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Victorian Society names top 10 buildings at ‘critical point’ of dereliction

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Great Yarmouth’s seaside ’people’s palace’, a series of gas holders in east London and a former jam factory in Liverpool have been named on a top 10 endangered buildings list

This year all of the buildings on the Victorian Society’s at-risk register are Grade II or Grade II* listed but at a ‘critical point of dereliction’.

Now in its 11th year, the list covers Edwardian and Victorian buildings across England and Wales in the hope that increased awareness will help save them.

One of the buildings in urgent need of rescue is a Victorian mansion in East Sussex, most recently used as an Islamic school but raided by police in 2006 on suspicion it was being used as a terrorist training centre.

Also on the list is a dilapidated Gothic chapel formerly used as a centre for the deaf in Liverpool and a former maltings on the banks of the Titford Canal in the West Midlands, damaged in an arson attack in 2009.

The list is completed by a steelworks in Wales, mortuary chapels in Birmingham, an imposing convent church in Leeds and a mansion built by American inventor Isaac Singer in Devon. 

TV presenter Griff Rhys Jones, who is president of the Victorian Society, said the collection of buildings on the list showed the ‘ingenuity’ of Victorian and Edwardian architects.

‘These are pieces of the history of the Victorian era and its industrial, spiritual and cultural beliefs – incredible. And this makes their current sad and neglected state even harder to swallow. Every single building on this list is crying out for redevelopment and could make something truly wonderful for its community. Join us and help them.’

The society’s director Christopher Costelloe, who will be guest speaker at tonight’s AJ Retrofit Awards 2018 ceremony, added: ‘We’re very grateful for the continued support from the general public who nominated many of the buildings for the list, and without whom we wouldn’t know what dire straits they are in.

‘Each building tells its own story of neglect, but there’s no denying they all have fantastic potential to be regenerated and reused for the benefit of the community.’

The top 10

The Winter Gardens, Great Yarmouth (Grade II*, 1878-81, John Watson & William Harvey)

The Winter Gardens, Great Yarmouth (Grade II*, 1878-81, John Watson & William Harvey) This striking glass and iron structure was originally designed and constructed in Torquay and then relocated by barge all the way to its current position in Great Yarmouth in 1904, reportedly without a single pane of glass breaking. Over the years it has had many uses including as a ballroom, roller-skating rink and even a German beer garden, but nothing has lasted long and now it is empty and without a use. Great Yarmouth Borough Council is currently actively looking for an investor to bring this unique, nationally-important building back into use and operate it into the future. 

Bromley-by-Bow gasholders, London (All Grade II, 1872, Clark & Kirkham) This patch of seven gasholders (the eighth was destroyed by a bomb in WW2) in east London is surrounded by industrial development but the gasholders have been left without a use for decades. They are best viewed as an imposing group from the train as the tracks run just alongside, though the intricate detail of the ironwork can only be appreciated up close. 

Merseyside Centre for the Deaf, Liverpool (Grade II, 1887, E.H. Banner)

Merseyside Centre for the Deaf, Liverpool (Grade II, 1887, E.H. Banner) Initially built as a chapel for the Merseyside deaf community, this once grand gothic structure is in a terrible state. For twenty years after its closure in 1986 it was run as a successful community centre but rising costs and an aging membership forced them out in 2007 and it has been closed ever since. Its current severe condition means urgent works are desperately needed first for its repair and to secure it from further damage. 

Hartley’s Village, Aintree, Liverpool (three Grade II-listed buildings, 1886-95, architect unknown) Still famous as a popular brand of jam, this site is named for the former Hartley’s factory that once stood here. On the site of the factory, founder Sir Hartley built an entire village of 49 houses for his workers and in 2011 the whole site was declared a Conservation Area. Whilst the houses have enjoyed successful reuse, the remaining listed factory buildings (the main factory building was demolished in the early 20th century) have been neglected and are now largely derelict. 

Former Legat’s School of Ballet, near Rotherfield, (Grade II, 1865, exterior: George Goldie, interior: E.W. Pugin)

Former Legat’s School of Ballet, near Rotherfield, (Grade II, 1865, exterior: George Goldie, interior: E.W. Pugin) Hidden by thick woodland on all sides, this handsome Victorian mansion was built as a girls’ orphanage and until recently its most famous incarnation was as a ballet school from 1970-90. But in the early 1990s it was bought by a charity and run as a Islamic school, before it was raided by police in 2006 on the suspicion that it was being used as a training camp for terrorists. Since the school closed in 2007 it has remained unused and is beginning to show signs of disrepair. 

Oldway Mansion, Paignton, Devon (Grade II*, 1873, G.S. Bridgman) Built as the private residence for American inventor Isaac Singer, this mansion was drastically remodelled by his son in the early 20th century in the style of the Palace of Versailles. The interiors are just as opulent, with an imperial staircase leading up to a ballroom on the east side and a gallery based on the hall of mirrors at Versailles on the west. Following many different functions during the later 20th century, it was used as council offices from 1946 until 2007 when the council announced its intention to sell the building. Now its future is uncertain.

John Summers Steelworks, Shotton, Wales (Grade II, 1907, James France)

John Summers Steelworks, Shotton, Wales (Grade II, 1907, James France) This former office building of the John Summers Steelworks stands proudly on the banks of the River Dee, but its highly industrial location has made its reuse complicated and thus-far unsuccessful. The building is subject to regular break-ins and vandalism and is now in a poor state of repair.

Brandwood End Cemetery Chapels, Birmingham (Grade II, 1898, J Brewill Holmes) These red brick, neo-gothic mortuary chapels stand at the highest point of Brandwood cemetery grounds and provide a dramatic central focus for the cemetery. But drama that should be evoked by the striking symmetrical design is in fact compounded by the terrible state they are in. Closed for over 30 years, they suffered a serious arson attack in 1995 which gutted the north-east chapel. 

St Mary’s Convent Church, Leeds (Grade II*, 1852, Joseph Hansom & W Wardell, chancel & transepts added 1866 by E.W. Pugin) In a disused plot of land next to a high school just outside central Leeds, this imposing Grade II*-listed church is a sight to behold. Closed as a church for almost 30 years, it has had various planning applications attached to it – including an approved residential conversion scheme in 2007 – but nothing has come to fruition. Urban explorer photographs show very dilapidated interiors, though much of the detailing and stained glass seems to have survived. Such a beautiful building in a prominent location deserves much more than being left to rot.

Langley Maltings, Sandwell, West Midlands (Grade II, 1870, architect unknown)

Langley Maltings, Sandwell, West Midlands (Grade II, 1870, architect unknown) These prominent maltings on the banks of the Titford Canal were saved from demolition in 2012 but with no current proposals for repair and reuse they have fallen into a very bad state. Built in 1870 as Showells Maltings, they were in use until 2006 but were victim of arson in 2009 which caused significant damage.  

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Difficult to believe that the maltings couldn't have a viable future as housing, in the hands of a really good architect, balancing restoration and intervention without resorting to silliness.

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  • How has Brighton's amazing seafront Madeira arcade escaped from this list? In civic importance it should be right at the top - and its condition is absolutely critical.

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