IHBC                         North West

Newsletter of the North West Branch of  the Institute of  Historic Building Conservation

December  2002                                                                                                            Issue 5





The public inquiry, looking into the fate of mill workers houses in Nelson, is due to reopen in the New Year, after proposals to demolish of 160 houses in Nelson, Lancashire, were overturned by the Planning Inspectorate, writes David Crellin.


A public inquiry was initially held in January 2002 over Pendle Borough Council’s plan to declare a clearance area in the Whitefield district of Nelson. The proposals included the purchase of 160 Victorian mill workers houses, prior to their demolition and redevelopment. In the late 1990s Pendle had considered designating nearly all of Whitefield a conservation area. It had subsequently designated two conservation areas in the ward, and now proposed designating a third. The proposed clearance area was directly adjacent to an existing conservation area and to the proposed conservation area.


Nelson in East Lancashire embodies the ‘room and power’ principle behind the late Victorian cotton industry. It has lost important parts of its built heritage, and the only part of the town close to the centre which retains nearly all its original elements is Whitefield Ward - a grid of streets with terraced houses, mills and various commercial, social and religious buildings.


At the initial inquiry, English Heritage, the Heritage Trust for the North West, the Victorian Society, the Council for British Archaeology and the Ancient Monuments Society argued that, as the council had not assessed either the existing or the proposed conservation areas, it had not justified the distinction between the conservation areas and the clearance area. Such assessment was necessary before demolition could be considered.


The amenity bodies further argued that conservation-led regeneration was more appropriate and would put into practice the holistic approach to the historic environment outlined in the English Heritage report, Power of Place. This approach also aims at social inclusiveness. At the inquiry the conservation bodies were in alliance with representatives of the predominantly South Asian Muslim population, who wanted to stay in Whitefield and preferred the option of restoration to widespread demolition.



The inspector, Philip Asquith, agreed with the amenity bodies’ assessment of the historical importance of Whitefield, and found that the council had not taken this into account in declaring the clearance area. Although the council had consulted the local community over its plans, the level of clearance it intended had not been apparent, and the status of the council’s decision-making was diminished by lack of transparency. He also cast doubt on the council’s costings for demolition and rebuilding. The case for clearance was therefore not made.


The Secretary of State has asked for clarification of financial aspects of the findings, and has directed the inquiry to be reopened in the New Year.




Congratulations to the Events Committee for organising another hugely successful branch conference, this time looking at rural issues. For those present, some of the contributions, particularly by Dr Peter Gaskell, were startling. His research has uncovered that over 50% of agricultural sites have a planning history since 1980, as opposed to 10% of the building stock generally. Of those agricultural buildings that are having their use changed, 71% are changing to permanent residences, while only 16% are being converted for economic use, English Heritage's preferred alternative. In the long term Gaskell predicts that as many of 90% of historic farm buildings will no longer be in agricultural use by 2010. The reasons for change are many, but include are largely agricultural practices recently exacerbated by foot and mouth. Change is unavoidable, how that change is managed is critical. The alternatives to residential conversions have proven to pose as many threats to the integrity of historic farm buildings as residential. Given that the market for non residential conversions of farm buildings is too small to accommodate the large numbers of redundant farm buildings, it is now time for English Heritage to consider revising their, well intentioned but unrealistic, guidance on the conversion of historic farm buildings.


Last month the Georgian Group, asked for copies of North West to be sent to their Fitzroy Square headquarters. They are very keen for IHBC members to be informed of their activities but are currently having problems with their web site. To help, I have included some of their events in this edition's diary. Regrettably, the Georgian Group have too few local events, and as diary mentions are normally restricted to our region, if only to keep it down to a manageable size, The Georgian Group would not normally be featured. However, as regional events are quite light this quarter, I have been able to include some of their events. I do intend to maintain links with the amenity societies as I feel that a close relationship between the amenity societies and ourselves can only be to our mutual benefit. Indeed this issue is headlined by an article written by David Crellin, northern caseworker with the Victorian Society. Incidentally the developments at Nelson are a topic I intend to return to in future issues.


The views expressed by contributors (including the editor) do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation




Branch Committee News


News of branch committee changes may appear rather academic, as all posts are up for re-election at December's AGM. However several changes have been made since the summer, and as this is the organ for reporting the news, here we go.


Following Sheila Stones's flight to London, Graham Arnold agreed to become the branch chairperson. Having the stamina and ability of two lesser mortals, Graham also agreed to represent the branch on the national committee, in place of Nick Grimshaw. This Christmas, Graham will be asking for Lucozade, rather than his usual, from Wirral's dodgy builders.


Ian Bond agreed to act as branch treasurer and is currently hard at work searching for financial irregularities by his predecessor Nick Grimshaw. Sadly, for editorial reasons, he has yet to find any.


Marion Barter has become a co-opted member of the branch committee, charged with improving links with English Heritage, while Anthony Blacklay will be attending the North West Historic Environment Forum as the branch  representative.


Gerrard Shaw has agreed to act as the Greater Manchester representative replacing Nick Grimshaw. However as he has been unable to attend any meetings he may never savour the heady atmosphere of power, unless re-elected at the AGM.


Graham Arnold

"Never again!"


All the above, except Graham Arnold, will be exposing themselves to the undignified scramble known as the branch elections in December.






Branch AGM

This years AGM will take place at Bishop Lloyds Palace on Watergate Street in Chester. Refreshments will be available from 5.00pm onwards and the formal AGM will start promptly at 5.30pm Francs restaurant has been booked for later that evening, for those wanting to celebrate Christmas with colleagues.


Election of Officers

All elected posts are up for re-election at the AGM. The departure of both Sheila Stones and Nick Grimshaw since the last AGM, means that volunteers are required to fill the posts of branch chair, national council representative and branch treasurer. Graham Arnold has confirmed that he does not wish to continue as branch chair or national representative, which he has been filling temporarily. Marlene Hendy has also indicated that she would prefer not to continue as the representative for the Isle of Man while Dave Scott has indicated that he would prefer not to continue as the membership secretary.




The present committee wishes to encourage younger affiliate members to volunteer for the committee so that the views of affiliates are fully represented. Anyone who may be interested should bear in mind that the committee only meets four times a year and that they can expect to be reimbursed for any expenses incurred in attending committee meetings etc.  Apart from the post of national council representative, which can only be filled by a full member, there is no restriction on affiliate members acting as branch officers or committee members. 



Any member who is prepared to consider volunteering as a branch officer or committee member should contact the Secretary Anthony Blacklay (tel: 01270 610050, fax: 01270 610237, e-mail: anthony@blacklayassoc.co.uk)



Current Branch

Current branch officers are: -Graham Arnold (Acting Chair & Acting National Representative), Ian Bond (Acting Treasurer), Anthony Blacklay (Secretary), David Scott (Membership Secretary), Peter Hoey (Newsletter Editor), Graham Arnold (Consultation Coordinator, Peter de Figueiredo (Events Sub Committee Convenor). Current county representatives are:  Athanassios Migos, Graham Arnold (Merseyside), David Hayes, Anthony Blacklay (Cheshire)                Ian Bond, Paul Mason (Lancashire), Paul Hartley (previously Sheila Stones), Gerrrard Shaw (Greater Manchester) Marlene Hendy (Isle of Man)


Travel Arrangements

For those travelling by public transport, trains leave Chester Station for Manchester at 10.08pm and for Crewe at 10.05pm, so those travelling by train will probably need to leave the restaurant by about 9.30pm to walk to the station. Members travelling by train should note that Bishop Lloyds Palace and Francs are about a mile away from the station


Illuminated Chester

Cheshire Conservation Officers Forum are also in Chester that day and IHBC members are welcome to join CCOF’s late afternoon tour of Chester's illuminated buildings. The illuminations have been the recipients of awards from both the Civic Trust and the Parliamentary Lighting Group (it really does exist!). The tour begins at 4pm from the entrance of Chester Record Office on Duke Street and will be led by a member of Chester City Council's conservation team.



Fourth Grace


Four of the nation's most prestigious architects are currently involved in a bizarre competition to design the least appropriate new addition to Liverpool's historic Pier Head.


The proposals have been produced at the invitation of Liverpool Vision a "not for profit" private company formed and supported by Liverpool City Council, English Partnerships and the North West Development Agency


Liverpool Vision

Liverpool Vision was established in 1999 with a brief to regenerate the city centre. They initially produced a Strategic Regeneration Framework setting out a vision for a Liverpool City Centre, rich in high quality streets, squares and open spaces. There were also plans for using many of the currently vacant, but architecturally significant, buildings as well as opportunities for new contemporary structures. Liverpool Vision aim to establish Liverpool as a world class city for the 21st Century.




However Liverpool Vision's admirable ambitions not seem to tie in with their proposals for a Fourth Grace. The proposals for massive, discordant and competing structures, risk degrading the outstanding group of Edwardian buildings on the Pier Head and the most recognisable skyline in the UK.



The proposals also cut across the latest thinking on urban regeneration. Les Sparks, Sir Terry Farrell, Bob Allies, David lock and David Rudlan, amongst others, are signatories to a programme launched to challenge Octobers Urban Summit. Outlined in a book called Re:Urbanism, the group calls for a wholesale rethink of the way the government, regeneration quangos and construction professionals conceive cities and their renewal. Pertinently Re:Urbanism identifies 10 defects in current regeneration, notably Defect 3, "a general bias towards large and unwieldy schemes", while Defect 6 refers to, "a naïve and pointless desire for landmark schemes".




No Fourth Grace in Greek Mythology


There is no Fourth Grace in Greek mythology and there certainly won’t be one in Liverpool if any of the proposed schemes for the waterfront is constructed, writes Jeremy Gribbon.

Not only are the proposals mythologically wrong but factually inaccurate the Fourth Grace will not be a single building but a group of very diverse buildings - “The Commerces”.


The three existing Pier Head buildings have made the Liverpool waterfront a worldwide symbol for the city for over eighty years symbolising, first, a great port and later the home of the Beatles.


The site chosen for the development is to the east of the existing three and has been occupied for years by storage sheds and car show rooms. Low rise buildings, which have never had any impact on the existing composition. Now for some reason it is proposed to be developed, not with a single prestige building but with a mixed development of offices, flats, shops and some public facilities, all carefully apportioned to make a viable scheme for speculative financing.


What a contrast to the existing structures, designed and built with expensive materials and lavish decoration to express wealth, power and pride without a second thought about cost. Setting aside all other factors, the decision to add a fourth element to an existing composition is almost impossible to achieve and requires extraordinary skill and great sensitivity, not the ‘look at clever me’ designs which are being proposed. Incongruous to say the least and totally inappropriate to improving something which is complete in itself. That simple adage “If it works don’t fix it “ could never be more apt.


If the over simplistic thinking about competing for the City of Culture dictates that every city must be “Bilbaoised” with a signature building, then so be it, but not on this special site in Liverpool. Liverpool is not Bilbao! It had its signature buildings even before Sydney and needs no additions to this iconic group.


Jeremy Gribbin



Urban Design Group


The Urban Design Group were in Liverpool, in September, hosting a major conference entitled Creating Successful 21st Century Cities.


Keynote speakers were Rob Cowan, Director of UDG (and editor of Context) and David Randles of URBED, who between them outlined the principles of good urban design, illustrated by text book applications of good practice carried out by URBED in a number of British Cities.


URBED attempt to regenerate areas by rediscovering the historical origins of settlements. With that information they attempt to guide future development, repairing and renewing the community and knitting together areas where the urban fabric has fallen apart. URBED are working in inner Salford, the Crooked Lanes area in Brighton and Temple Quay in Bristol.

Unfortunately Cowen's and Randles vision was not reflected in the afternoon sessions which were largely taken up with workshops, one of which was bizarrely (for a conference on urban design) entitled avoiding planning delays. Some of the conclusions of the workshops were equally strange. The workshop that looked at the proposed Fourth Grace reported that the group were concerned to see the proposal should have a civic function and incorporate a public transport interchange but made no mention of the relationship of the new building with the adjacent listed buildings, conservation area or skyline. Other workshop discussions also sat uneasily with the goals of an organisation dedicated to improving urban design.

UDG was founded in 1980 and describes itself as the forum for urban design. The group produces the excellent Urban Design Quarterly, founded by the late Francis Tibbalds, and is a serious player for promoting urban design. UDG has joined forces with RIBA, RTPI and RICS to form the Urban Design Alliance


The Urban Design Group has recently produced Urban Design Guidence: a manual for local authorities, spelling out what local authorities might include in urban design guidence and what developers and designers should expect to find in it. (68pp£25 www.thomastelford.com).



Wallasey's Memorial Unitarian Church Reopens



October saw the re opening of Wallasey's remarkable Memorial Unitarian Church following its refurbishment by the Historic Chapels Fund.


In 1993, the congregation had fallen to four and, following the retirement of the last minister, church services were ended. At the time the future looked very bleak.


Its restricted site made alternative uses impossible and demolition seemed likely. However any new use would have threatened its remarkable interior anyway. By then interest was already being shown in the building.


In 1993 an article appeared in Country Life and seven years ago the Historic Chapels Trust took over the building, employing architect Robin Wolley to oversee comprehensive repairs, while also improving services and disabled access.


The building although small was highly innovative due to the patronage of the wealthy local Unitarian, Mrs Martha Elam.



Built in 1898-9, the church was designed by architects Waring and Rathbone of Liverpool, Edmund Rathbone being a member of the well known family of philanthropic Unitarian merchants.


Cheshire and South Lancashire was historically a stronghold of Unitarianism and was supported by many influential families in Liverpool.


The building has a superb collection of art nouveau decorations and fittings.


The altarpiece was produced by the so called Della Robbia Pottery, an art pottery based in Birkenhead. Della Robbia owned was the architect's brother Harold Rathbone .


Iron work was supplied by craftsmen from the influential Bromsgrove Guild of Craftsmen, and it was Walter Gilbert, founder of the Bromsgrove Guild, who designed the lectern and the light fittings.


Bernard Sleigh another member of the Bromsgrove Guild, and a well known book illustrator, created the Pre Raphaelite style painting on the choir stall ends, communion table and pulpit.




Changes at English Heritage


Duncan McCallum has been employed to prepare a state of the historic environment report. The pilot report is designed to highlight gaps in knowledge, and should have been released around November. This will followed by the complete document, due out in 2003.


Every local authority needs to carry out contaminated land inspection strategies. EH are making sure that, where strategies are being prepared, relevant organisations are being consulted.


Education Officer, Roy Hughes has now left EH and has been replaced by Dilys Horwich, formerly of National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside. Dilys is looking at English Heritage’s public profile, the profile of the historic environment in general and issues of citizenship. Several reports about regeneration of the high street, supervised by Dilys, and carried out by local school children, could be used as templates for other communities.


Jennie Stopford has been appointed as a new assistant archaeologist for the North of England to run projects under the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund.  She would like to talk to each of the county groups of conservation officers.  Her e-mail address is jennie.stopford@english-heritage.org.uk.  It would be good if county archaeologists were also able to attend the meetings. 


Computerised records of listed buildings are now available from English Heritage





More Fourth Grace Proposals


Sheila Stones demonstrates her proposals for a fourth grace at Liverpool's historic Pier Head.


Carefully designed to blend in with adjacent listed buildings, Sheila cites influences as diverse as Grimshaw's Eden Centre and Allsop's Peckham Library from where the sympathetic colour scheme derives. Particular care has been exercised in this regard, the development being clad in bright orange, yellow and blue plastic.


Engineers, Ove Arup will be scapegoated for the wobbly floor.






IHBC Registered Office: 3 Stafford Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 4QZ

Registered as a Charity: No. 1061593 Company Limited by Guarantee; Reg. in England; No. 3333780