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Built Heritage
Matthew Saunders
The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) is by far the most significant contributor of monies for conservation from the public purse, provided by a share of takings from the National Lottery. Previously known as the Heritage Lottery Fund, the NLHF changed its name in order to emphasise the origins of its capital. A new strategic plan kicked in during 2019–20 following the interim year of 2018–19, when no grants over £5m were offered. The fund had already announced the closure of the targeted programmes on landscapes, parks and historic townscapes and reiterated the earlier decision to abolish that for places of worship. Nearly all applicants will now have to apply under the open grant streams. In the fifth strategic funding framework, launched on 30 January 2019 and due to run until 2025, the stress was on ‘nature, communities and ensuring everyone is able to enjoy heritage’.
Large-scale grants over £5m have been reinstated but only for two years, with a fallow year intended between 2020–21 and 2022–23. The new willingness to offer loans means that what is already a more limited budget will need to go further, while there has also been a dramatic reallocation of power from the centre to the regional committees, which will now decide all applications for grants under £5m (that is, the vast majority). In the 12 months under review, first-round grants both modest and spectacular have been offered to recipients including Rochdale Town Hall (£8.9m), to create a new museum and civic heart; the Newport Transporter Bridge in Gwent (£9.7m), to set up a new visitor centre at this spectacular moveable bridge; the Dock Museum in Barrow-in-Furness (£834,000); the Elizabethan House in Plymouth (£656,000), to allow the museum in the timber-framed house that had to be closed in 2015 to be repaired; St Mary’s Church in Beverley, East Yorkshire (£460,000); the Community Rooms at the Grade II* pioneer modernist estate at Kensal House, West London (£950,000); Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre in Cheshire (£12.1m); Sheffield General Cemetery (£3m); Harris Museum in Preston (£4.7m); Taylor’s of Loughborough (£3.8m), to assist what is now the country’s only remaining bell-founding business; and the Lancaster Canal (£1.3m).
The Modernist Society in Manchester (£60,000) was one of several organisations offered ‘resilience grants’, in this case to consolidate its work in defence of 20th-century architecture. Other such recipients included the Kirklees museums in West Yorkshire (£217,000); the Lloyd George Museum in Gwynedd (£23,000); Lakeland Arts (£30,000), the body which runs the Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal, and Blackwell, the great arts and crafts house designed by Baillie Scott.
There has been a noticeable increase in refusals and the failure of some schemes, either in development or after opening. One recent casualty was the scheme to repurpose the ruined seminary at Cardross, in Argyll and Bute, designed by Jack Coia, as a particularly moody arts centre. However, Wentworth Castle Gardens in South Yorkshire, which closed in April 2017 and had been a substantial beneficiary of the NLHF, was conveyed to the National Trust in 2019 under a 25-year lease.
The chancellor gave Historic England £40m to boost its programme for ‘heritage action zones’ as part of the general initiative to revive British high streets. The programme to reimburse the VAT levied on repairs and new works at places of worship (worth some £42m a year) was confirmed until March 2020. And in October 2018, the government announced its backing for the candidacy of the Gwynedd quarrying landscape and transport systems of North Wales as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
NLHF grants were also the key drivers behind many schemes that were opened or re-opened during the year under review. These included Windermere Jetty Museum in the Lake District; Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland; the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth; the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London; the new museum and gallery in the town hall at St Albans; three new galleries at St Fagans National Museum of History in Cardiff; the Gunnersbury Park Museum in Ealing/Hounslow, London; a new visitor centre and archive at the Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green, Hertfordshire; and Biggin Hill Memorial Museum in Bromley, symbol of the Battle of Britain.
One of the greatest buildings of the north-west, Manchester Town Hall, closed in 2019 prior to an upgrading and repair programme, costed at £328m. And one of the greatest of all country houses, Chatsworth in Derbyshire, emerged finally from a £32m round of renovations.
There were other successes, too. Dunshay Manor in Dorset was opened by the Landmark Trust for holiday letting; Stanford Hall in Nottinghamshire became the nation’s Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre for members of the armed forces, largely through the generosity of the Duke of Westminster; the long-derelict neoclassical courts at Devizes in Wiltshire were acquired as the site for the town’s new museum; and the even-longer derelict Gwrych Castle in Conwy was taken over by a preservation trust, set up to save it. The Royal Horticultural Society has started work on creating RHS Bridgewater in the walled garden at the now-demolished Worsley New Hall, near Salford, at a cost of £30m (due to open in 2020).
Plans by Jonathan Ruffer for Auckland Castle at Bishop Auckland in County Durham are progressing so well that the opening of the new Faith Museum at the site has been confirmed for 2020. A new permanent exhibition honouring Frank Roper, the designer of ecclesiastical art, opened in a church in Cardiff.
The Churches Conservation Trust took into care significant but redundant Anglican places of worship at Wardley and Tickencote, both in Rutland, and Withernsea in East Yorkshire. The Friends of Friendless Churches announced two new vestings, one in England (Hutton Bonville in North Yorkshire) and another in Wales (Llangattock-Vibon-Avel in Gwent). In one especially radical scheme, Christ Church in Shieldfield Green, Newcastle upon Tyne, decided to share its nave with a working circus. A fine neoclassical church of 1789, St John the Evangelist in Blackburn, latterly an arts centre, was gutted by fire, but another victim to flame, St Michael on the Mount in Bristol, is to be reroofed and converted to an arts centre. The 18th-century parish church in Holywell, Flintshire, is to share its premises with Emerge Community Arts. The grand late 18th-century Nonconformist chapel at Lewin’s Mead, Bristol, for many years a showroom, has come back into use as a church.
The only stained glass repository to recycle historic glass from demolished churches, set up by the Glaziers Company, moved from Central London to a new site at Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire.
Festival Churches is an enterprising attempt to create an interim, and purposeful, state between full parish church status and redundancy. It took a considerable step forward with a change to canon law in 2019 and should prove a lifeline, particularly for many medieval rural churches in modest settlements. This stood alongside some £48m promised by the Church Commissioners in the year to revive churches mostly in urban areas, although the money was largely intended for activities rather than buildings. The Church Revitalisation Trust saw its first full year in 2018; it is an Evangelical Anglican organisation which ‘plants’ failing parishes, nearly all of them in listed buildings. Its flagship plantings have included St Peter’s in Brighton, completed in 1828 to a design by Sir Charles Barry; St Werburgh’s in Derby; Holy Trinity in Hastings; and St Nicholas in Bristol, which was reopened in 2018.
The results of a comprehensive survey of the historic synagogues of Europe were announced in February by the Foundation for Jewish Heritage. Of the 3,318 identified, some 160 were under extreme threat. A major example that is currently on the market is that at Brighton, which is listed as Grade II*.
An important milestone in applied rather than pure research was reached in 2019 with the 400,000th entry onto the lists of statutorily protected buildings in England.
Scholarship has advanced with new guidance on the repair of historic floors (courtesy of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings), the setting of historic buildings, the seafront, and architectural drawings, the last three of these from Historic England – which announced that it would cease being an independent publisher from June 2019. It will carry on as an online publisher and seek a commercial partner for the print publications.
There were significant new biographies of the modern stained glass artist Keith New (by Diana Coulter and Robert Smith) and his more illustrious predecessor from the 19th century, C. E. Kempe (Adrian Barlow). Anniversary years brought a welter of books on Capability Brown, Humphry Repton and John Ruskin, as well as Walter Gropius (Fiona MacCarthy), Ove Arup (Kenneth Powell), Thomas Hardy as architect (Kester Rattenbury) and that significant architectural client from the 17th century, John Cosin (Adrian Green). There have been major published works on the architecture of Wales (John B. Hilling) and the bicentenary of the Incorporated Church Building Society, first set up in 1818 (Gill Hedley). James Stevens Curl caused quite a stir with an outspoken attack on modernism in architecture in his book Making Dystopia. In the course of the year there were revised and greatly expanded editions in the Pevsner ‘Buildings of Britain’ series on Hertfordshire and West Sussex – that whole series, unrivalled in the world for its coverage, is due to finish in 2023.