rows of dark wood historic bookcases line the Plume Library, filled with classic leatherbound books against a wooden timbered flooring lightened by a pale cream carpet runner.
The Grade I listed Plume Library added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2020 © Historic England
The Grade I listed Plume Library added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2020 © Historic England

Heritage at Risk in the East of England Revealed

Historic England today reveals the historic sites most at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development by publishing the annual Heritage at Risk Register 2020. The Register provides an annual snapshot of the critical health of England’s most valued historic places, and those most at risk of being lost.

Highlights from the sites saved in 2020

Over the last year 24 historic buildings and sites in the East of England have been saved thanks to the determination of local communities, charities, owners, local councils and Historic England, who together want to see historic places restored and brought back to life.

Saved: Guildhall, Thaxted, Essex

The Grade I listed Guildhall in Thaxted is thought to date from the early-15th century and was probably built as a moot hall, a civic meeting place.

In the late-17th century the Guildhall fell into disrepair and was taken over by Yardleys Charity, who carried out a major restoration. Thaxted Grammar School operated in the Guildhall until 1878. Further restorations were carried out in 1911 and 1978.

Historic England offered a grant of £48,860 for repairs which were completed in summer 2019. The Guildhall continues to be at the centre of civic life in Thaxted and is in active daily use.

Saved: Wheathampstead earthwork, Hertfordshire

Scheduled monument The Devil's Dyke is a deep, dry, partially natural, ditch and bank earthwork which extends for over 400 metres from north to south.

It has been suggested that the site may have been the headquarters of Cassivellaunus, a tribal warrior skilled in guerrilla tactics, known from Julius Caesar’s war diaries recounting his second invasion of Britain in 54BC.

The scheduled monument has been removed from the Heritage at Risk Register further to a Countryside Stewardship funded change in agricultural practice which will see a reduced depth of cultivation introduced across the interior and a programme of tree and scrub works on the ditch and banks.

Saved: Town House (Ashwell Museum), Baldock, Hertfordshire

Built in about 1500, the Grade II* listed Town House is a two-storey timber-framed building which forms the front part of Ashwell Village Museum, founded in 1930.

The Town House was almost derelict in 1930 and was bought for the sum of £25. Renovations revealed a beautiful half-timbered Tudor building but also the extent of the repairs needed. The generosity of old Ashwellian Sir William Gentle enabled the restoration and the museum was opened on 30 November 1930.

Previously rendered, the timber frame has been exposed since the 1930s repair scheme. Leaks were putting the 16th-century timber frame and interiors at risk.

A Historic England Repair Grant of £143,843 was awarded towards repairs which were carried out in 2019. The museum reopened in December 2019 but is currently closed to public access due to recently updated Covid-19 restrictions.

Highlights from sites added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2020

29 sites in the East of England have been added to the Register because of concerns about their condition. Over the past year, Historic England has offered £1.77 million in grants to help some of the region’s best loved and most important historic sites.

Added: Redoubt, Harwich, Essex

The Grade II* listed Harwich Redoubt was built in 1808–1810 to defend the port of Harwich against a possible Napoleonic invasion. After 1910, the Harwich Redoubt became barrack accommodation, falling into disrepair from the 1920s.

It was used during the Second World War for minor military purposes and after the war was transferred to the Civil Defence, who used the fort for atomic exercises until their disbandment.

The Redoubt is suffering the effect of leaks with significant loss to the inner and outer moat walls. Internally there are significant signs of plant growth  as a result of failing roof coverings.

The Redoubt is being restored by the Harwich Society – it's believed to be the largest ancient monument in the country being restored by a private group.

Added: Church of All Saints, Walsoken, Norfolk

This Grade I listed parish church features possibly the largest Norman church nave in East Anglia. According to the Pevsner architectural guides it is the Grandest Norman Parish Church of Norfolk.

The church’s nave roof is a single hammerbeam construction with medieval canopied niches containing figures of Kings and Prophets which retain some of their original colour. Above the tower arch is a 15th-century plaster painting depicting the Judgement of Solomon. Above the chancel arch is a 15th-century carving of King David with a harp. Dating from 1544, the octagonal seven sacrament font is elaborately carved.

The nave's lead roof covering is leaking in several locations, leading to extensive areas of water staining, and putting the 15th-century roof at risk. Funding is required for major repairs.

Added: Plume Library, Maldon, Essex

The Grade I listed Plume Library is one of the oldest public libraries in England, containing over 7,000 volumes, mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries. The late-17th-century library was built on the site of the former Church of St Peter of which only the 14th-century tower now remains.

In 1690 Dr Thomas Plume (1630–1704) built the two-storey brick and timber library building to house his book collection of over 4,000 rare and important 16th- and 17th-century texts. Purpose-built libraries of this period are extremely rare. He gifted the library to the town on his death in 1704.

The lath and plaster ceiling over the library is at risk of collapse. There is evidence of possible structural movement and cracking in various parts of the building.

Historic England is currently assessing an application for grant aid towards urgent repairs as Maldon Town Council and The Plume Library Trust have raised approximately £80,000 to put towards this very urgent work.

Heritage at Risk in brief

Over the last year 24 historic buildings and sites in the East of England have been saved and 29 sites in the East of England have been added to the Register because of concerns about their condition. The Heritage at Risk Register 2020 also reveals that in the East of England:

  • 108 buildings or structures (Grade I and II* listed buildings and structural scheduled monuments)
  • 116 places of worship
  • 114 archaeological entries (non-structural scheduled monuments)
  • 8 parks and gardens
  • 0 battlefields
  • 0 protected wreck sites
  • 49 conservation areas

... are at risk of neglect, decay or inappropriate change.

In total, there are 395 entries across the East of England on the 2020 Heritage at Risk Register.