Overhead view of a person walking along Kirby Bank Trod
Kirby Bank Trod, part of Pannierman Way, Kirkby, Hambleton, North Yorkshire © Historic England DP234936
Kirby Bank Trod, part of Pannierman Way, Kirkby, Hambleton, North Yorkshire © Historic England DP234936

Heritage at Risk in England Revealed

Historic England today (Thursday 15 October, 2020) 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.

Over the last year, 181 historic buildings and sites 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. Examples include an 800 year old footpath in North Yorkshire, once used by Cistercian monks to transport goods, now saved by a local history group; the church in London where Mary Wollstonecraft, the 'Mother of Feminism', worshipped has been restored thanks in large part to the congregation’s dedication; and the lush hillfort in Somerset which is thought to be King Arthur’s 'lost Camelot' has been restored thanks to essential partnership working.

This year has been challenging but looking after and investing in the historic places that help to define our collective identity can contribute to the country’s economic recovery. The buildings and places rescued from the Heritage at Risk Register can help level up economic opportunity, support skilled local construction jobs, build resilience in private and public organisations and boost tourism.

Our historic places have also provided an anchor for local communities during these uncertain times. Heritage has a proven positive impact on people’s quality of life and 80% of residents believe local heritage makes their area a better place to live. It can also help support community resilience, instil pride and builds confidence that communities can ‘build back better’.  

It is the varied tapestry of our historic places that helps us define who we are. In testing times such as these, heritage can give us a sense of continuity and bring us solace. We also know that investing in historic places can help boost our economic recovery. The 181 places rescued from the register this year show us that good progress is being made, but there is still a long way to go. Many more historic buildings and places need caring for, financial support, strong partnership working and community engagement to give them a brighter future.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive Historic England

National headline statistics

  • Across the country 181 entries have been removed from the Register (for positive reasons), while 216 entries have been added because of concerns about their condition.
  • Over the past year, Historic England has spent nearly £8.96 million in grants on helping some of the country’s best loved and most important historic sites on the Heritage at Risk Register.
  • The Heritage at Risk Register 2020 reveals that in England:
    • 1,475 Buildings or Structures (Grade I and II* listed buildings and structural scheduled monuments across England, plus Grade II listed buildings in London)
    • 932 places of worship
    • 2,090 archaeology entries (non-structural scheduled monuments),
    • 103 parks and gardens
    • 3 battlefields
    • 3 protected wreck sites
    • and 491 conservation areas 

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

Due to the restrictions of Covid-19 we have only been able to assess sites and collect data where it has been safe to do so. This has given us a helpful temperature check of the condition of our historic environment in the last 12 months, but it has not been possible to carry out analysis of trends as we have in previous years.

Sites rescued and removed from the heritage at risk register in 2020 include:

SAVED: Newington Green Meeting House, Hackney, London

Newington Green Unitarian Church, now known as the Newington Green Meeting House, is London's oldest Nonconformist place of worship still in use and has had connections to political radicalism for over 300 years. Today it is known as the “Birthplace of Feminism”.

The church’s most famous minister was the political radical Dr Richard Price, and the most famous member of his congregation was Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman' (1792), earning her the name 'the Mother of Feminism'. Many others visited Dr Price, including Founding Fathers of the United States Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

The building has had problems with leaking roofs, damp, and structural movement. The congregation of New Unity carried out a comprehensive project, 'Recovering the Dissenters’ Legacy', which encompassed full repairs to the historic fabric and improved access and facilities. The project was funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and repairs were completed in June 2020.

SAVED: Kirby Bank Trod, North Yorkshire

Kirby Bank Trod is a 400-metre section of 13th-century flag stone path. It forms part of an ancient route used by the Cistercian monks at Rievaulx Abbey to move goods from their various land holdings. In later centuries, the path was also variously used to transport alum shale and quarry stone, as well as jet for jewellery making.

As a Green Road it meant that Kirby Bank Trod could be used by 4x4 vehicles and trail bikes, which were causing serious damage. Concerned by the state of the track, Kirby, Great Broughton and Ingleby Greenhow Local History Group devoted their energies to saving the site.

They campaigned for it to be designated as a scheduled monument in 2012 and then successfully lobbied for a Traffic Regulation Order in 2017, which limited the Trod’s use to horse riders and walkers. Once this order was put into place, the group worked with the North York Moors National Park to repair the damage caused by the off-road vehicles.

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: Cadbury Castle, Somerset

Cadbury Castle has captivated the imagination of antiquarians and casual visitors alike for centuries. Its commanding position, the complexity and majestic steepness of its defences, its long history of constant adaptations to new occupants and new uses would be more than enough make this an outstanding example among multivallate hillforts. To add to the enchantment, Cadbury Castle has strong associations with Arthurian legend and is known to many as the lost Camelot.

Since the late-19th century, changes in how the land is managed have led to an impenetrable layer of invasive vegetation growing across most of the ramparts. There are also areas of burrowing and heavy erosion. In the past three years Historic England has worked with the owner to systematically clear most of the invasive plants from some critical areas, 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: The Crescent, Buxton, Derbyshire

This Grade I listed lodging houses and hotel of 1780-90 sit within Grade II listed grounds and a conservation area. The building was designed by John Carr of York for the 5th Duke of Devonshire when Buxton was redeveloped as a spa resort in the 18th century.

Having fallen into disrepair, permission was granted to convert the building into a luxury spa and hotel in the 1990s. The project attracted funding from Historic England and The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Over many years, Historic England has provided technical support and advice, and the Crescent Hotel and Thermal Spa opened its doors once more in October 2020.

The repairs have been completed since the Register was updated so while the site appears on the HAR Register 2020, it is no longer ‘at risk’ and will likely be removed from the published Register in 2021.

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 holiday let and the highly decorative central dairy is now the main living room space.

SAVED: All Saints Church, Newcastle

Following completion of a major restoration project, the Grade I listed All Saints Church has been removed from the Heritage at Risk Register. Situated above the Quayside, All Saints Church is one of Newcastle’s most prominent landmarks, with its rare oval design and baroque tower punctuating the city’s skyline.

Built between 1786 and 1796, the Georgian church was designed by Tyneside architect David Stephenson and is an excellent example of classical architecture, as well as being the only elliptical church in England. Serving as a parish church until 1959, it was sold to Newcastle City Council in the 1970s and was used as a rehearsal space for the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

Due to significant disrepair, it was added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2012 and was given a grant of £135,000 by Historic England in August 2019 to help with its restoration. The doors have now re-opened to the public after almost a decade of being empty. It has been re-established as a place of worship by the Gateshead Presbyterian Church, and will also provide a space for various events including weddings, concerts and conferences.

SAVED: Willy Howe, Driffield, East Riding of Yorkshire

Dating from the late Bronze Age (2400-1500BC), Willy Howe is a round barrow, a type of prehistoric funerary monument. Many barrows contain human remains but two partial excavations in the 19th century failed to find any. However, legend has it that the mound was home to inhabitants of a more mythical kind.

Willy Howe is thought to be the setting of a folk tale chronicled by William of Newburgh in the 12th century. In it, he tells of a drunk man who discovers a group of fairies partying in the mound. They invite him for a drink but he pours it away and steals the cup, which eventually ended up in the possession of King Henry I.

Over the years Willy Howe has become overgrown with brambles and invasive weeds, causing damage to the site and obscuring it from view. Fortunately, grants from Natural England and latterly, Historic England have enabled Willy Howe’s human owner to suppress the unwanted vegetation and enable the public to explore it.

Sites added to the register in 2020 include:

AT RISK: Plume Library, including Tower of Former Church of St Peter, Maldon, Essex

The Grade I listed Plume Library is one of the oldest public libraries in England, containing over 7,000 volumes, mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries. The late-17th-century library was built on the site of the former church of St Peter, granted to the Premonstratensian Canons in 1180, of which only the 14th-century tower now remains.

In 1690 Dr Thomas Plume built the two-storey library building, which occupies the footprint of the church nave, to house his book collection of over 4,000 rare and important 16th- and 17th-century texts. Purpose-built libraries of this period are extremely rare. He gifted the library to the town on his death in 1704.

Plume’s bequest also included a small collection of paintings that can still be seen in the library. Plume held strong Royalist sympathies and was deeply committed to the Church of England. The 13 paintings he bequeathed are portraits of English monarchs and churchmen, while a Salvator Mundi painting illustrates his devotion to Jesus Christ.

The library is ‘at risk’ because its lath and plaster ceiling is in danger of collapsing. There is also evidence of possible structural movement and cracking in various parts of the building.

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 and deteriorating 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.

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 Terrace and Historic England has been working with the council providing specialist advice.

The restoration of the terraces is a major project which will need funds from grant-aiding bodies so that it can be saved for future generations.

AT RISK: Ragged School Museum, Tower Hamlets

The Mile End Ragged School was opened in 1877 by Dr Barnardo as a free school providing a basic education for poor children in London’s East End. It occupied converted warehouses on the Grand Union Canal, and in its day was the largest ‘ragged school’, with over 1,000 pupils on weekdays and 2,400 for Sunday School. The school closed in 1908, when local government provision became adequate, and the building was used for a time as a factory.

A successful campaign by local residents in the 1980s saved the building from demolition. The Ragged School Museum Trust opened the site as a museum in 1990, aiming to make history of the Ragged Schools and the broader social history of the Victorian East End accessible to all.

The Grade II building is underused due to the deteriorating condition of the roof, structural issues, and damp problems. The Trust has recently received a grant offer from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for a sustainable repair project, which will also provide a refreshed visitor experience, improved education facilities, events space and flexible office facilities.

AT RISK: St James’s Gardens (Cemetery), Liverpool

Opened in 1829, St James’s Cemetery (now known as St James’s Gardens) is a very early example of a garden cemetery. The cemetery is registered at Grade I because of its beautiful and dramatic design and because it is such an early example of a public cemetery.

A former stone quarry, the site was bought by the Anglican community of Liverpool and laid out, in dramatic fashion, as a cemetery. The design incorporated massive carriage ramps with catacombs beneath. These ramps allowed burial parties to access the floor of the quarry. In later years, the cemetery suffered from neglect and invasive vegetation took hold of the structures.

Since the 1990s, members of the local community took increasing interest in the site to address some of its problems. More recently they have been supported by Liverpool City Council and the Diocese of Liverpool. But damaging vegetation and poor conservation repairs are acting rapidly on some of the main features of the site, particularly the walls of the giant carriage ramps.

With the site now added to the Heritage at Risk Register, we will be able to identify and record the significance of the site, as well as plan future management and maintenance in a conservation management plan.

AT RISK: Redoubt, Harwich, Essex

The Grade II* listed Harwich Redoubt was built in 1808–1810 as part of the Martello Tower chain of defences against a possible Napoleonic invasion, stretching from Aldeburgh to Seaford. An imposing 180-foot diameter circular fort, the Redoubt defended the port of Harwich with 10 guns on the battlements. Eighteen casements below would have housed 300 troops in siege conditions, with sufficient food and stores to withstand a lengthy siege. However, this defensive strategy was never put to the test.

After 1910, the Harwich Redoubt became barrack accommodation and from the 1920s the site was unused and falling into disrepair. It was taken back into military use during the Second World War and, after the war, was transferred to the Civil Defence, who used the fort for atomic exercises until their disbandment.

The Redoubt is suffering the effect of leaks with significant loss to the inner and outer moat walls. Internally there are clear signs of plant growth throughout due to failing roof coverings. The Redoubt is being restored by the Harwich Society – it is believed to be the largest ancient monument in the country being restored by a private group.

AT RISK: Dudley Castle, Dudley, West Midlands

Dudley Castle located in the heart of the recently designated Black Country Geopark, has had a long and varied history. Elizabeth I was once a visitor and it was later considered as a potential residence for the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots. During the Civil War it was a Royalist garrison, then a century later it was gutted by a fire and left to stand as a romantic ruin.

In 1937 the Earl of Dudley opened Dudley Zoological Society within the castle grounds, displaying a range of exotic animals, to the delight of visitors from far and wide. 2020 marks its 950th anniversary as 1070 was the year that Ansculf de Picquigny built the Motte and Bailey.

Dudley Council, in partnership with Dudley Zoo and Castle (DZC), has been working closely with key stakeholders, including the Friends of Dudley Castle, on proposals for the Castle. The result is a well thought-out and ambitious masterplan ‘The Castle Hill Vision’ (2019) which includes a strong focus on the repair and conservation of the Castle. Historic England has been working closely with the Council and DZC to find solutions for this extraordinary local landmark, leading to its addition to the Heritage at Risk Register this year and the award of a ‘Repair Grant’ towards plant clearance and a schedule of repairs to its standing remains.

AT RISK: Buckden Towers, Buckden, St Neots, Cambridgeshire

The 15th-century buildings of Grade I listed and Scheduled Monument Buckden Towers are the remains of the Palace of the Bishop of Lincoln. The Palace enjoyed notable royal visits including from Henry III (1248), Edward I (1291) and Richard III (1483).

Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first Queen, lived at Buckden Palace from July 1533 to May 1534 until she was transferred to nearby Kimbolton Castle where she died in 1536.

Henry VIII later stayed at Buckden Palace with Catherine Howard in 1541 as part of a summer tour prior to Catherine’s coronation as Queen. It was during this tour that Catherine was accused of committing adultery which led to her beheading for treason in 1542.

Little now remains of the Bishops’ moated palace except the great tower, the inner gatehouse, part of the battlement wall and the outer gate and wall. Parts of the complex were demolished in 1632 on the orders of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

The most urgent concern is the 15th-century brick gatehouse where the roof is leaking badly, risking collapse of the roof structure and ceiling. Historic England has offered a repair grant of £47,000 and it is hoped that repair work will begin in late 2020.

AT RISK: Dobson's Windmill, High Street, Burgh Le Marsh, Lincolnshire

A scheduled monument and Grade I listed building, Dobson’s Windmill is a five-storey structure built in 1813 in tarred brick, by Oxleys of Alford. It has an unusually shaped cap, with ornate detailing and 'left handed' patent sails – a type of windmill sail invented in 1807 that allowed adjustments to be made to the sails without stopping the mill.

The mill was damaged by a storm earlier this year which destroyed the sails, cap and fantail and a temporary cover is in place over the top floor of the mill to prevent further deterioration. The owner, Lincolnshire County Council, is keen to carry out repairs and is exploring options.

Places of Worship

This year, 90 places of worship have been added to the Heritage at Risk Register, with nearly half of these (37) added because they have suffered heritage crime, for example lead theft. 

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.

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