The lack of modern country houses: FT Special Report

Grafton New Hall, Cheshire (Image: Ushida Findlay Architects)

The building of a country house used to be the ultimate expression of success. It was the sign that a man had achieved much that he wished to do and was now able to devote time and resources to this rural ‘badge of honour’.  Importantly, the success, learning, and attitude of the owner was to be expressed through his choice of architecture.  This determined individualism led to a vast range of styles – French chateau, gothic, ne0-classical – but one style which is lacking is the modern(ist) country house.

The FT report highlights how, after the decline in country house ownership during the early 20th century, those few country houses which have been built have been largely of a Classical design.  Indeed, when Ushida Findlay Architects proposed a radical ‘starfish’ design to replace the old Grafton Hall in Cheshire, the plan languished for years, never attracting an owner wishing to invest in the concept.  However, permission has now been granted for the construction of a large Classical house by Robert Adam.  This is another sign of the hold that this elegant style of architecture still not is aesthectically pleasing but also appeals to the ‘masculine’ objectives of building a house which states the power and wealth of the owner.

This attitude has moved modern country houses into the realm of the bespoke, ultra-luxury market and away from the aspirations of the merely wealthy.  In many ways, it’s good to see our exsiting stock of houses being cared for but there is also an important architectural history which needs to be expanded through the building of high-quality, modern country houses – able to meet the demanding standards of the contemporary rich but also to push forward the design of one of the most important elements of British architecture.

Full story: ‘Building Blocks‘ []

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The plot thickens and a row brews: Brook House, Essex

Brook House, Essex (Image: Daily Gazette)

It seems that, despite the claims of the owner/developer of Brook House in Tiptree, Essex, English Heritage haven’t said that the house should be demolished.  Following on from the earlier story (Another house at risk from a developer: Brook House, Tiptree, Essex – 25/11/09) a local resident has flagged up a new story with EH now saying that although they believe the house to be in poor condition they have not said it should be demolished.

John Neale, English Heritage team leader for Essex, has confirmed that they are still examining the application – leaving the statements of the owner in his application to demolish looking somewhat precarious.  Let’s hope that EH, and Colchester Council listen to the concerns of the local residents and Tiptree Parish Council and not only refuse the demolition but also serve an urgent works notice to save this interesting part of the local architectural heritage.

Full story: ‘Listed Brook House row is brewing‘ [Daily Gazette]

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Lib Dems attack national heritage

So the Liberal Democrats have decided to make it harder to maintain a key part of our national heritage, that of our country houses.  Whilst I’m sure that it must look attractive from a ‘get-a-few-headlines’ point of view to be seen to be demanding money from the rich, the impact is much harsher.  Those who happen to have perhaps inherited a historic house – but usually little cash – will again find that the money which would probably have gone on maintenance would now be expected to thrown in the goverment’s bottomless pit of expenditure.

Another potential consequence of this is that our artistic cultural heritage is reduced further as owners, faced with mounting repair bills and now reduced funds, will again need to sell of yet more art or furniture.  This is a depressing spiral downwards as a house is shorn of many of the pieces which make it interesting and are part of what makes Britain such an important destination for scholars and tourists alike.  The contents of a house are almost as important as the house itself – one supports other.

So, the main hope is that the Lib Dems are unlikely to gain power and so their attack on heritage will remain just a piece of political grandstanding. Perhaps the main danger is that of a hung Parliament with the Lib Dems making this bad idea a key demand.

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Another house at risk from a developer: Brook House, Tiptree, Essex

Brook House, Essex (Image: Daily Gazette)

It’s such a depressingly familiar pattern; a beautiful old house with grounds, falls into a state of neglect and is then bought by a developer.  With absolutely no incentive to maintain the house it slowly slips into a downward spiral of decay and vandalism until the inevitable request for demolition is presented to the council.  And it’s happening again.

Brook House in Tiptree, Essex is a classic, grade-II listed, red-brick Georgian village house  lacked an owner after the last member of the family died and now after being owned by a developer it has unsurprisingly reached a rather sad state.  The developer might be disappointed that no-one has yet burnt it down but nonetheless he had requested permission to demolish and replace it with several new houses saying that the house is beyond repair – all backed up by a survey which was commissioned by…the developer!   What’s perhaps worse is that English Heritage have also sided with the developer and agreed.  I despair. What is the point of EH if they fail to stand up when buildings are threatened like this?

Anyway, if you live within the area, please contact Colchester Council and ask them to not only refuse this vandalism but also to serve an enforcement notice to repair this lovely part of Tiptree’s heritage.

Full story: ‘Facing demolition: The Grade II listed building‘ [Daily Gazette]

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Shock: English Heritage still hand out grants! Hagley Hall benefits

Hagley Hall, Worcestershire (Image: Hagley Hall website)

When the listed building restrictions were originally introduced the compensation for not being to do exactly as you wished with your house was that the government would provide grants towards maintainence.  Obviously successive governments have seen these funds as an easy target when seeking cost cuts and so despite the legitimate limits on changes still being enforced, the cost of the work was now largely borne by the owner.

So the news that English Heritage are atleast providing matched funding to the tune of £210,000 for much needed repairs and conservation work to the beautiful Hagley Hall in Worcestershire is to be very much welcomed.  Now, if only they could perhaps prise open the coffers of the lottery funds to provide further grants we might actually be able to claim that we truly support our built heritage.

Full story: ‘Hall will undergo £420,000 makeover‘ [Express & Star]

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Castle Howard benefits from ‘stay-cations’

Castle Howard, Yorkshire (Image: Wikipedia)

Despite fears that country houses would suffer during these turbulent times it seems that at least one has bucked the trend and reported a 17 per cent year-on-year increase in vistor numbers.  Staff at the grade-I listed masterpiece by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor had expected the worse and sensibly shelved plans and looked for cost savings in anticipation of a financial shortfall which failed to materialise as the phenomenon of the ‘staycation’ boosted visitor numbers.

The need to re-examine budgets and expenditure at the beginning of the year has probably been a blessing in disguise for many houses as they have had to focus on the essentials and hopefully will now have a clearer idea of the most effective areas to spend their money.  One can only hope that the new awareness of these efficiencies will be maintained to ensure that our heritage has the maximum amount of money available to ensure they continue to be enjoyed by future generations.

Full story: ‘Visitor numbers up at Castle Howard, near Malton‘ [Gazette & Herald]

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Staley Hall to be restored – sort of

Stayley Hall, Stayleybridge

There appears to be an end in sight for the sorry saga of the neglect of Staley Hall in Staleybridge.  After being derelict for over 50-years, the grade-II listed, 400-year old house has been subject to indifference and some council apathy which has led to arson and massive deterioration in the fabric of the building.  All that remains now are the outer walls – all roofs, interior walls, floors, and decoration have been lost.  The building has reached such a poor condition that – although it pains me to say it – the developer’s proposal to demolish the shell and then reconstruct it as the facade for apartments does seem to be the only viable solution.

All this might have been avoided if the local council had taken this issue in hand at any time over the last few decades – such negligence is unfortunately all too common up and down the country as hard-pressed planning departments face budget and manpower cuts.  Unfortunately it’s the nation’s heritage which pays the price.

Full story: ‘‘Saddest house in England’ to be turned into flats‘ [Crain’s Manchester Business]

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