Heritage at Risk in the East of England Revealed
Today, Historic England publishes its annual Heritage at Risk Register for 2021. The Register is the yearly health-check of England’s most valued historic places and those most at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development.
Highlights from sites saved in 2021
Over the last year, 13 historic buildings and sites in the East of England have been removed from the Register.
Many have been saved thanks to the hard work and dedication of local communities, who have come together to rescue places despite the challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months.
Charities, owners, local councils and Historic England have also worked together to see historic places restored, re-used and brought back to life.
Saved: Parish Church of St Mary, Whaddon, Cambridgeshire
Two years after the entire lead roof of Grade I listed St Mary’s Church was stripped and stolen, this 14th-century gem is now safely watertight under a new roof.
The daunting repair work was made possible by the determined fundraising efforts of the local community. The project also benefited from a Cultural Recovery Fund grant administered by Historic England alongside funding from Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust and Amey Community Fund.
Built from 1300, St Mary’s Church is the oldest surviving building in Whaddon. The chancel was built first with the accompanying nave and aisles dating to around 1375.
With roof repairs complete, the church is now welcoming visitors to regular covid-compliant church services.
Saved: Ruins of All Saints Church at the deserted village Godwick, Norfolk
The lost village of Godwick is one of the best-preserved of the deserted medieval villages in Norfolk.
Although All Saints Church has existed at Godwick since at least 1100, the current tower was built in the 15th or 16th century before it fell into disrepair when the local village population declined in the 16th Century.
In the early-17th century, the tower was rebuilt as one of the earliest follies in Britain, forming a decorative part of the landscape park around Godwick Old Hall.
Recently, the tower was decaying badly with the west side cracking and at high risk of collapse. Historic England supported a repair scheme, completed in summer 2020, which has enabled this prominent medieval feature and scheduled monument to be enjoyed by visitors once again.
Saved: Unitarian Meeting House, Ipswich
Opened for services in 1700, the Grade I listed Unitarian Meeting House in Ipswich is regarded as one of the finest surviving 18th-century Dissenters’ meeting houses in the country. The exterior is self-effacing, giving little clue to the classical grandeur of the historically complete interior.
A year-long restoration project was made possible by grant funding of over £600,000 from Historic England and tireless fundraising efforts by volunteers and community members who raised over £140,000.
Extensive structural repairs to the building were needed, including the re-covering of the entire roof, an overhaul of all drainage, and works to remove unsuitable and corroding steel repairs and rectify structural movement in the timber frame.
Repair work now complete, the congregation and volunteers at the Unitarian Meeting House are welcoming visitors once again with plans for more public events in the future.
Highlights from sites added to the Register
In the East of England, 26 sites have been added to the register because of concerns about their condition. They are at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development.
At risk: Warley Place, Essex
Grade II registered Warley Place features the evocative remains of a natural garden created by Ellen Willmott (1857-1934) one of the country’s most influential women horticulturalists and an early exponent of ‘wild gardening’.
Ellen moved to Warley Place with her parents in 1875. She transformed the grounds into one of the most celebrated gardens in the country.
Described by British garden designer, photographer and artist Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) as ‘the greatest living gardener’, Willmott was an influential member of the Royal Horticultural Society and a recipient of the first Victoria Medal of Honour. More than 60 plants have been named in her honour.
Having dedicated her life and much of her money to her famous garden Ellen was almost penniless when she died in 1934. The house was demolished in 1939 and the gardens fell into dereliction for over 40 years.
Since 1977 Essex Wildlife Trust has managed much of the site as a nature reserve with the help of an enthusiastic volunteer team.
Urgent action is now needed to fund and implement a Conservation Management Plan for this important landscape to repair ruinous structures, uncover hidden architectural features and save the essential beauty of Willmott’s famous garden, as well as enhancing the wildlife value of this important nature reserve.
At risk: Thorrington Tide Mill, Alresford Creek, Essex
Situated in a wild and unspoilt area of coastal Essex, Grade II* listed Thorrington Tide Mill is the last remaining tide mill in the county and one of only three remaining in the East of England.
There has probably been a mill at the head of Alresford Creek since at least the 14th century. The present mill, built in 1831, is a three-storeyed timber-framed structure with white weatherboarding.
During the Second World War the mill was purchased by Thomas Alfred Glover, the present owners’ grandfather, who used it for the storage and drying of flower seeds. Mr Glover began the lengthy process of repairing the mill which was in a state of considerable disrepair.
The mill was sold by Mr Glover to Essex County Council in 1974 for a minimal sum so that it could be restored and opened to the public. Repairs to the waterwheel and its structure were carried out in the 1990s by the council’s millwright, English Heritage (now Historic England), and the National Rivers Authority (now the Environment Agency).
The mill changed ownership in 2019 and is once again cared for by the Glover family who are looking to secure the long-term future and continued public enjoyment of the building.
The mill needs urgent investigation and repair as there is a water leak through damaged sections of the mill pond wall and areas of loose masonry. The mill is closed to the public until repairs can be completed.
The owners are actively looking for a new team of local volunteers to work with them to help care for the building, provide guided tours on open days, and welcome visitors when it reopens. Anyone interested should email [email protected].
At risk: Church of St Michael Coslany, Norwich (also St Miles Coslany)
Grade I listed Church of St Michael Coslany is one of the grandest churches in north Norwich. The impressive interior is noted for its perpendicular design arcade pillars and early-16th and late-19th-century flint flushwork.
Closing as a place of worship in 1971, the church is now in the care of the Norwich Historic Churches Trust, who protect, preserve and find new uses for 18 medieval churches in the city.
St Michael Coslany is home to Oak Circus Centre, bringing together artists and audiences who share a passion for circus arts.
The church chancel roof, probably dating to around 1500 with later additions, is in poor condition. Part of the ceiling became detached and fell in early 2021 and investigation showed significant decay to the rafters and roof supports. Project development, funded by Norwich Historic Churches Trust, is ongoing.
Historic England has offered a grant for environmental investigations and to assist the Trust with building repairs. St Michael Coslany has also benefited from a recently announced Culture Recovery Fund grant award.
Without urgent renovation the building would almost certainly be faced with closure and Norwich would lose a much-loved community space.
Heritage at Risk 2021 in brief
The Heritage at Risk Register 2021 reveals that in the East of England:
- 113 buildings or structures (Grade I and II* listed buildings and structural scheduled monuments)
- 123 places of worship
- 112 archaeology entries (non-structural scheduled monuments),
- 10 parks and gardens
- 0 battlefields
- 1 protected wreck site
- 49 conservation areas
… are at risk of neglect, decay or inappropriate change.
- In total, there are 407 entries across the East of England on the 2021 Heritage at Risk Register.