The Georgian Group’s 2023 Top 10 Heritage at Risk List Revealed
Written by Michelle Behr
We aim to highlight the plight of neglected and at risk eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century listed and unlisted buildings and landscapes that could and should have a brighter future. The publicly nominated buildings on this list have been selected because they are empty and unused, may have suffered severe decay, and their futures remain uncertain. Our 2nd year running; this year’s list includes once handsome houses, former schools, including one within a World Heritage Site, a prominent civic building, and two unique structures in London. This year’s group desperately need our attention, as do those not included on this list, but featured on our Instagram @thegeorgiangroup.
Looking back at our 2022 list, we are pleased to report there is activity at 20 Hill Street in London, the building is now wrapped in scaffolding and the Georgian Group is expecting an application for listed building consent early next year. Talbot House in Northamptonshire has two pending applications (2023/5443/COND & 2023/7003/COND) to meet conditions for previously approved listed building consent. In Wales, Plas Nannau and Pencerrig were added to SAVE Britain’s Heritage Buildings at Risk Register this year, bringing further attention to these two significant buildings that desperately need protecting.
If you know of a heritage building or landscape that is at risk, please let us know via: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include in your email details of when it was created, its location, and the reasons why you believe it should be included on the Georgian Group’s list, together with one or more photographs.
Here we reveal The Georgian Group’s 2023 Top 10 most at Risk Heritage (in no particular order).
Polvellan Manor, Looe, Cornwall, PL13 2AH
Built in 1787, this once handsome house has stood empty and neglected since 2010. Situated in the remnants of landscaped gardens, Polvellan Manor overlooks Mill Pool, with views to the estuary and the town of Looe. The manor house was built by the notable Lemon family and later leased to the Bullers of Morval. Both families were significant players in the 19th century development of Looe as a commercial town, and at different times represented the constituency in Parliament. C.S. Gilbert described the house in 1820 as a ‘gothic cottage’, which makes Polvellan an early example of the renaissance in picturesque Gothick cottage orné design. The house was extended in the 1880s, and in 1898 the interiors were refurbished by the Liskeard architect John Sansom. During the Second World War the house was used as a maternity hospital, and since then as a hotel, nursing home and apartments. Polvellan Manor has been on the Cornish Buildings Group Buildings at Risk Register since 2014 and SAVE Britain’s Heritage added it to their Buildings at Risk Register in 2022. Despite being described in the Looe Conservation Area Management Plan (2009) as ‘the prime residence of the town’, the house has failed to gain listed status. Recently sold in 2023, the developer’s intentions for the site suggest demolition of most, if not all, of the manor house, the retention of only two exterior walls, and the construction of enabling development which would affect both the manor and other parts of the site. This level of demolition is unacceptable to such a significant heritage asset worthy of great care and sympathy.
Newell House School, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 3PL
This handsome and prominent building, situated on one of the main approaches to historic Sherborne, has been steadily deteriorating for over twenty years. Newell House, grade II-listed, has 17th century origins with substantial 18th and 19th century additions. Also at risk, nearby and within the grounds, stands a grade II-listed Tudor barn thought to have been associated with Sherborne Abbey. Newell House is one of several significant houses in the town that were built during the 18th and 19th centuries to express the wealth of the thriving merchant class. Since the school that it housed moved out in 2000, this neglected building has fallen into an increasingly alarming condition. It is likely no longer watertight, has vegetation growing out of it, and was the subject of a recent vandal attack. The house is also on SAVE’s Buildings at Risk Register. The building’s owner appears to have no intention to take any action and has ignored offers to help. Dorset Council has also refused to take any action, despite a letter from Sherborne Town Council and campaigners calling on the Council to step in and secure the future of this house at a recent full council meeting in Dorchester. Something must be done before it is too late to save this historic house which stands so prominently in a beautiful market town.
Ryde Town Hall and Theatre, Ryde, Isle of Wight PO33 2NL
Ryde Town Hall and Theatre, a grade II-listed building, was designed by James Sanderson of London in a neoclassical style and built in 1830. The clock tower and an additional story on the east wing were added in 1869. The building opened as a market hall in 1831 and has a rich history of holding lavish balls, concerts, and royal visits. The Town Hall was badly damaged in a major fire in 1933 but was subsequently restored and served as the headquarters of Ryde Borough Council for much of the 20th century, with the first floor of the building converted to a theatre in 1991 and later a music venue. Three years after the closure of the venue in 2010, the building was sold to a developer but, with nothing done to it since, it has fallen victim to vandalism and neglect. Ryde Town Council took on a three-year lease of the building in 2020 with the option to buy. While in July 2021 RTC voted in favour of purchasing the building, it subsequently recognised that this wasn’t a realistic option. But this fuelled their desire to see the building returned to public use via a property trust. Friends of Ryde Town Hall (FORTH) was formed in November 2021 to help build public support for the restoration of the building and the Ryde Town Hall Trust, formed in May 2023, is pursuing a range of purchase options. Once the Trust owns the building, it will be in a position to apply for grant funding to refurbish it. We hope this significant building, in the heart of Ryde’s conservation area, will find a bright and vital future ahead with the strong community support and engagement that are championing for its future.
Grotto or Shell House in the Grounds of Thames Eyot, Cross Deep, London
In shocking condition, this delightful small shell grotto survives in the grounds of Thames Eyot, a block of 1930s flats on the bank of the Thames in Twickenham. The grade II*-listed grotto, built around the late 18th to early 19th century, with a Tuscan loggia (grade II) added in the early to mid-19th century, was situated in the grounds of what was Poulett Lodge (demolished). Poulett Lodge was part of the group of grand houses in Twickenham associated with well-known literary and artistic figures. There is a rich collection of grottoes in Twickenham, two of the most famous – Pope’s Grotto and Marble Hill – are located on either side. Unfortunately, the grotto has partially collapsed, large amounts of the shellwork have been lost or damaged, and there has been structural movement and distortion to the loggia. The grotto is on both Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register and SAVE’s Buildings at Risk Register. To date, efforts to save the grotto have stalled. Historic England and Richmond Council have been in negotiation with the owners’ agents for many years to try and find a solution, the Environment Trust of Richmond Upon Thames is also involved. It is in urgent need of conservation to prevent further deterioration. We hope action is taken soon to rescue this wonderful structure before it is too late.
Woolwich Rotunda, Woolwich Common, London SE18 4BP
The unique Woolwich Rotunda, listed grade II*, is of international significance and needs immediate emergency work to stop it collapsing. It was originally designed by architect John Nash as a temporary wooden structure in the gardens of Carlton House for receptions organised to mark the end (prematurely) of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814. The first event was the Wellington Fête, a lavish celebration in honour of the Duke of Wellington in July 1814. In 1818, the Regent ordered the Rotunda to be dismantled and transferred to Woolwich for the use of the Royal Military Repository. In mid-1820, after Nash converted it into a permanent structure with a lead roof and central supporting pillar, the Rotunda reopened on its new site as a museum. The building remained a museum until the turn of the 21st century when the bulk of the collections were moved to a new Royal Artillery Museum. Emptied of its exhibits, the Rotunda has been used as overflow storage and a boxing gym. Since then, the building has been empty and fallen into disrepair, and when added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register in 2007 was described as being in ‘very bad’ condition. A planning application was submitted to Greenwich Council in August 2023, stating the building needs ‘emergency structural stabilisation works’. Retrospective consent was sought for emergency works carried out earlier in the year to provide structural propping to the roof and removal of the internal roof canvas, with other repair works sought to make the building watertight. The application also appears to confirm that the Rotunda will be included when most of Woolwich Barracks is sold by the Ministry of Defence by 2028.
20 Market Place and 18 Market Place (The Old School or Hamond’s Grammar School), Swaffham, Norfolk PE37 7QH
These two Grade II-listed former townhouses, vacant and repeatedly subject to vandalism, are in dire need of protection and repair. 20 Market Place was built between 1740 and 1750, incorporating a mid-to late 17th century crosswing at the rear, while 18 Market Place, to the north, was built between 1780 and 1800. The adjoining townhouses were converted into the Schoolmaster’s House and Hamond’s Grammar School respectively in around 1896. Located within Swaffham’s conservation area, these prominent buildings make a significant contribution to the rich architectural character of Market Place and the historic townscape that is characterised by mid- and late Georgian buildings. In August 2022 an application (3PL/2020/1028/LB) to convert the school site into 18 homes received unanimous approval from members of Breckland Council’s planning committee. The proposal called for the conversion of the townhouses into two new large homes – one with five bedrooms and the other with four. In recent photographs the windows are boarded up, however the site appears quiet. We would welcome news on this pair of distinguished buildings.
Old King Edward’s School, Bath, Somerset BA1 5LJ
This prominent grade II*-listed building, within the centre of a World Heritage Site, was originally constructed as a ‘Free School’ in 1752, later named the ‘King Edward VI School’ or ‘King Edward’s School’ until the building was vacated in the 1980s and sold on to Samuel Smith’s Brewery. The Old School forms a significant, early centre-point around which the wider terraced form of Broad Street was constructed; it remains a stand-out feature due to its strong Palladian reference beautifully finished with intricate detailing. The original schoolyard has also been retained at the rear, hidden away behind the adjoining 18th century terrace along Milsom Street. The building has since remained empty, its condition continues to deteriorate despite emergency repair works around 2010 to ensure the building remains watertight. There have been three planning applications to bring it back into use as a hotel from 2010, the most recent application being submitted in 2021, all of which have been granted planning permission and listed building consent but without any action. The continued vacancy of this fine building remains at sharp odds with the busy commercial character of Broad Street and Bath’s city centre. The building has been allowed to grow over with invasive weeds across the frontage and has begun to attract litter to the ongoing detriment of this historic street, and the setting of the adjoining listed buildings. An urgent call to the local planning authority to bring this much-loved building back into use and secure its future has been spearheaded by local heritage group Bath Preservation Trust.
Hill Top Works (former Wades’ Pottery) and former Methodist Sunday School, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire ST6 4BL
These grade II-listed buildings, which stand just off the Market Place in the Burslem conservation area in Stoke-on-Trent, have been empty for many years and are in extremely poor condition. Hill Top Works is the former Wades’ Pottery and dates from 1814. The former Methodist Sunday School of 1836 was designed by Samuel Parch and built for the pottery workers’ children. This once impressive building closed in 1977 and fire caused widespread damage in 1983. The main body was demolished in 1987, despite being listed, and only the dramatic front portico remains. Hill Top Works, empty since 2010, has rapidly deteriorated due to significant fires, subsequent structural collapses, and ingress of moisture. A listed building consent application was recently submitted to undertake further controlled demolition works to both buildings. Their future remains uncertain.
Shrubland Hall, including attached Screen Walling on the east Side, and Terraces and Balustrading on the south and west Sides, Barham, Suffolk
One of Suffolk’s grandest country houses, grade II*-listed Shrubland Hall has fallen into a deplorable state of disrepair. This once palatial house has a rich history, with some of Britain’s finest architects associated with it. James Paine designed the original hall in the early 1770s, it was then remodelled by John Gandy-Deering in the early 1830s and later Alexander Roos enlarged and redecorated the house between 1838 and 1845. In about 1850, Charles Barry was commissioned to turn the property into an Italian palazzo with terraced gardens. The house was requisitioned during World War One and in 1965 was opened as a health clinic, a use which continued for the next forty years, during which time the house was famous for its starring role in the James Bond film Thunderball. The clinic closed in 2006 and the estate was broken up and sold. It opened briefly as a hotel but closed in 2015. Historic England added Shrubland Hall to its Heritage at Risk Register in 2021; the list entry describes the building as suffering from water ingress, resulting in internal and external damage to decorative plasterwork and stonework. Visitors to the house are greeted by rusting gates, decrepit outbuildings, and unkempt landscape, with no indication of the once palatial grandeur inside. Both Historic England and Mid Suffolk District Council said they were working with the owner to assist him with restoring the home to its former glory. We hope action will be taken very soon to protect this much-loved country house.
Great Frampton, Frampton, Llantwit Major, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales
Gutted by fire in the late 1990s, Great Frampton remains a hollow shell exposed to the elements and supported by scaffolding. The house is also included on SAVE’s and the Vale of Glamorgan’s Buildings at Risk Registers. The late 18th century three-storey, five bay façade was constructed with many of the fashionable characteristics of an elegant Georgian country house. The 18th century front conceals a 16th century farmhouse. Despite having been partially gutted by fire, this once handsome house still retains much of its architectural and historic importance. Substantial elements are still visible from the original house, such as the projecting stone stair turret to the north and various internal features like the Tudor chamfered doorways with arched heads and stone window moulds. Great Frampton was for centuries a home to various local gentry families who were prominent local landowners within the Llantwit Major area. Nathaniel Piggot, the famed astronomer, lived at Great Frampton during the latter part of the 1770s and constructed an observatory within its grounds. In 2016 an application for listed building consent for ‘refurbishment and extension’ of the house and conversion of the barns into residential dwellings was approved by the council. Works on the barns have progressed and three remain on the market, however, it appears no restoration works have begun on the house. The marketing materials even describe the house as ‘the ruins of Great Frampton House’. In 2022 and 2023 new applications, modifying the original consent, were submitted. We very much hope that a sympathetic scheme can be found and implemented soon