Dover Town Hall upgraded to Grade I listing Maison Dieu, also known as Dover Town Hall, has today been upgraded from Grade II* to Grade I listing on Historic England’s recommendation. The Department for Culture Media and Sport made the decision, supported by the Victorian Society, to upgrade the 800 year old building’s listing following two years of research into its history which revealed hidden decorative work by Victorian architect William Burges. Originally a Medieval hospital offering shelter to pilgrims heading to Canterbury Cathedral, the building in Dover, south east Kent, was extensively remodelled in the late nineteenth century by Burges, famous as the architect of Cardiff Castle. Until now, much of Burges’ work had been hidden beneath layers of paint; as part of the research period, experts undertook a series of tests to determine the extent of the remodelling. Upon the discovery of the extent of the Gothic-inspired scheme, Dover District Council, the owners of Maison Dieu, subsequently applied for Heritage Lottery Funding to restore Burges’ work to its former glory. If the bid is successful, Burges’ originally decorative scheme will be reinstated. Furthermore, the HLF funding will ensure a complete restoration of the building, enabling it to be fully open to the public for the first time in the buildings history. Posy Metz, listing adviser at Historic England, said: “[Maison Dieu] fully deserves being upgraded to Grade I, the highest level of listed buildings. It was restored in the mid-nineteenth century and substantially extended in the late nineteenthcentury by William Burges, a Gothic Revival architect of considerable renown… much of its architectural detail survives, including fine stained glass windows, and an evocative series of nineteenthcentury prison cells beneath the great Stone Hall.”
St Patrick’s Hall saved from demolition Reading University has officially dropped its plans to demolish St Patrick’s Hall, some of its oldest student accommodation and a historic building used to house Royal Air Corps cadets during the First World War. The controversial plans to demolish the hall to make way for larger, newer student accommodation were met with strong objections from the general public, local residents associations and the Victorian Society, as well as the Reading East MP Rob Wilson and University of Reading alumni. Founded in 1908 by R. L. Pearson as a private hostel, St Patrick’s was rebuilt by the University in 1913 in a neo-Georgian style. Most famously, during the First World War St Patrick’s Hall was used by the Royal Flying Corps, the RAF’s precursor, to house cadets at the No 1 School of Aeronautics. The experiences of the pilot who created Biggles, William Earl Johns, at the No 1 School of Aeronautics are thought to have inspired the book ‘Biggles learns to fly’.
The Victorian Society officially objected to the demolition plans last year, arguing that St Patrick’s Hall’s important historical status was being overlooked by the university. Alex Bowring, Victorian Society Conservation Adviser, said: “St Patrick’s was designed by C.Smith & Son –the same architect as the university’s listed Great Hall and Wantage Hall. However, unlike these buildings St Pat’s has not received the same recognition as a key part of the University’s early development. This hall, which predates the establishment of Reading as a separate university in 1926, must be kept as an integral part of any redevelopment.” New proposals for the redevelopment of the area –which the university describe as meeting “the dual objectives of responding to the growing demand for affordable, on-campus accommodation, whilst preserving the campus’ heritage”–will go on show next week.
Update: The university has postponed exhibiting the redevelopment plans until a later date. They were due to go on show between 6pm and 8.30pm on Wednesday, January 11, during a public exhitibtion. Quoted in Reading and Berkshire News, a university spokeswoman said: “The university and its long-term partner, University Partnerships Programme (UPP), are still finalising the proposed plans for the site and we look forward to presenting the updated plans when they are ready.
Harris Museum in danger of mutilation The Harris Museum, one of Preston’s most important buildings, could end up with a huge hole smashed into its base as part of controversial new refurbishment plans. >
Preston City Council have submitted a bid for Heritage Lottery Funding for £10 million, the largest amount in Preston history, to fund the revamp which includes installing a new entrance onto Market Square. The new entrance would involve creating a massive portal through the base, or ‘rostra’, on which the museum stands. This would dramatically alter the façade of the building and the Victorian Society believes is unjustifiably destructive to the building’s architectural significance. In their objection letter to the Chair of the North West Committee of the HLF, Aidan Turner-Bishop, Secretary for the Save Our Harris Group, said, “It’s frankly shocking, even baffling, that those supposedly charged with supporting our city’s arts and culture could even consider such a drastic intervention in one of our most important works of art”. Preston City Council are attempting to justify the dramatic plans as providing better level access to the museum. However, this understandable goal could easily be achieved without causing such irrevocable harm to the building, for example via the eastern façade on Lancaster Road or the north and south elevations. The Victorian Society’s concerns are shared by members of the local community and Private Eye’s Piloti columnist who said, ‘…the worst aspect [of the alterations] is the proposed butchery of the exterior of this glorious building. An online poll taken by a local blog site shows 48 per cent of local residents think the Harris should be left alone, with 33 per cent supporting the plans and 17 per cent unsure until further details are released. The Victorian Society has urged the council to commission a comprehensive assessment of the building’s significance now, and to rethink this damaging proposal.
The Victorian Society is the charity championing Victorian and Edwardian buildings in England and Wales. Their conservation advisers help local planning authorities and churches to make better decisions about adapting Victorian and Edwardian buildings to the way we live now, while keeping what is special about them. They also seek to engage the public in campaigns to help increase the likelihood of conserving buildings. The society is a charity and their membership’s support, via donations and volunteering, is vital to its work. In return for joining, members receive the society’s magazine The Victorian, their journal Studies in Victorian architecture and designand get priority booking at numerous events around the country. Find out more about the work of the society at www.victoriansociety.org.uk