Thursday, 31 March 2011

Philanthropist rescues Auckland Castle and its Zurbarans

Thirteen remarkable Zurbar├ín paintings will remain in their home at Auckland Castle in Co Durham thanks to a staggering £15million donation by Investment Manager and philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer.

The 17th century portraits of Jacob and his brothers by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán, which were under threat of being sold by the Church Commissioners, will now remain where they have hung since 1756.

The intention is for Auckland Castle, the home of the Bishop of Durham, to become a leading public heritage site, bringing tourism and economic regeneration to the North East. Partners include the Art Fund, Durham County Council, the National Trust, the Department for Media, Culture and Sport, and the National Gallery about the broader future for Auckland Castle and the paintings within.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Sheerness Royal Dockyard rescued in Save of the Century

The site is the wooded area on the middle left margin of the photograph - click to expand
The Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust has completed the heroic rescue of one of the most important and endangered historic sites in the South East of England.

The Trust, acting as the nominee for a group of investors, and with the help of a loan from the Architectural Heritage Fund, has successfully sealed the £1.85m purchase of a complete 1820s naval officers’ residential quarter at Sheerness Dockyard. The site, on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, contains six Grade II* and four Grade II buildings on four acres of land. It has been empty (save for one protected tenant) and on English Heritage’s national at risk register for the best part of a decade. In 2009 the entire dockyard was added to the World Monuments Fund's international Watch List of endangered historic sites.

In recent years the site has been under the shadow of redevelopment proposals involving the building of apartment blocks on the historic landscape. This application was finally refused at planning last year after a strong campaign involving local people, the national amenity societies and SAVE. Following this decision, the Trust entered into negotiations with the owner to acquire the site.

The investors - who have taken on seven of the ten available properties - will restore them as single homes. The buildings include Regency Terrace (a row of five elegant houses) and the magnificent Dockyard House, built for the Chief Superintendent of the yard and later converted to offices. The three remaining properties will be held by the Trust, to be passed on to suitable purchasers. The Trust will be responsible for submitting the necessary planning applications, will oversee the rehabilitation of the site, and will carry out the repair work to the envelope of Regency Terrace.

The Royal Naval Dockyard at Sheerness was planned and engineered by John Rennie and constructed by successive surveyors Edward Holl and George Ledwell-Taylor. It was Ledwell-Taylor who (during the 1820s and 30s) was responsible for a majority of the residential buildings - all of which were built to exacting standards, with restrained Grecian detailing. When built, Sheerness was arguably the most advanced naval installation in the world. The dockyard closed in 1960 and since then has operated as a commercial port.

William Palin, Secretary of SAVE, says ‘This is one of the greatest heritage rescues of recent years, and proof that viable conservation solutions can be found for even the most difficult historic sites. Against all the odds, the Spitalfields Trust has managed to assemble, within its expert embrace, a group of sympathetic and passionate investors who, together, will return this magnificent site to its former glory. SAVE is pleased to have had a hand in this rescue and wishes the Trust well with this exciting project.’

The Spitalfields Trust was founded in 1977 to prevent the destruction of Georgian Spitalfields in London. Since then it has taken on and repaired over 60 buildings, including a medieval manor house in Wales and Shurland Hall, a Tudor palace on the Isle of Sheppey.

For more information about the Spitalfields Trust and the remaining Sheerness properties contact: Oliver Leigh-Wood or Tim Whittaker (administrators) on 020 7247 0971. 

Friday, 18 March 2011

Councillors abstain on their own scheme

Three Blackburn & Darwen Councillors last night abstained on a vote on whether to give the go-ahead for demolition of an historic building to make way for a new road. Despite the fact that the scheme was devised and promoted by the Council itself, and despite the fact that before the vote Councillors were given a highly unusual (some might say irregular) presentation by the Council's Highways Department in a clear bid to promote the scheme, the abstaining Councillors felt the project was so badly flawed that they were unable to support it. Amazingly, one of the Councillors backing the scheme appeared unaware, on the day of the vote, that objections had been received - in spite of clear and repeated opposition from English Heritage, The Georgian Group and Blackburn & Darwen Civic Voice. Perhaps he's not reading his agenda papers; or are council officers keeping him in the dark? Either way, ignorance seems a curious basis on which to decide planning applications that involve demolition of nationally listed buildings. We and others are now asking the Government to call in the application for decision by the Secretary of State.


Monday, 14 March 2011

Historic Weathervane returns to St George’s German Lutheran Church in East London

An unexpected phone call to the Historic Chapels Trust from the Art Loss Register brought news of the long-lost eighteenth century weathervane from St George’s German Lutheran Church, just discovered by an investigator in an antiques showroom in the Cotswolds. This amazing piece of copper craftsmanship originally surmounted the turret of St George’s and was retained in the church, along with its bell, when the turret was dismantled for safety reasons in the 1930s. It went missing in the early 1990s before HCT owned the church and was not expected to be heard of again. Apparently the weathervane passed through various hands, on the continent and in England, before being recognised and happily returned to St George’s. The Art Loss Register charged a nominal fee to Historic Chapels Trust, as to all charities.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Success as Cleveland Street workhouse is listed!

Success - for the moment! The Heritage Minister John Penrose has agreed to list the old workhouse at Grade II. There is still an outstanding application to demolish the building, but the listing increases the presumption in favour of retention and the local authority will need to take it into account when determining the application. The listing follows a long campaign which attracted wide-ranging support.

The building served most recently as an outpatients' department of the Middlesex Hospital and has been a source of concern ever since the demolition of the largely twentieth century hospital in 2006. It was built as a workhouse in 1775-78 by the parish of St Paul’s Covent Garden, on the site of their old burial ground, and acquired its pair of projecting end blocks in 1829, when it became known as the Strand Union Workhouse. An article in the medical journal The Lancet in 1865, reporting on the grim conditions in the workhouse, very largely contributed to the passing of the 1867 Metropolitan Poor Act. The Central London Sick Asylum District, an amalgam of former Poor Law Unions, then used the building as an infirmary until it became part of the Middlesex Hospital in 1927.

The old workhouse has a place in the annals of social history and architecturally it is remarkably intact, its H-plan a visible reminder of how the Georgians left it. We submitted a listing request in 2008; despite being supported by English Heritage this was turned down by the then Government.

The workhouse was then occupied by Camelot, a company that provides security for otherwise empty and vulnerable buildings by using them as temporary low-cost housing, as the campaign to preserve the building gathered pace.