Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Georgian Group membership - a great Christmas gift


Maybe it's still a little too early to be thinking about Christmas, but in a spirit of preparedness and avoidance of last-minute present-buying panic we thought we'd mention that membership of the Georgian Group makes an excellent gift. Now is a great time to join. The Georgian Group is a vibrant and growing community of more than 3300 members who  – apart from the satisfaction of knowing that they are helping to save Georgian buildings – receive a handsome Journal, a colour magazine with prize competitions, discounts on selected goods and services and access to an exclusive activities programme that includes visits to private houses not open to the public. Members also have their very own clubroom at our central London headquarters, where they can consult our extensive reference library or simply relax with a coffee. 

All gift memberships for 2010 will be sent with a special Georgian Group card including your personal message PLUS a free copy of our bestselling pictorial survey of Georgian chimneypieces - in addition to a colour journal and magazine.    
  

Monday, 15 November 2010

Is it time the Church of England visited Gamblers' Anonymous?

This article below from yesterday's Sunday Times has caused serious raised eyebrows at The Georgian Group as we've been trying for the last four years at least to persuade the Church Commissioners to consider the future of Bishops' Palaces a little more carefully than simply trying to flog to the highest bidder buildings that have been in Church ownership for up to 800 years.  We have got somewhere with Hartlebury Castle (ex Bishop of Worcester) and may yet get somewhere with Rose Castle (Bishop of Carlisle) but probably only because they aren't especially attractive to commercial bidders, so the Church Commissioners have been forced, reluctantly, to look at other less rapacious options. But Auckland Castle (pictured) may be different.

The reality is that these palaces are being sacrificed to plug the gap left by horrendously ill-judged investments by the Church Commissioners over the past twenty years. Basically they have come unstuck speculating (aka gambling) on the property markets and are trying to get a comparative pittance back selling their longstanding assets, but of course the whole policy is cloaked in the righteous language of getting the bishops closer to the people. That is disingenuous, tendentious nonsense; the 'palaces' are in fact excellent community resources, aside from being repositories of collective treasures, such as the unique Hurd Library and Keene Chapel at Hartlebury.

The Commissioners revert to the knee-jerk notion of selling off the Palaces every time a Bishop retires, as Durham did this summer; the money raised would be a convenient though in practical terms a nugatory fig-leaf. In our view, if the Church is to dispose of these unique buildings, they ought to be vested in charitable trusts (as seems possible at Hartlebury, if the necessary funds can be raised), so that the ensemble of contents and buildings is kept intact and the option remains of reusing them for future Bishops should the policy and attitude of the Church change.

From the Sunday Times, 14 November 2010:

The Church of England is planning to sell or redevelop one of the most venerable and imposing bishop’s residences in the country. Auckland Castle, the 800-year-old home of successive bishops of Durham, could be turned into an upmarket hotel or flats. An estate agent has already been approached and the church commissioners believe the plan could raise millions of pounds to help church activities.

Valuable paintings kept at the huge property in Bishop Auckland, 12 miles from Durham, may also be auctioned. For 250 years, 12 remarkable paintings of Jacob and his sons by the 17th-century Spanish artist Francisco Zurbaran have hung in the castle’s long dining room.

Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s have been sounded out and have indicated that the paintings could be worth £20m.

Zurbaran is often called the Spanish Caravaggio because of his religious subject matter and style. The paintings are the most precious objects in any of the 43 English bishops’ homes.

Local residents oppose the church’s plans. However, the church will be guided by two of its commissioners — Andreas Whittam Smith, the founding editor of The Independent, and the Tory MP Tony Baldry. Both favour selling the paintings and redeveloping the castle.

“The simple equation in my head is how much money can be raised to be used for the clergy,” said Whittam Smith. Baldry added: “The commissioners work to support the ministry of the church across the country. We are not custodians of great works of art.”

The castle, which also includes a private chapel, is regarded as too big for a bishop to occupy, although future bishops could live in a flat on the premises.

Baldry described the castle’s running costs as “ludicrous”. He said: “The issue is whether it is a practical and reasonable cost to maintain a bishop in a building built for a very different era.”
He said the public would still have access to the substantial castle grounds after any sale.

The church has already decided that two of its other castles, in Carlisle and Worcester, are no longer suitable for bishops to live in. The bishop of Worcester has already left, but neither property has yet been sold or redeveloped.

At Bishop Auckland the favoured option is to turn much of the castle into a hotel along the lines of paradores in Spain or pousadas in Portugal. These are usually former palaces or noblemen’s homes that have been converted to upmarket hotels, where the art is usually kept as a feature. Flats are another possibility, as are commercial premises.

The sale of the paintings is opposed by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, and Chris Higgins, the vice-chancellor of Durham University. The local MP, Helen Goodman, is also against the move and wants more access for the public to visit the castle and see the art.

Critics say the church commissioners are trying to push through the sale of the art and the castle while it is unoccupied. The last bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, who opposed the sale, stepped down in August. His replacement is some way off.

The commission has taken the unusual step of hiring a public relations firm, the London-based Chelgate, which specialises in crisis management. Whittam Smith said: “We’ve gone to them to protect our reputation because we are expecting flak over any sale.”

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Save Georgian workhouse from wrecking ball, says Simon Callow

From the London Evening Standard, 4 November

Actor Simon Callow has joined a group of celebrities trying to stop one of London's best-preserved Georgian workhouses from being demolished. The hospital trust that owns the old Strand Union Workhouse in Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia, has submitted proposals to replace the 18th-century building with a mixture of 142 homes, shops and offices.

But the plans to create a 10-storey building have angered residents as well as heritage enthusiasts worried about the loss of the historic workhouse, and campaigners are calling on the Government to give the building listed status.

Callow told the Standard: “I strongly believe that buildings and antiquities such as this should not be demolished. It is a real piece of living history that relates perfectly to Charles Dicken, his vision for the city and his lifelong anxiety about being put in the workhouse. To have a site like that is a wonderful thing.

“It is very easy to forget that workhouses were on the whole benevolent places, but they were open to the abuse that Dickens writes about. Our view is that it is a prime site, and it should not be turned into a museum, but there should be some acknowledgement of what it meant and the public should be able to see how it stood in relation to the city at the time.”

A group of 24 campaigners including Callow, comedian Griff Rhys Jones, historian Dan Cruickshank and local gallery owner Rebecca Hossack said in an open letter: “Nearly every other Georgian building of any note in this country is already listed. We urge the Government to protect this building from destruction because of its harmonious architectural proportions and compelling social history.

The current building is only four storeys high, and was used as a hospital annexe by its owner, University College Hospitals NHS Trust, until 2005. The workhouse, built on fields in the 1770s as the poorhouse for the parish of St Paul Covent Garden, lies within the Charlotte Street conservation area. Camden Council is yet to make a decision on the planning application.

A spokesman for the trust said: “The former annexe was entirely unsuitable for healthcare use, one of the reasons why we built the new world-class University College Hospital. Planning approval for the new hospital required us to provide a much-needed social housing development in Fitzrovia and after many years of negotiation it was agreed that it should be located on this site. We have consulted the local community and were pleased that the vast majority of people supported our plans.”

Further support for saving the Strand Union Workhouse in London

LISTING APPLICATION FOR STRAND UNION WORK HOUSE - LETTER TO CULTURE MINISTER JOHN PENROSE M.P. FROM CLLR. GLENYS ROBERTS

"Dear John Penrose,

Ed Vaizey will have shown you my impassioned plea for the spotlisting of the Strand Union Workhouse in Cleveland Street in which I hope you will take a personal interest. I am the West End Ward councillor and this was brought to my attention by my residents, who will be in the sad position of having to look at the modern replacement proposed by Camden Council and supported by the previous government.

The residents have prepared many documents pertinent to the listing application which has just been sent to English Heritage, but let me summarise:

This, the oldest surviving workhouse in London, was built in 1775-6 by leading Georgian church architect Thomas Hardwick. It has the famous proportions of Georgian architecture plus Victorian hospital wings based on Florence Nightingale's revolutionary pavilion designs for the treatment of the sick. It remains substantially as when first built -- staircases, windows, slate roofs, floors, fireplaces even some panelling for the most part intact. It has served the sick and poor for over 200 years, was a Second World War casualty post and recently part of the NHS. Its social history is compelling. Victorian Poor Law Reform began in this building. Charles Dickens got his inspiration from conditions within it, its formidable medical officer Dr. Joseph Rogers worked with Gladstone, Queen Victoria and the Duke of Westminster to improve life for the disadvantaged, and the inquests held within its walls by Thomas Wakley, founding editor of The Lancet, helped highlight the 'Burke and Hare' practice of providing bodies for dissection, leading to the 1832 Anatomy Act.

This is clearly an invaluable piece of London's past and could make a memorable contribution to the future. From my experience on Westminster's planning committee I can envisage how its generous proportions and central courtyard would enable it to be converted to flats of all sorts. Such a sympathetic conversion would uplift the neglected area of Fitzrovia in which it is situated, much as the warehouse conversions have done in Docklands.

When the last application for listing was made Frank Dobson [the local MP] did not agree - which gives the new Government a brilliant opportunity to show themselves more sensitive to our heritage by recycling a vital piece of popular history which it would be a crime to erase.

If you would like to see for yourself I will very happily arrange it. There is a very brief window before Camden make their planning decision,

Regards,
Glenys Roberts
Westminster Councillor"

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

2010 Architectural Awards: the Winners

Baroness Andrews OBE, Chairman of English Heritage, presented our eighth annual Architectural Awards at Christie's tonight.

The winners are:

RESTORATION OF A GEORGIAN COUNTRY HOUSE

Buckland House in Oxfordshire
, 1757 by Wood the Younger, has been comprehensively restored for Patrick McNally; when he bought the house it had lain empty for years and was on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk register. Taking on a house of these palatial dimensions, and in that condition, is a daunting challenge, not for the fainthearted, but the scale and consistent quality of the work and the unflashy attention to detail inspire awe: twenty-two student flats removed, twenty-six tons of lead recast and the stonework, ornamental plasterwork and joinery painstakingly conserved by skilled craftsmen, in an unstinting team effort that has reinvigorated a major Georgian country house that had lost its way.

RESTORATION OF A GEORGIAN BUILDING IN AN URBAN SETTING

Buckingham Palace and Lancaster House, stonework repairs. At Buckingham Palace an entire elevation, facing the inner courtyard immediately behind the public front, has been cleaned and restored, with layers of deadening paint stripped off to reveal the bright Caen stone of the Blore fa├žade and the Bath stone of Nash’s pedimented centrepiece, which originally faced the Mall when the palace courtyard was open to the east. The 1820s tympanum sculpture by Baily has been miraculously enlivened by the same treatment. Impressive ambition has also been shown at Lancaster House, where the Bath stone sings again after years of gentle dirt-encrusted decay. The results are a revelation and the projects themselves are a powerful statement of unabashed Government commitment to the care and preservation of public buildings.

REUSE OF A GEORGIAN BUILDING

Dandridge’s Mill in Oxfordshire, an 1820s silk mill. The building was disused and derelict by 2007 and its new owners have sensitively converted the mill to apartments, carefully maintaining the internal volumes, which so often are carelessly and crudely subdivided. What impressed us as much as anything here, though, was the literal re-energising of the building, the old mill pond being reused to generate hydro-electricity for the development by means of an ingenious Archimedes Screw. This is imaginative, inventive and commendably self-sufficient, but it also powerfully evokes the original purpose of the mill, a place of machinery, industry and creation. A millpond put to work in what is now a domestic context is hugely more satisfying than a tame water feature.

RESTORATION OF A GEORGIAN CHURCH

St Alkmund’s in Shrewsbury is mediaeval in origin but the nave and chancel were designed in the 1790s by John Carline in a Gothic idiom. The Reverend Richard Hayes has been superbly solicitous of the church in his care, walking the breadth of Scotland among other penances to raise funds for its repair. His labours have borne splendid fruit. The remarkable iron traceried windows and boundary railings, all cast at Coalbrookdale, have been superbly restored, as has the 1790s east window by Francis Eginton and fixtures such as Carline’s altar table, all below a new slate roof. In all this there is a recognition, too rarely seen, that glorious architecture, carefully conserved, is not a hindrance but a help in spreading the message of the Church.

RESTORATION OF A GEORGIAN GARDEN OR LANDSCAPE

Valentines Park in Ilford, on the London/Essex border, is a far-sighted restoration of a jewel of a Rococo garden built by Robert Surman, deputy cashier to the South Sea Company. The house and garden miraculously survive in amongst dense urban development. But decay and neglect had attracted vandals and other reprobates, as decay and neglect always do. Now, beautifully restored with the Long Water dredged and the shell grottoes, dovecote and flint alcove seat pieced back together, there is a palpable sense of uplift that radiates far beyond the garden walls. It has, according to one resident, raised the tone of the whole borough.

NEW BUILDING IN THE CLASSICAL TRADITION

The Pipe Partridge Building at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, encloses a quad with an arcaded elevation that acts as a curtain-raiser to a lecture theatre, beautifully detailed with signature flourishes, from ceiling pendentives to acanthus finials. This may be undergraduate accommodation, but there is no sign of the cut corners, cheap fittings and value engineering that mar similar buildings elsewhere. The architects have picked up Raymond Erith’s cue and used fully-loadbearing brick, warmly pointed with lime mortar, and the buildings fits comfortably within the LMH tradition of enlightened architectural patronage.

THE GILES WORSLEY AWARD FOR A NEW BUILDING IN A GEORGIAN CONTEXT

The Southgate Centre in Bath, by Chapman Taylor, is a 13 acre retail/residential development, within a World Heritage Site, that replaces a 1971 shopping centre. Both that and its new successor were clad in Bath stone and of comparable height, but the new scheme is divided by open streets, broken down into digestible portions, set around a square and inspired by traditional Bath architecture. The materials, detailing, morphology and urban design combine to form a highly satisfying composition. This is no longer a grim area dominated by a monolithic shopping centre, to be hurried through en route from the railway station to Bath proper. Instead it offers pleasing prospects and tantalising glimpses, drawing you in rather than repelling: a place to linger and a fine introduction to the city for those arriving by train. Yes, it is a product of artifice, what the confused illiterati might call pastiche. But artifice was not always a term of abuse: to the Elizabethans, on the contrary, it was a compliment. This is street theatre at a heightened and refined level, and we should welcome it warmly.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Countdown to our Architectural Awards IV

Our 2010 Architectural Awards, sponsored by Savills, will be presented tomorrow evening by Baroness Andrews OBE, Chairman of English Heritage. In the run-up to the event, we are posting the shortlists for some of the key categories, along with the judges' comments.

Restoration of a Georgian Garden or Landscape category

This award is especially prone to the vagaries of timing, as landscape restoration schemes are prolonged affairs. As usual, we include within the category schemes that involve the restoration of garden buildings and monuments and this year we have shortlisted four relatively petite projects.
Chillington Hall in Staffordshire, home of the Giffards for eight hundred years, retains a superb parkland setting in spite of the close attentions of the M54; the fine follies are complemented by a more utilitarian 1730 brick dovecote, though natural decay had rendered it neither use nor ornament until the completion of an inspired restoration project that has reinstated the lost oak roof, cupola and windows. Thus rescued, the building takes its place once more as the centrepiece of a fine and atmospheric service courtyard.


The Heritage Trust for the North-West is one of Britain’s most impressive building preservation trusts, combining campaigning zeal with an ability to save otherwise hopeless buildings and then restore them using impeccable conservation methods. It has recently taken on Carr of York’s Lytham Hall in Lancashire, itself in good structural condition but nonetheless requiring £5m of restoration work, and as a first step has restored the early nineteenth century brick Privy, built in charming Gothick style. Partly collapsed and at risk by 2008, it has now been conservatively repaired and rebuilt inside and out, with the project used to teach traditional building skills.

Queen Anne’s Summerhouse, on the Shuttleworth Estate in Bedfordshire, is another exemplary rescue project from the Landmark Trust. This handsome, foursquare 1712 folly has been restored with the sensitivity, attention to detail and mastery of traditional methods that we have come to expect from the Trust. The finely-pointed rubbed brick is once more resplendent following comprehensive restoration using traditional methods. The success of the project is a tribute to the vision of the Landmark Trust but also to craftsmen involved and to the trainees who worked alongside them, recarving for example the lost doorcase brackets.


Valentines Park in Ilford, on the London/Essex border, is a far-sighted restoration of a jewel of a Rococo garden built by Robert Surman, deputy cashier to South Sea Company. The house and garden miraculously survive in amongst dense urban development. But decay and neglect had attracted vandals and other reprobates, as decay and neglect always do. Now, beautifully restored with the Long Water dredged and the shell grottoes, dovecote and flint alcove seat pieced back together, there is a palpable sense of uplift that radiates far beyond the garden walls. It has, according to one resident, raised the tone of the whole borough.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Countdown to our Architectural Awards III

Our 2010 Architectural Awards, sponsored by Savills, will be presented on 3 November by Baroness Andrews OBE, Chairman of English Heritage. In the run-up to the event, we are posting the shortlists for some of the key categories, along with the judges' citations.

Restoration of a Georgian Country House category
There are two aspects to restoring country houses. One is about repairing fabric, perhaps dramatically so after a ruinous fire. But the other, more subtle but no less important, is about recovering the spirit of the place; coaxing it back to life after neglect or misuse; re-establishing its connection with the land and places around it, often after a long estrangement. Our two shortlisted schemes, summarised in alphabetical order, cover both aspects in varying degrees.

Buckland House in Oxfordshire, 1757 by Wood the Younger, has been comprehensively restored for Patrick McNally; when he bought the house it had lain empty for years and was on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk register. Taking on a house of these palatial dimensions, and in that condition, is a daunting challenge, not for the fainthearted, but the scale and consistent quality of the work and the unflashy attention to detail inspire awe: twenty-two student flats removed, twenty-six tons of lead recast and the stonework, ornamental plasterwork and joinery painstakingly conserved by skilled craftsmen, in an unstinting team effort that has reinvigorated a major Georgian country house that had lost its way.

Sandridge Park is a Nash house overlooking the Dart in Devon. Again, the new owners, the Yallops, have been white knights, investing significant resources – time, energy and careful thought as much as money – in piecing the house back together, rebuilding a section lost in the 1950s, removing a 1980s glass pitched roof and garage, filling in an indoor swimming pool and re-creating the 1805 conservatory (lost in the 1930s) using contemporary engravings. The depth of historical research is apparent in the result, and ironically Sandridge feels fresher, less dated, for having recovered its Nash spirit.