The world’s oldest-surviving iron-framed multi-storey building, a pier and a gothic swimming baths are spotlighted on the Victorian Society’s latest annual tally of England and Wales’ most-endangered structures
All the buildings on the conservation body’s 2015 ‘at-risk’ rollcall are listed – two of them at grade-I. However the Victorian Society said the state of the structures showed that designations alone were not enough to preserve them for the future.
Sheerness Boat Store in Kent is one of the at-risk buildings listed at grade-I by the government’s heritage adviser Historic England. The four-storey structure, which was built between 1856-60 is described as the world’s oldest surviving building to feature an all-metal frame with portal bracing. The method was later used for early Chicago skyscrapers.
The list also includes grade-II* Birnbeck Pier in the Somerset resort of Weston-super-Mare, which is the only pier in Britian built around and island. Urban Splash ran a design competition for proposals to develop the Birnbeck Island and Pier in 2007. Bristol Based Levitate won the brief, but Urban Splash subsequently sold on the project. The Victorian Society said the pier is now on the verge of collapse.
The capital’s sole entry on the list is Ladywell Baths in Lewisham, which is grade-II listed and features gothic arches, a huge circular tower, stained-glass windows and its own well that was designed to circumvent water-charges. The local-authority owned building, which opened in 1884, has been vacant for many years, despite London’s property boom.
Victorian Society director Christopher Costelloe said that all of the latest at-risk buildings illustrated Britain’s built heritage in ‘tangible form’.
‘All of them deserve better than their current situations,’ he said. ‘I urge the public to share the top ten list to help raise awareness of these buildings and help them to find the investment they desperately need.’
He added that there was no ranking of endangered status within the ‘top- ten’ designation.
Despite its name, the Victorian Society also seeks to protect Edwardian buildings, however all of the structures on its latest at-risk list were completed before 1900. See the table below for full details.
Ladywell Baths, Lewisham, London
(Grade II, 1884, Wilson and Son & Thomas Aldwinkcle)
When Ladywell Baths opened, newspapers reported that cleanliness was next to godliness as the baths were so close to the parish church. With gothic arches, a huge circular tower with a turret, stained glass and decorative ironwork, the building must have made an impact. Innovatively, to avoid paying the water company, the baths sunk a 270ft well yielding 8,000 gallons of water an hour. The baths have long since lost their turret and other decorative features and have lain empty for many years. They have also suffered internal vandalism. Owner Lewisham Council carried out repairs to keep the building water tight several years ago but has struggled to find anyone to take the building on.
Kinmel Hall, Wales
(Grade I, 1870-1874, W E Nesfield)
Kinmel Hall has a façade around 500ft long and has been called the ‘Welsh Versailles’ or ‘discount Downton’. It is said to have been inspired by Wren’s Hampton Court and the 17th Century Chateau de Balleroy. The present house was paid for by Hugh Robert Hughes, heir of a huge copper mining fortune. Country Life noted in 1969 that ‘Kinmel is an amazingly palatial house for a commoner to build himself, even a Victorian commoner and a very rich one.’ Queen Victoria is believed to have stayed at Kinmel in 1870 when she presented carved wooden panels, subsequently stolen in 2013. The house remains unused and plans for a hotel seem not to be progressing.
St Luke’s Church, Wolverhampton
(Grade II*, 1860-61, George Robinson)
St Luke’s is a major landmark in a deprived area of Wolverhampton, and boasts an extraordinarily detailed tower and polychromatic brickwork. Its exterior features are matched by an exceptionally well preserved Victorian interior. The church closed in 2013, largely as a result of repair bills for dry rot and the poor condition of the brickwork. Its future is now extremely uncertain as formal closure procedures are ongoing. The Victorian Society is adamant that the city cannot afford to lose a building of such quality and is keen for a new community or commercial use to be found that would give the building a sustainable future.
Tolly Cobbold Brewery, Ipswich
(Grade II, 1896, William Bradford)
The large, red brick, Tow Brewery’s architect was William Bradford who designed or altered over seventy breweries. The site has been abandoned since 2002 when Tolly Cobbold merged with Ridley’s brewery. The building is now in a poor condition, suffering from copper thefts and water ingress, with much of the exterior covered in green algae. Pigeon Investment Management was granted outline planning permission to turn the former Tolly Cobbold site into a mixture of flats, businesses and leisure use back in 2013. As yet no work has started and the building continues to deteriorate.
Overstone Hall, East Midlands
(Grade II, 1860, William Milford Teulon)
Overstone Hall was highly advanced when new as it was built with double walls, giving it the earliest known cavity wall insulation. It also had a central heating system - called Mr Price’s apparatus, gas lighting and a butler’s lift. However, Lord Overstone is said to have disliked the design and never lived there. Today, half of the building is a burnt-out shell after a fire in 2001. Owner the New Testament Church of God put the hall up for sale in 2010 for £1million. It remains unsold.
Source: Bill Bolton
Sheerness Boat Store, Kent
(Grade I, 1856-60, Col GT Green RE and William Scamp, Admiralty Works Department)
This disused boat store is the world’s earliest surviving example of a multi-storey iron-frame and panel structure following the destruction of the Crystal Palace and the first South Kensington Museum. The all-metal frame, made rigid by portal bracing, was pioneering. It was subsequently adopted by early skyscrapers in Chicago, and universally used for modern steel-framed buildings. The Victorian Society said that without the techniques demonstrated at Sheerness Boat Store, today’s architectural world might be very different. It added tht the not-too-distant Chatham Dockyard showed that historic dockyard buildings such as the boat store could have a future.
Madeira Terrace, Brighton
(Grade II, 1890- 1897, Philip C Lockwood)
Madeira Terrace is said to be be the longest continuous cast-iron structure in Britain, and possibly even the world. The 2,837ft long arcade and walkway, decorated with cast iron balustrades and delicate arches, includes a single-storey cafe and waiting room with a three-stage lift tower to Marine Parade. Although the seafront is an integral part of Brighton, the entire length of the structure was recently closed and businesses forced to leave because of the risk of collapse. Brighton and Hove City Council has stated that repairs cannot be made and a ‘like for like’ replacement is required. The Victorian Society said it was ‘unlikely’ that nothing could be repaired or salvaged from the entire length of the terrace.
Central Plaza Hotel, Carlisle
(Grade II, 1880, Daniel Birkett)
The handsome former Great Central Hotel is constructed from contrasting sandstones with stone panels decorated with the city arms, the date, and scenes from Aesop’s Fables. Today little is visible as the building is shrouded by scaffolding. The hotel closed in 2004 and the company that bought it ceased to exist shortly afterwards. It’s now in the hands of Crown Estate solicitors. The Victorian Society said that the local council had spent £77,000 on the building in recent years but was unable to find a developer willing to take it on, meaning that new sources of funding were desperately needed.
Birnbeck Pier, Weston-super-Mare
(Grade II*, 1862, Eugenius Birch)
Designed by the leading Victorian pier designer, Eugenius Birch, Birnbeck Pier is Britain’s only pier leading to an island. The pier was damaged by a mine during the war while used by the Admiralty as ‘HMS Birnbeck’. The pier closed in 1994 and successive owners’ restoration plans have come to nothing. Even the RNLI’s lifeboat station closed after 131 years as the pier had become too dangerous. The pier’s new owner says it is committed to fixing the structure and is working with the Birnbeck Regeneration Trust. However, storms earlier this year have left one walkway on the verge of collapse. The Victorian Society called on North Somerset Council to aid all parites to ‘quickly establish a planning brief to secure the pier’s future’.
Hunslet and Victoria Mills, Leeds
(Hunslet Mill Grade II* c1842 William Fairbairn, Victoria Mill, Grade II, c1838)
The Hunslet Mill and Victoria Works is a huge multi-storey complex of red-brick mill buildings. Hunslet Mill is thought to be the last, and individually the largest, of Leeds’s great flax-spinning mills. William Fairbairn who designed Hunslet was a leading designer of mill buildings and also was responsible for the World Heritage Site at Saltaire Mill. The buildings have been unused for decades; the west was range demolished in 1986. The mills are partly sheeted over but decay is likely to be serious inside. The developers who have owned the Mills for around 20 years state development remains unviable. The Victorian Society said that while Hunslet Mill was being treated as a priority case by Leeds City Council and Historic England, there would be ‘little left to develop’ if urgent action was not taken.