A suburban survival at risk: Braunstone Hall, Leicestershire

Braunstone Hall, Leicestershire (Image: East Midlands Oral History Archive))

Braunstone Hall, Leicestershire (Image: East Midlands Oral History Archive)

Two of the most important aspects of campaigning to save country houses are vigilance and visibility – and yet sometimes even this doesn’t always seem to bring about restoration any quicker when faced with a slow-moving owner. Braunstone Hall, a Georgian gem still with significant grounds but now swallowed up in the sprawl of Leicester, has been empty for over ten years but despite a vigorous campaign both in the media and online it still remains very much at risk.

Braunstone Hall, now grade-II listed, was built in 1776 (date on rainwater head) for the Winstanley family by the architect William Oldham (b. 1737 – d. 1814) who also designed an early Leicester racecourse grandstand (1770), Master’s House at Alderman Newton’s School (1789) and the New House of Correction (1803) – all though now demolished.  The red-brick house is two and a half storeys tall by five bays wide with a cornice and hipped roof.  The relatively simple front is enlivened with stone bands marking the ground and first floors with an impressive tripartite doorway with fluted columns, a small pediment and an elegant fanlight with arched glazing bars.  One further very distinctive feature is the giant blind recessed arch in the central bay – an architectural device which seems quite popular in Leicestershire with examples in Burbage, Belgrave House (also 1776), and the beautiful rectory at Church Langton (by William Henderson – 1760).  The interior is largely complete with some impressive detailing.

The Winstanley family bought the estate from the Hastings family in 1650 and remained there until forced out in the 1920’s by the pressure to build houses following the First World War.  Estates on the edge of existing towns and cities were eagerly eyed-up by local councils.  For some families, already facing financial hardships following the war this was a perfect opportunity to sell the family seat and relocate.  Others, including the Winstanleys in the shape of Major Richard Norman Winstanley, fought the prospect of compulsory purchase arguing that this was still a family home and the building work would undermine the value of his recently modernised house.  However, he was unsuccessful and so the house, gardens, parkland and further 949-acres were compulsorily purchased in 1925 for £116,500 (equivalent to £5.2m – 2008).  Most of the land was built over except for the house and 168-acres surrounding it which became a public park.  The house remained in council ownership and was first a secondary school, opening in 1932, before becoming a primary school a year later until it closed in 1996.

Since then the Leicester City Council has failed to either find a viable long-term use or adequately protect Braunstone Hall with the house falling victim to repeated acts of vandalism and arson.  The latter is the most worrying as the incidents have not only included fires outside the building but also now inside.  Over the last few years the Council have been making very slow progress towards finding a solution but, as always, they are claiming poverty when it comes to heritage projects.  A very active campaigning group has been set up on Facebook with the members regularly corresponding with councillors and reporting any damage or deterioration at the hall – effectively a dedicated ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ for the house.

The Council put the house up for sale on a 125-year lease in 2007 and had recently been negotiating to sell the house to a local businessman for conversion to a hotel, conference centre and wedding venue. However this has been delayed by changes to what’s being offered in relation to the land for enabling development.  Each delay increases the risk that the local yobs will finally succeed in their mindless vandalism and burn down this elegant and important part of Leicester’s heritage.  If this happens the blame can be laid firmly at the feet of Leicester City Council and their apathy and indecisiveness over the last 14 years.

Join the Facebook campaign group: ‘Restore Braunstone Hall

Detailed history of the house: ‘Braunstone Hall‘ [Leicester City Council]

Detailed description of the house: ‘Braunstone Hall‘ [English Heritage]

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About Matthew Beckett - The Country Seat

An amateur architectural historian with a particular love of UK country houses in all their many varied and beautiful forms.
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9 Responses to A suburban survival at risk: Braunstone Hall, Leicestershire

  1. saracrofts says:

    Do you know if the Council have been asked if they would consider transferring the hall to a charitable trust via the new asset transfer mechanism. There’s help at http://www.dta.org.uk/

  2. Andrew says:

    Sara, I’m sure the council would consider transferring the Hall’s 125 year lease to a charitable trust. The issue is not the legal structure of the recipiant, but rather whether it has sufficient funding to restore the Hall, and a sustainable business plan to maintain the building into the future without further draining council funds. Ideally it would be wonderful if a trust could obtain a grant of £1.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £1.5m from council land sales and £1m from local supporters and other heritage charities, to restore the top floors as rentable office space and the ground floor as a resturant, cafe, gallery and community centre. But in these difficult economic times, funding is hard to come by, as well as commercial tenants. Even the current plan to use the Hall as a hotel depends on whether the area can sustain another high-end venue.

    • Mark says:

      Why has know one considered turning the building into a working history museum used to teach locals and other Leicestershire people what life was like in a period house such as this. Not only would this provide valuable employment opportunities to local people but also teach them about their heritage. The stables could be converted into workshops rented out to craft enterprises and have a thriving cottage industry working in them, this would not only give a rentable income but again offer employment and low cost business premise. There is also a very nice walled garden which if marketed correctly could be used for summer partys ect again an income oppurtunity. The people just need to think outside the box!!

  3. Lee Clarke says:

    Latest Update:- Leicester City Council manages to delay making a decision on Braunstone Hall again: http://braunstonehall.net/?p=272

  4. Lee Clarke says:

    A final preferred bidder has now been chosen to renovate Braunstone Hall and is currently in the final stages of negotiations with the Leicester City Council to turn it into a wedding venue and conference centre (possible with community use). It is hoped, and anticipated the selected preferred developer will enter into a 125-year lease, submit a planning application and apply for Listed Building consent shortly. For further information see: http://www.braunstonehall.net/

    Best regards, Lee Clarke, of the Restore Braunstone Hall campaign group.

    • Matthew Beckett - The Country Seat says:

      Thanks for the update Lee. It’s encouraging to hear that your tireless campaigning has begun to pay off and hopefully the next, more positive, chapter in the history of the house can begin.

      Matthew

  5. Lee Clarke says:

    Work to revamp historic Braunstone Hall could start early next year (Leicester Mercury) http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/Hall-revamp-start-early-2013/story-17108003-detail/story.html

  6. Pingback: Barkby Hall, Leicestershire | Handed on

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