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'Black spider' memos confirm Charles’ heritage lobbying

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Correspondence between the Prince of Wales and government ministers has revealed how the heir to the throne lobbied for the protection of heritage buildings

Known as the ‘black spider letters’, the raft of secret memos between Prince Charles and senior government ministers were released to The Guardian yesterday (13 May) after a ten year legal battle.

In one letter to then culture secretary Tessa Jowell, the Prince calls for London’s Smithfield Market from demolition in the face of, later thrown out, proposals drawn up by KPF.

When Jowell replied that she had recommended one part of the complex for listing, the Prince of Wales responded: ‘As you know I attach the greatest importance to preserving, restoring and re-using such precious heritage townscapes and I can only pray that the deputy prime minister will take your advice and give the most careful consideration to development plans.’

This revelation supports previous reports (AJ 12.05.09) about Charles’ role in the Smithfield affair. It is already known that in 2004, the Prince of Wales wrote a letter to then English Heritage chair Neil Cossons urging the protection body to list the historic market and help stop KPF’s proposed £250 million commercial development on the site.  

The memos also reveal that the Prince of Wales contacted Jowell about the conservation of Antarctic huts built by explorers Shackleton and Scott.

He wrote to the then culture secretary after a dinner with the New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, at which she told him of the work the New Zealand Heritage Trust was doing to conserve the huts.

In his letter to Jowell, Charles said: ‘I thought there was something called ‘The Government of the British Territory’, which must mean that there is some British Territory to be ‘governed!’. So I am at a loss to understand how this restoration project can be correctly described as ‘overseas’? Whatever the case, and however futile my please to for a bit of imaginative flexibility in the interpretation of these rules. I just wanted to emphasize the iconic importance of these huts in those great Antarctic journeys…’

Charles, who is well-known for his interest in architecture, also contacted the secretary of state for Northern Ireland offering advice about the conservation of a number of the area’s historical buildings.

He offered the help of John Thompson and Partners to ‘break the mould of housing ‘ghettoes’ in Northern Ireland.’

His letter also added: ‘…as regard the potential value to be realised from the regeneration and re-use of redundant historic landmark sites, often as catalysts for sympathetic, associated new development along the lines of Caterham Barracks in Surrey.

‘You said that you might consider Ebrington Barracks as a candidate for similar treatment and, if so, you might find it worthwhile to talk to Linden Homes which was the company that did the work at Caterham.’

The 27 secret memos, sent between 2004 and 2005, were released after The Guardian won a long-running Freedom of Information fight.

The letters were sent to ministers in seven Whitehall departments, including the secretaries of state for business, innovation and skills; environment, food and rural affairs; health; children, schools and families; culture, media and sport; the Northern Ireland Office and the Cabinet Office.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Imagine, without royal intervention, some fishing huts in Antarctica may have blown down and a particularly nasty KPF office block in Smithfiled may have gone up.

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