Saturday, 23 May 2009

It seems it's just as bad in Wales, after all.

OK, that’s EH wrecked, now time to look at the previously pretty blameless CADW:

Mon Mam Cymru – Anglesey, Mother of Wales they used to say, on account of the fertile corn-growing lands. And with cereal crops go mills to grind them. On an island like Anglesey, watermills were a rarity and windmills were the norm. But, to have both in one building – wind and water powered - was extraordinary, and yet a combined wind- and water-mill existed on the island, until children playing with matches burnt down Melin y Bont at Bryn Du in the early 1970s.

Even then, having mostly iron machinery which survived the fire, it could have been saved, and a couple of years ago, CADW dug deep in their pockets and agreed to finance the preservation of what was left:
“Melin Y Bont, Bryn Du, Isle of Anglesey £40,000 to restore the historic fabric of the building including the internal water wheel. Melin Y Bont is the only corn mill on Anglesey to utilise both wind and water power, a unique combination which meant that the sails turned in the opposite direction to the other windmills on the island. Its windmill tower is substantially intact and it is one of only 18 surviving on Anglesey and one of only two to retain some of its original machinery.”

But something slipped, 'twixt cup and lip. Despite the £40,000 grant, the last of the working parts seem to have been removed, and now it’s another bijou holiday cottage.

Will CADW be asking for their money back?

More to the point, did they clearly explain to the owners what was expected in return for the cash? I understand Careless CADW's inspector is “surprised” by what has happened. Where was he when the work was underway?

Even more galling, this travesty has been given an award by the local Building Inspectors, those well-known paragons of taste, virtue and conservationist sympathies:

All modern fittings such as plastic extractor fans had to be concealed.” So that’s alright then.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Dead in the water?

I've moaned before about those, set by chance as custodians of our historic environment, who have no vision. But what happens when the vision is desperately wrong, and at odds with a century or more of best practice?

I was going to hold off from this, but:

Tit of the Week (and probably Tit of the Year) is Dame Simone Thurley, known (behind his back at English Heretics) as Gloriana. Anyone who doesn't understand this opprobrium has presumably not watched the previously media-savvy Thurley wrecking his organisation's reputation by inviting in the same TV crew who gave the National Trust a good kicking a couple of years ago. Exactly what he expected to gain by this four part BBC 2 series is unclear, but those of us "at the coal face" are less than enchanted by last week's episode where "the squint test" was introduced (if you squint at a Grade II* listed building after it's been gutted, it looks the same, so plastic windows, concrete tiles, the sophistication of the original design with varied but controlled infill, etc, no longer matter, according to EH), while this week's performance hints at familial corruption (we never imagined he even had a wife, though she made Lady Macbeth look like the kitten cuddling type - which in itself speaks volumes) which would make the Dear Leader Gordon blush.
No doubt Simone would say something about the recipe for omelettes requiring broken eggs. But note that English Heritage's impoverished relative, CADW, in Wales, for all its own failings dictated by circumstance, has at least managed a few notable conservation successes (not least in presenting its own properties), without them being tied to the "personality" of its own Chief Executive. Can anyone name him? I thought not.

Simon Thurley is an architectural historian of modest ability, who in normal life might be expected to make a living at a minor university (like the one I attended, except that my tutors had open eyes and minds, and encouraged the same in their students - even me). But his slight media talents (as a young Dan Cruickshank-in-waiting) have propelled him beyond his abilities. And now he has allowed that deficiency to be broadcast to the world.
If anyone fancies a (hollow) laugh:
Thou art weighed in the balance, and found wanting.