Heritage at Risk in the South West Revealed
Today, Historic England publishes its annual Heritage at Risk Register for 2021. The Register is the yearly health-check of England’s most valued historic places and those most at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development.
Highlights from sites saved in 2021
Over the last year, 77 historic buildings and sites in the South West have been removed from the Register.
Many have been saved thanks to the hard work and dedication of local communities, who have come together to rescue places despite the challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months.
Charities, owners, local councils and Historic England have also worked together to see historic places restored, re-used and brought back to life.
Saved: The Wellington Monument, Somerset
In September, the National Trust and their many partners and supporters celebrated the successful completion of a £3.1 million project to repair the monument to the Duke of Wellington. Standing high on the Blackdown Hills, the Wellington Monument, at 175 feet, is the tallest three-sided obelisk in the world.
Although commissioned straight after the Duke’s military success at Waterloo in 1815, progress on the monument’s construction was erratic having run out of funding and being twice struck by lightning. A further phase of building followed the Duke’s death in 1852, but the monument wasn’t completed to its current height until 1892.
Despite regular repairs since coming to the National Trust in the 1930s, the monument again fell into disrepair. It was placed on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2016.
Saved: Wessex hillforts – Hod Hill, Coney’s Castle, Lambert’s Castle and Pilsdon Pen, Dorset
Some of the most distinctive features in the Wessex landscape are its Iron Age hillforts. Found across many of the high points of Dorset and Wiltshire, these extraordinary earthwork structures date back some 2,000 years and tell us how and why our ancestors lived in hilltop locations.
As part of the National Trust’s Hillforts and Habitats project, and thanks to an award of £114,000 from Historic England, 13 majestic Iron Age hillforts and 332 hectares (820 acres) of archaeology and priority habitat have been improved and four hillforts (Hod Hill, Pilsdon Pen, Lambert’s Castle and Coney’s Castle) have been removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.
The success of the project is due to the hard work and commitment of the ‘Hillfort Hero’ volunteers and ranger teams. In all weathers they carried out condition monitoring surveys for archaeology and undertook the scrub and rough grassland management and erosion repair works, reversing the damage which had placed the hillforts on the Heritage at Risk Register.
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Saved: Anchor Studio, Newlyn, Cornwall
Anchor Studio is vital to the story of Cornish and British art, and has been at the heart of cultural life in Newlyn since the 1880s.
On a site overlooking the harbour, Anchor Studio was constructed in 1888 as a purpose-built studio for Stanhope Forbes (1857–1947), the father of the influential Newlyn School of painters, who used the building for more than 60 years.
In 2019, much of the timber frame, timber cladding and slate roof needed urgent repair or replacement, and the studio was added to the Heritage at Risk Register.
Thanks to support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England, Cornwall Council and Arts Council England, amongst others, the repairs were completed in March 2021. Historic England were specifically able to fund the traditional west Cornish wet laid scantle slate roof, correct lime mortar repointing and crucial timber window reinstatements.
Saved: Norton Camp, Norton Fitzwarren, Somerset
This large hillfort enclosed by a single massive earthen rampart was occupied throughout the Iron Age and into the Roman period, and may have Neolithic origins, making it over 4,000 years old.
Norton Camp, not far from Taunton, was at risk from ploughing which was damaging fragile buried remains, evidence about the lives and activities of our ancestors. The earthworks were also being affected by the roots of unmanaged trees and scrub, harming evidence about the fort’s construction, its early defences and technologies.
Historic England funded the acquisition of the site by Somerset West and Taunton Council, who subsequently carried out a programme of work to repair and prevent further damage and safeguard its future with grant support from Historic England and other partners.
The project to rescue Norton Camp was supported by the South West Heritage Trust, who will now manage the site and ensure it remains a very special place for visitors, the residents of Norton Fitzwarren and Taunton, and local school children who will use the ancient site as an outdoor classroom.
Highlights from sites added to the Register
In the South West, 31 sites have been added to the Register because of concerns about their condition. They are at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development.
At risk: 24 Foundry Square, Hayle, Cornwall
The Former Offices and Remains of Harvey's Foundry are an important part of the story of the town of Hayle, and of Cornwall’s global mining industry.
Although the building is currently in use as part of the Hayle Heritage Centre, its fabric now needs significant repair. 24 Foundry Square is being placed on the Heritage at Risk Register because there are structural issues, drainage and damp problems, and potentially subsidence.
Harvey’s Foundry Trust, a community development organisation, owns the building and has welcomed the addition of 24 Foundry Square to the Register. Keen to get started on a solution, as a first step the Trust are staging an exhibition highlighting the importance of the building to the local community, and to kickstart conversations about its condition and repair.
24 Foundry Square is part of the wider Harvey’s Foundry complex, a two-hectare site which includes six listed buildings and one scheduled ancient monument. Working in partnership with Cornwall Council and a number of funding partners, the Trust has successfully regenerated much of the site as part of an ambitious 10-year regeneration scheme.
At risk: Late medieval packhorse bridge, Launceston, Cornwall
This packhorse bridge is believed to have been built in the 15th century to serve the nearby Priory of Launceston. It straddles the River Kensey at a point where the river widens and in the past was used as a ford.
The narrow bridge has five small arches and a cobbled footway flanked by large slate slabs. An iron handrail and cast-iron lamp post may have been added in the late-19th century.
Because it only carries foot traffic, the packhorse bridge is a rare example of a monument that has survived almost unaltered. For the same reason, the bridge has not been regularly maintained and vegetation has grown in the masonry joints. Some of the footway’s cobbles have become loose and over the last year the bridge has suffered vandalism.
Fortunately, work to construct a new footbridge beside St Thomas’s road bridge to the east has resulted in a temporary diversion of pedestrians over the packhorse bridge and focussed attention on these issues. A solution has been agreed and work has started on repairs.
Heritage at Risk 2021 in brief
The Heritage at Risk Register 2021 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 1,409 entries across the South West on the 2021 Heritage at Risk Register.
Highlights from sites making good progress on the Register
Over the past year, Historic England has spent £1.49 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.
There are many examples of great progress made in 2021 as the result of strong partnerships, dedicated individuals and funding support.
Good progress: Stover Park, Newton Abbot, Devon
Stover is a Grade II Registered Park and Garden, which was placed on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2009. The historic garden buildings include the Granite Lodge and Former Stables to Stover House (both listed at Grade II* and on the Heritage at Risk Register in their own right). The ornamental canal and lake, around which the whole of the designed landscape pivots, are also in poor condition. The lake has become silted and polluted and the canal has become dried up and difficult to trace.
Devon County Council own Stover Country Park, which is open to the public. In March 2020 the Council secured a development grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the ‘Restoring Stover Park’ project, which will be a major step forward in reducing the risk to the park and its buildings and helping to take them off the Register. The project also aims to provide more public access and promote appreciation of this important piece of Devon’s heritage. Stover School, located in the centre of the park, is a key partner for the project.
Historic England has awarded a grant of £30,000 towards the cost of technical surveys of the Former Stables and Granite Lodge, which have now been completed, and to help prepare for the restoration of the ornamental canal.
Good progress: Woodchester Mansion, Stroud, Gloucestershire
Begun in 1857 and famously left unfinished just a few years later, Woodchester Mansion is a stunning Victorian Gothic house hidden in a Cotswold valley. With missing floors and ceilings, unplastered walls and unglazed windows, all the secrets of the construction of the mansion are visible, offering a unique opportunity to understand how a house of the period was built.
The Grade I listed structure had already become derelict in 1989 when the Woodchester Mansion Trust was set up to manage the building on behalf of owners Stroud District Council, and to repair the mansion to the condition it was in when building work stopped around 1870. In parallel with the conservation programme, the trust provides a ‘living classroom’ where trainees can develop their heritage craft skills, especially stone masonry, while contributing to the restoration work.
Like many small charities, the Woodchester Mansion Trust was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unable to open and generate visitor income, their emergency reserves were also under pressure. The trust received support from Historic England to enable them to reopen, and funding from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund helped with business resilience and enabled the trust to bring forward urgent repairs to the roof and some stonework.
Good progress: 28 Portland Square, Bristol
After five years of extensive repairs and conservation, 28 Portland Square in Bristol has reopened as a 23-bedroomed boutique hotel – Artist Residence – which makes the most of its unique historic character. The Grade I listed building dates from between 1789 and 1820 and is one of a terrace of seven townhouses in this largely complete Georgian square.
Over time the building was adapted and used for increasingly industrial purposes before becoming a boot factory in the 1960s. After the factory closed the building became derelict and was added to the Heritage at Risk Register. Now it’s ‘an eccentric home from home’ in the heart of one of Bristol’s most creative communities.
Good progress: Devizes Assize Court House, Wiltshire
The former Devizes Assize Court is a purpose-built court building designed by the architect T H Wyatt in 1835. Listed at Grade II*, it is one of several prestigious public buildings which were part of the development of Devizes as an administrative centre for Wiltshire in the 19th century. It is much-loved by local people as a place important to their stories, but the building has been unused for more than 30 years and was placed on the Heritage at Risk Register in 1999.
The building was purchased in 2018 and the Devizes Assize Court Trust set up to lead its repair and transformation. Emergency repairs were carried out funded by Historic England, the Pilgrim Trust and others.
Working with The Wiltshire Museum and the appointed conservation architects, the trust has developed plans to conserve, alter and extend the building as the new home for the Wiltshire Museum, kick-starting the regeneration of the surrounding wharf area.