Tuesday, 28 April 2009

A Slice of Unmitigated Nostalgia

Nothing much to do with architecture, but too good not to add. I'm a complete sucker for this sort of socialist realist (ie utterly fictional) film-making (Nightmail, anyone?), so here's "English Harvest" of 1938 in glorious Dufaycolour, courtesy of the British Film Institute and currently doing the rounds as part of a tour entitled "Britain at Bay"



Monday, 27 April 2009

Local Authority impotence

(Thanks to Mark Savage for the pic, from http://www.geograph.org.uk/)
Today's prats are West Lancashire District Council, and their victim is Greaves Hall at Banks near Southport, a Grade II listed house which, under the local authority's nose, has been allowed to deteriorate to the point at which they have become minded to compulsorily purchase it, for demolition http://webdocs.westlancsdc.gov.uk/coins/ViewSelectedDocument.asp?DocumentID=3093, though they did grant consent for its conversion to flats a few years ago (following many, surprisingly well-maintained, years as a hospital http://www.slideintime.com/html/greaves_hall.html )
Here's the list description:
SD32SE NORTH MEOLS GUINEA HALL LANE (East side), Banks 1759-/2/10001 Greaves Hall - II Country house, now disused hospital. Dated 1900. Timber framing with rendered nogging, brick plinth, plain tile roofs. Brick gable, ridge and side wall stacks, with octagonal coped flues, many of them multiple. Tudor Revival style, with multiple gables and patterned timber framing imitating the local vernacular. Windows are mainly casements with wooden mullions and cross mullions, and leaded glazing. 2 storeys plus attics; 16 windows. T-plan. Single range of exaggerated length, punctated by projecting gables, with parallel range at left end, and a substantial rear wing. Entrance front has in the centre 3 gables, stepped back from left to right. Left gable has full~width cross-mullioned windows on each floor. Other gables have smaller windows to each floor and to attics. To right, 5 windows, then a projecting double gable with cross mullioned windows. In the return angle, a gabled porch with double doors. To left of centre, 4 windows, then a projecting gable, then a single window. Right return has to left a large external stack. To right, a projecting rounded gable with a cross mullioned window on each floor. Rear elevation has to left a small central gable flanked by larger end gables, that to left with an external stack. To right, parallel range with regular fenestration and 3 dormers. Central rear wing, 2 storeys plus attics, has a jettied end gable with a full-height canted bay window, with brick ground floor and segment headed door. At the left corner, an octagonal brick stair tower with slit lights and crenellated parapet. Left return has 2 full-height canted bay windows under jettied gables, and 2 dormers. Right return has 2 external stacks and box dormers. Interior: entrance hall has four-centred arched ashlar doorcase with glazed double doors. Half~panelled hallway has elaborate open well wooden staircase and matching landings, with bulbous balusters and square newels. Plaster cross ribbed ceiling. Stair window has stained glass with coat of arms dated 1900. Ground floor spinal corridor has an elliptical arched opening with screen, doors and fanlight all with diamond glazing bars. Ante room with Renaissance Revival style wooden chimneypiece, with columns and segmental pediment. Panelled recess at opposite end. Rear wing contains a half-panelled hall, 2 storeys, with strapwork ceiling and span beams on heavy curved brackets. At the far end, a wooden gallery on square posts with mid C20 balustrade. Doorway under gallery, and four-centred arched window recess above. Remaining rooms have cornices, and some attic rooms have original fireplaces.
And here's the developers plan - which is an exercise in ignoring the "elephant in the room" as far as the listed building goes, beyond following the local council's lead in condemning it as having "no prospect of retention or conversion" - you'll note that the site plans show the building, but don't propose anything at all for its footprint: http://www.keyworkerhomesltd.co.uk/pdf/Greaves%20Hall%20Banks.pdf
The remainder of the site is being developed with new housing, but without an agreement over the repair (which ten years ago, wasn't needed) of the listed house. Congratulations to all concerned. You must be really pleased to be in the vanguard of "progress".

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The Decline of Civilisation

An architectural photographer's disappointing experience of the boys in blue combines the elegant work of one of the best firms of architects working in the period 1945-70 with further evidence of the paranoid new barbarism into which we are sleepwalking. All who spend any time enjoying, and recording, the built environment would do well to read Edward Denison's piece here:

Particularly poignant as McMorran and Whitby's work was, in part, the subject of my RIBA Part II thesis nearly 20 years ago, going unchallenged as I - a scruffy student - photographed Hammersmith and Wood Street (above) Police Stations, and the Old Bailey. But that was before the current madness of those who believe they are in charge descended.

Do order the book, though, it promises to be a treat.

Sad news from Liverpool

MV Wincham, a modest, 1948-built coastal trading vessel, is to be scrapped, despite receiving £47,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for restoration eight years ago.

Needless to say, this underlines concerns about the Lottery Fund's long-term usefulness - what is the point of funding a restoration if the work is to be undone (and worse) less than a decade later?

The HLF's largesse is often reported uncritically, but the effects of so much money sloshing about (at least until the pointless 2012 sports day came along) have been decidely mixed. I've always taken the view (based on much experience of spending these funds) that too much money is at least as great a threat to our heritage as not enough money.

It also begs the question, so far unasked, of why the only alternative to continuing with the restoration of the Wincham is to destroy it. As boats of less robust construction have lain unattended and deteriorating for decades before being rescued, a middle ground of mothballing has surely not been ignored? If this were a building that had failed to attract short-term support, we would not be calling in the wrecker's ball.

Monday, 20 April 2009

I haven’t actually been away, but I have been terribly busy with all manner of other things – and this post is just a thank you to the Society of Antiquaries (no less) for noticing...


“Of course, if English Heritage staff want to know more about life at the coal face of conservation area work, they could do worse than read the ‘Confessions of a Conservation Officer’ blog. This blogger’s trenchant reflections on the life of a Conservation Officer at a small English local council have been flowing through at weekly intervals since the beginning of 2009 and have gathered a loyal readership for their poignancy. But the blog has dried up recently — perhaps because doing the day job and writing a blog is proving too much; but if the anonymous blogger happens to be reading this, please do keep up the good work!

Also anonymous are the occasional contributions sent to Current Archaeology magazine by Amicus Curiae, in which our ‘Friend of the Court’ seeks to explain the terms and concepts that govern modern archaeology. In the May 2009 issue of the magazine, s/he finds black humour in the definition of conservation as ‘the process of managing change’ (William Morris, you should be with us now) as stated in the IfA’s ‘Standard and Guidance for Stewardship of the Historic Environment’, and in the five key rules that curatorial archaeologists live by, of which Rule No 5 states: ‘all archaeological activity must be governed by a paper chase’. Amicus may be anonymous but s/he quite clearly writes from bitter experience.”