This blog has highlighted several country houses which are at risk but the true scale of the issue is unfortunately much larger, as the publication of the 2010 English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register shows.
Country houses all too easily can move from being secure, watertight buildings to having minor problems to becoming seriously at risk due to their size and the high standards required to repair them necessarily making even simple tasks much more expensive. For the owners this can mean that the burden of looking after their ancestral family home becomes a daily challenge which, rather than facing, can be easier to ignore – especially if they are able to simply shut the door to a wing and forget the damp and leaks.
One of the greatest enemies of the country house is obscurity – particularly when combined with negligent or incapable owners. For some the house is merely an obstacle to redevelopment and so it is in their interest to forgo maintenance and hope that the house quickly and quietly deteriorates to the point where they can apply for permission to demolish. Unfortunately under-resourced councils are rarely able to regularly survey all the listed buildings in the area meaning that houses can slip through the cracks. The current economic climate means that it is even more unlikely that councils will be able to fully fund the heritage teams to ensure that they are able to ensure owners meet their obligations.
Although English Heritage have had some limited successes (e.g. Sockburn Hall, County Durham) there are still far too many houses at risk – I counted nearly 100 in a couple of searches. It should be noted that houses are included even where works are planned or under way such as at Clarendon House, Wiltshire which was recently sold (with estate) for a reputed £30m and where restoration is expected to be completed by the end of 2010). However, other examples include:
- Apethorpe Hall, Northamptonshire – grade-I listed Elizabethan house rescued by EH and now for sale
- Bank Hall, Lancashire – featured in first series of BBC’s ‘Restoration’ and has deteriorated significantly since then
- Brogyntyn Hall, Shropshire – stunning Classical house with imposing portico, was for sale in the recent past.
- Crewe Hall, Cheshire – massive inappropriate development
- Capernwray Hall, Lancashire – grade-II* threatened with over-development
- Doddington Hall, Cheshire – grade-I but vacant and in poor condition
- Hamsterley Hall, County Durham – beautiful, grade-II* house in “very bad” condition (recently sold after being advertised in Country Life magazine)
- Melton Constable Hall, Norfolk – an important, grade-I listed house shrouded in secrecy
- Poltimore House, Devon – currently being restored but huge amounts of work still required
- Scout Hall, West Yorkshire – reputedly a ‘calendar house’ with 52 windows, 365 panes, 7 entrances etc
- Stydd Hall, Derbyshire – gorgeous but little known house being restored but with work still to be completed
- Toddington House, Gloucestershire – now owned by Damien Hirst who is restoring it
- Windlestone Hall, County Durham – designed by Ignatius Bonomi in 1835, was a school, now unused and leaking
- Winstanley Hall, Lancashire – house from 1573, slowly collapsing due to neglect and indecision
Others on the list include:
- Brambridge House, Hampshire
- Calveley Old Hall, Cheshire
- Haigh Hall, Lancashire
- Hankelow Hall, Cheshire
- Ollerton Hall, Nottinghamshire
- Scarisbrick Hall, Lancashire
- Shireoaks Hall, Nottinghamshire
- Tottenham House, Wiltshire
The head of English Heritage, Simon Thurley, said at the launch:
“Neglect is a slow, insidious process whose costly damage takes time to become clearly visible. Cuts in both private and public spending are currently inevitable but armed with our Heritage at Risk Register, English Heritage is well-equipped to guard against the loss of the nation’s greatest treasures and to suggest effective and economical strategies to protect our national heritage.”
One can only hope that this proves to be the case and that EH are able to fully fulfil their role particularly in relation to country houses and ensure that these beautiful buildings aren’t allowed to quietly slip into dereliction, depriving future generations of wonder of these grand houses.