The derelict interior of a formal mansion room, with debris on the parquet flooring, a piano, and holes in the plasterwork.
Oldway Mansion interior © Historic England Archive. DP326013.
Oldway Mansion interior © Historic England Archive. DP326013.

Heritage at Risk in the South West Revealed

Today, Historic England publishes its annual Heritage at Risk Register for 2023. 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.

Sites added to the Register in 2023

Over the past year, 43 historic buildings and sites have been added to the Register in the South West because of their deteriorating condition. 

Added: Pendennis Headland, Falmouth, Cornwall

Pendennis Headland commands outstanding views in almost all directions and has been strategically important for the defence of the British Isles for centuries. The area surrounding, but not including, English Heritage’s Pendennis Castle, has a fascinating variety of historic structures including a Civil War battery, garrison gardens, First World War zig-zag trenches and Second World War gun emplacements. Under the new ownership of Falmouth Town Council, some management work has already begun and a condition survey is being prepared.

Added: Oldway Mansion, Paignton, Torbay

Built in 1873 for Isaac Singer, the millionaire founder of the sewing machine company, Oldway Mansion was conceived as a fashionable French Renaissance-style villa. Singer’s son, Paris, remodelled the house between 1904 and 1907, drawing inspiration from the Palace of Versailles. 

Oldway was converted to a military hospital in 1914 and became the Torbay Country Club in 1929. It was requisitioned by the RAF in 1939 and from 1945 until 2013 it was in use as council offices. 

The building is now in poor condition. In some areas, the roofs and external walls are in urgent need of repair to stop water getting in and causing damp, dry rot, and damage to historic plasterwork, and there are some structural problems.

Added: Porth Askin Gig Shed, St Agnes, Isles of Scilly

Traditionally built and used in the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall, gigs played a vital role in the nation’s booming maritime trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Many of the surviving sheds that housed these craft are now threatened by coastal erosion, including the 19th century gig shed at Porth Askin on St Agnes. It survives relatively undisturbed, its floor is preserved under stabilised wind-blown sand, and several courses of its stonework walls still exist. Now within the reach of the highest waves, its seaward end has been washed away and is at risk of further erosion.

Highlights from sites saved in 2023

Over the past year, 74 historic buildings and sites in the South West have been saved and their futures secured. Many have been rescued thanks to heritage partners and dedicated teams of volunteers, community groups, charities, owners and councils, working together with Historic England.

Saved: Cross Ridge Dyke on Godborough Castle Earthwork, North Devon

This site, thought to be prehistoric in origin, is one of a number of promontory forts and cross ridge dykes along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall. It is now part of a nature reserve run by the charity Devon Birds and was at risk from unmanaged scrub growth which can damage archaeological deposits and obscure the monument from view. It was included in Historic England and Devon County Council’s Monument Management Scheme, through which the council’s archaeologist supported Devon Bird’s volunteers to carry out scrub clearance as part of their regular site management.

The charity will maintain the good condition of the monument, guided by a five-year site management plan.

Saved: Launceston Pack Horse Bridge, Cornwall

This five-arched packhorse bridge is believed to have been built in the 15th century to serve the nearby priory of Launceston. Because it only carries foot traffic, it is a rare example of a monument that has survived almost unchanged. The bridge is used daily by the local community.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns the bridge suffered increased vandalism and a number of the large slates capping the edge of the bridge were dislodged and knocked into the river or stolen. Cobbles from the footway went missing and vegetation growth increased. 

All these problems were addressed in 2022 with a programme of sympathetic repair works carried out by Cormac Solutions for Cornwall Council.  

Saved: Tolpuddle Old Chapel, Tolpuddle, Dorset

In the summer of 2023, Tolpuddle Old Chapel reopened after a nine-year regeneration project.

The Old Chapel was built in 1818 and used for worship by four of the six men who were to become famous as the Tolpuddle Martyrs: George Loveless, James Loveless, John Standfield, and Thomas Standfield. It is possible that some of them were involved in the original build.

The Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust (TOCT) acquired the building in 2015 and began planning its repair and reuse. Supported by grants from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England, work began in November 2021.

Saved: St Cleer Holy Well and Cross, Liskeard, Cornwall

St Cleer Holy Well and Cross is the only example of a well house with an open porch-like design in Cornwall. The open, arched form of the structure, with a steep gabled roof was probably intended to resemble a high-status saint's tomb or shrine.

In 1864 the well was restored by Lieutenant Henry Rogers in memory of his grandfather, the Reverend John Jope, who had been vicar of the parish for 67 years. He established a trust for its maintenance, but by the late 20th century, with no trustees surviving, the site of the well had fallen into neglect.

The Cornwall Heritage Trust (CHT) acquired the site in November 2022 and took on its management. Historic England has supported the CHT with a grant to enable assessments of the site, tree surgery, some re-pointing, and interpretation to improve understanding and management of the site for future generations.

Headline statistics for the South West

The Heritage at Risk Register 2023 reveals that in the South West:

  • 207 Buildings or Structures (Grade I and II* listed buildings and structural scheduled monuments)
  • 153 places of worship
  • 953 Archaeology entries (non-structural scheduled monuments)
  • 17 parks and gardens
  • 18 conservation areas

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

In total, there are 1,348 entries across the South West on the 2023 Heritage at Risk Register.