It’s our sense of place in the future that’s at stake
The past might be another country, but by restoring historic buildings left over from previous times we can make a difference in the present – and create a legacy for the future too
By Mark Cantrell
THERE’S some fine old architecture across Britain that’s going to rack and ruin. That’s a shame bordering on the criminal, you might feel, but if so don’t bother taking your concerns down to the local copshop – it’s on the list of ruin too.
Well, it is if you live in the Manningham area of Bradford in West Yorkshire, although the Bavaria Place Police Station (main picture) hasn’t seen service for some time now, so that’s another reason not to make the trip. But you might want to pop along and see for yourself why this building has found itself on the Victorian Society’s top 10 list of endangered buildings.
The Grade II-listed station was built in 1877 by architects Milnes & France. This was one of the largest firms operating in the city back in the day and built some of its most prominent buildings. This included the Bradford District Bank building (1873) and the exquisitely detailed Bradford Old Bank (nowadays a pub) in 1885.
Bavaria Place is a relatively small building but is described as “surprisingly ornate”. It features what has been called a “dramatic” gothic tower that really makes it stand out. But the building has stood empty now for many years and is in serious need of restoration.
In 2003, Bradford Council council served an Urgent Works Notice and the building was made secure and weather-tight – but further repairs are now “long overdue”, the society says.
“Bradford is well known for its wonderful Victorian buildings, it perhaps has so many wonderful examples that it lets them slip away too easily,” said Griff Rhys Jones, the Victorian Society’s president. “As Bradford regenerates, it should do all it can to save the buildings by its key local architects, those who made it a great city. It is irreplaceable historic buildings such as this police station, which will attract investment to Bradford. The city’s heritage must be protected.”
The old police station isn’t alone on the society’s 2020 list of doom, of course, but together they provide a snapshot not only of the kind of buildings that are under threat, but the heritage and history interwoven with their fabric; so too the tragic circumstances that have brought them to the edge of existence.
“The annual Victorian Society Top 10 lists are both upsetting and enlightening,” Rhys Jones added. “Look at these fascinating survivors of our history: hospitals and theatres, pumping stations and police stations, insurance offices and glorious pubs… When the Victorians built, they often created lasting adornments to their cities.
“If they instigated a commercial idea, like a circus theatre in Brighton, they designed it with vim and panache. How does that compare with some of our utilitarian commercial entertainment architecture today?”
In no particular order, the Bavaria Place Police Station is keeping company on the 2020 list with:
- Samaritan Hospital for Women, London: Grade II-listed, 1889-90, W.G. Habershon & J.F. Fawkner
This purpose-built hospital opened in 1889 and was one the country’s most important gynaecological hospitals. In 1904 it became the Samaritan Free Hospital for Women, joining the National Health Service in 1948, before closing in 1997.
Since then the Imperial College Healthcare Trust’s building has been unused and empty. Today it is rare a sight on Marylebone Road, dilapidated and derelict, with foliage recently removed from the red brick and terracotta. Situated in the Portman Estate conservation area, its prominent position just a few minutes-walk from Marylebone Station is said to make it ideal for reuse.
- Brighton Hippodrome, Brighton: Grade II*-listed, 1901, Frank Matcham
Brighton Hippodrome, designed by renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham, is the country’s finest surviving example of a circus theatre. The building, originally built by Lewis Karslake in 1897 as an ice rink, was converted into a circus in 1901. It was once a thriving hub of entertainment, today it sits empty and rotting.
The most spectacular feature is the circular auditorium with its richly decorated ceiling in the form of a panelled tent. Conversion into a multiplex cinema, requiring partial demolition, was approved, but the proposed operator pulled out in 2015. In 2019 plans for a new hotel, spa and serviced apartments were announced but never materialised. In September 2020, the building was sold to Brighton-based Matsim Properties.
The building remains vacant and urgent works are required. The Victorian Society said these should be urgently undertaken to prevent further deterioration until a viable and sympathetic new use can be found for this impressive building.
- Former Anglo-Bavarian Brewery, Shepton Mallet, Somerset: Grade II*-listed, 1864, architect unknown
Claimed to be the country’s first lager brewery,the former Anglo-Bavarian Brewery is said to demonstrate the growth of colossal brewery buildings following the 1830 Beerhouse Act, which liberalised the brewing and sale of beer.
The building was converted into a trading estate, but only a small portion of the ground floor is currently used. The rest of the building has been vacant for many years. This grand brewery is in a very poor condition and is on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register.
Historic England state that a feasibility study has identified a substantial conservation deficit. The Victorian Society called on the owners to take action now to ensure that it does not deteriorate past the point of repair.
“With a conservation deficit, saving this striking building will be a challenge,” Rhys Jones said. “I hope heritage loving small businesses will now seek out space at the brewery after seeing it highlighted. The 20th century saw many breweries close but recent years have seen a revival for locally brewed beers. We understand that cider is already processed in a small area of the site, perhaps more local brewers or a group of brewers could return to this landmark building?”
- Former Captain Cook Pub, Teesside, Middlesbrough: Grade II-listed, 1893, Robert Moore
The former Captain Cook Pub has stood boarded up and empty for 10 years. The sorry state of the building today is a far cry from when it featured on English comedy-drama Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.
The Jacobean style building is said to have vast potential, although plans in 2017 for Python Properties to convert it into a high-end gastro pub fell through. Coving and ceiling roses remain – the building also features the Vaux Breweries blackbird motif.
Vaux Brewery was a major brewer based in Sunderland. A plaque on the pub explains that it is named after the famous explorer Captain Cook, who was allegedly born in Marton on the outskirts of Middlesbrough.
- Northgate Malt House Building, Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire: Grade II-listed, 1864, T & W Bradley
Malt houses soaked cereal grain in water to create malt to brew beer. The traditional malt house was largely phased out during the twentieth century by mechanised production.
The former Warwick’s & Richardson’s Brewery malt house was constructed in 1864 using local bricks from the Cafferata company at Beacon Hill, with the ironwork supplied by the Trent Ironworks of W.N. Nicholson & Sons.
The malt house has been empty and derelict since its closure in 1964. This unique building stands with a forlorn ‘To Let’ sign, but with such strong links to the local history of the area, the Victorian Society says it “deserves restoration”.
“This is one of three beer related buildings on this year’s Top 10 list, and perhaps the most unusual,” Rhys Jones said. “It is certainly unusual for a building to be empty for 54 years and still be with us. Today, very few malt houses survive unaltered. A sympathetic conversion should retain this survivor’s historic fabric as far as possible.”
- Bracebridge Pumping Station, Worksop, Nottinghamshire: Grade II-listed, 1881, architect unknown
A Worksop landmark, the former Pumping Station has been abandoned for decades. Although surrounded by an overgrown plot, it is easily accessible by road and is only a mile from Worksop’s town centre.
In 2018 the auction catalogue noted that the building had had a new roof and planning permission for 23 two bed apartments and one attached house. The condition of the Italian Romanesque style building is said to be rapidly deteriorating and the striking, slender chimney is steadily eroding.
“Pumping stations are one of the best examples of how today’s approach to architecture tends to differ from the Victorian,” Rhys Jones said. “Our utilitarian buildings rarely have any thought for their aesthetic design. This unusual building is situated so close to Worksop Town centre, it could be perfect for restoration as a dramatic home.”
- Ex-Prudential Assurance Company Offices, Oldham, Greater Manchester: Grade II-listed, 1889, A Waterhouse & Son
This building is one of a series of offices designed by one of the Victorian period’s greatest architects, Alfred Waterhouse. His other buildings include the Natural History Museum in London, and Manchester Town Hall, which is currently undergoing a major five-year refurbishment.
The Prudential Assurance Company was wildly successful in the second half of the 19th Century and it commissioned offices for many of Britain’s newly wealthy industrial cities. While varied in style, almost all are built in a red brick and terracotta.
Many of these prestigious buildings have been sensitively altered and reused, but the example in Oldham remains empty, un-maintained and deteriorating.
Yet this hides a “stunning lavishly” tiled interior designed to impress potential customers – and still effective today. Union Street was transformed in 2014 when a Metrolink tram stop opened right in front of the Prudential. Yet the “deplorable” state of this landmark building is extremely uninviting. A sensitive conservation-led regeneration scheme is long overdue, the society said.
- Plas Alltran, Holyhead, Wales: Grade II-listed, c1890, Arthur Baker
Plas Alltran’s picturesque style is modelled on Plas Mawr, a fine Elizabethan town house in Conwy, which survives to this day.
Built as Holyhead’s first purpose built doctor’s surgery, Plas Alltran had a variety of uses from the early 1900s; rented housing, classrooms for a girls’ training institute, district nurse accommodation and boarding house, but it has been disused since the early 1970s.
Situated next to Holyhead Port, the building is now empty and crumbling. According to the Victorian Society, the South Korea-based owner has no known plans for it. Funding is “desperately needed” to give this unusual building a sustainable future. The small local authority is struggling to fund even the necessary urgent works to prevent further deterioration.
“The sad case of this building raises the question, why buy a building on the other side of the world and then not do anything with it?” Rhys Jones said. “This building is of great historic importance to Holyhead, and now desperately needs its owner to do the right thing and put it on the market. Plas Alltran’s rich history shows that it is a versatile building. We hope that inclusion on our list will help to secure the funding to save this fantastic building.”
- Darlington Street Methodist Church, Wolverhampton: Grade II*-listed, 1900-01, Arthur Marshall
This Baroque style church in Wolverhampton City Centre Conservation Area is a significant local landmark with its copper dome and twin west towers.
The interior has vaulted ceilings with richly ornamented plasterwork, as well as original gallery seating. It also features an organ by Nicholson & Co of Worcester.
Worship ended in 2019 followed by other functions in the large basement and adjacent halls and schoolrooms, leaving the building vacant. Security is a serious concern, the society said – there was a fire in the halls in 2014. The condition is poor and deteriorating with leaking roofs, failing rainwater goods, signs of dry rot and in places structural cracking.
This “irreplaceable” building faces a bleak future as efforts to find a purchaser have failed.
The list is a perennial thing, but then so is salvaging our historic architectural fabric from the ravages of time and human neglect. We might be tempted to write them off, especially if they’re not part of our own local fabric, but they are a part of who and what we are; take them for granted at our peril.
This is as much about a sense of culture and belonging, as it is the dimly remembered past, and the best re-uses of such old structures grants them a relevance long into the future.
“These buildings show that our nationally important Victorian and Edwardian buildings are still under threat,” said Joe O’Donnell, director of the Victorian Society. “[Last] year we’ve all faced huge social and economic challenges that will have a lasting impact. But the long history of neglect of our Top 10 Endangered Buildings predates the Covid-19 crisis.
“Owners should put them on the market at a realistic price. Finding new uses for these wonderful Victorian and Edwardian buildings is important not just because of their architectural merit, but also to keep a sense of place and local identity. Looking after the buildings we already have, rather than wastefully knocking them down, should be central to a green recovery from Covid-19.”
Rhys Jones added: “Many of our Victorian gems have a depressing recent story. Often profit takes priority, and buildings are neglected until they have reached a complete state of dereliction. These buildings were built with great skill, and they brighten their urban environment.
“We know that restoring heritage of this kind adds value to an area. Never has there been a time, with the retail sector dealt another blow and the town centre fading as a business hub, for us to recognise that if we want our city centres to continue to be useful, visited and adored they had better look great. They must reflect their own past achievement and history, and be characterful and interesting.
“Bradford, Wolverhampton, Brighton and Shepton Mallet need these buildings to be recycled. Cities are competitive – and the better preserved are doing better. We need to see these historic monuments playing their parts again. There are hundreds of examples of imaginative reuse to go to for inspiration.”
Bringing these historic buildings back into use, he added, is the “sustainable solution” to the crisis facing our city centres. We’re not just bringing yesterday’s structures back to life – we’re reviving our urban fabric and creating a modern sense of place.
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