is one of them, built in the 15th century, spanning the River Camel. Its carriageway is less than three metres wide, and not built for modern traffic such as caravans, horse-boxes, tractors with trailers and lorries.
Trekelland Bridge, another late medieval example, carries the main road between Launceston and Liskeard over the River Inney, and has been hit by multiple vehicles.
The Grade II* ornamental carriage bridge serving Chyverton House was built in 1780. It crosses a narrow stream that leads to a small lake. Recent ivy and shrub clearance has revealed problems with the walls which are unstable and leaning dangerously.
At risk: King Arthur’s Hall, Cornwall
King Arthur’s Hall on Bodmin Moor is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in a county famed for its wealth of ancient monuments. It stands on open moorland, overlooked by Cornwall’s two highest hills of Brown Willy and Roughtor.
Although it has been recorded since the early-16th century, the Hall’s origin is a mystery, with theories ranging from an early medieval animal pound to a Neolithic funerary enclosure. Despite its association with the legendary king, the Hall has recently been added to the Heritage at Risk register because it is heavily overgrown with gorse. The poor condition of the surrounding fence is also a concern, at threat from grazing animals – a serious problem in the past.
Volunteers have cleared some of the vegetation but on-going management is difficult in this remote moorland location. Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is developing a project to help many at risk monuments in the county and it is hoped that King Arthur’s Hall will benefit through this. A local community group, the TimeSeekers, is involved in researching and helping to manage the site.
At risk: Church of St Nicholas, Westgate Street, Gloucester
This large church was built circa 1190. It was largely rebuilt in the 13th century, retaining some of its earlier features. Further alterations were made in the 15th century, and the west tower and spire were added.
In 1643, during the Siege of Gloucester in the Civil War the spire suffered a direct hit by cannon fire. It was reduced in height and capped in 1783. In 1865 the church was restored by John Jaques and Son. After the church was closed in 1967, the church was declared redundant on 7 May 1971, and was vested in the Churches Conservation Trust on 25 June 1975.
The roof needs urgent structural repair and slate roof coverings have come to the end of their life.
Sites making good progress in 2020
Good progress: Stover Park, near Newton Abbot, Devon
Stover is a Grade II registered park and garden, and was placed on the Heritage at Risk register in 2009.
Devon County Council own Stover Country Park, the northern third of Stover, which is open to the public. Through their 'Restoring Stover Park Project', they have secured funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to enable greater access and promote public appreciation of this popular and valuable piece of Devon’s heritage.
The project will be a major step forward in reducing the vulnerability and risk to the park, and helping to take it off the Heritage at Risk Register. Work is underway and a grant of £30,000 from Historic England is supporting the technical surveys of the former Stables, ornamental lake and the Granite Lodge.
Good progress: Wessex Hillforts
Historic England is working with the National Trust to improve their 13 hillforts in Dorset and Wiltshire, some on the Register and some vulnerable, including Dorset’s Hod and Hambledon Hills.
A Historic England grant of £66,000 to the National Trust’s Wessex Hillforts and Habitats project will go towards a number of schemes, including updated management plans, a visitor guide for Wiltshire’s hillforts to complement the recent Dorset one and works to clear scrub. The Trust will also be improving public engagement and access, with some exciting plans to bring in the local community and train 50 volunteers to carry out on-going management of these hillforts.
Places of Worship
This year, 18 places of worship have been added to the Heritage at Risk Register in the South West. Eleven of these are places of worship in Somerset that have had lead from their roofs stolen. At St Edward King and Martyr in Goathurst, lead was stolen from a 16th-century chapel on the north side of the building which has very fine tombs inside. It is to be re-roofed in stainless steel.
Historic England has funded a Heritage and Cultural Property Crime Analyst role in Kent Police and a Heritage and Cultural Property Crime Researcher in OPAL- the Serious Organised Acquisitive Crime Unit. These roles will work with national police leads to help prevent and investigate criminal and anti-social behaviour which damages our historic places.
Also, a recent scheme called the Taylor Review Pilot saw £1.8 million spent on places of worship in need. The project, funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and run by Historic England, has helped 396 listed places of worship including financial support to 136 listed places of worship during its two-year period.
South West statistics
The Heritage at Risk Register 2020 reveals that in the South West:
- 208 buildings or structures
- 155 places of worship
- 1,052 archaeology entries (non-structural scheduled monuments)
- 17 parks and gardens
- 0 battlefields
- 0 protected wreck sites and
- 20 conservation areas
…are at risk of neglect, decay or inappropriate change.
In total, there are 1,452 entries across the South West on the 2020 Heritage at Risk Register.