Capturing The Castle

This year’s Heritage Open Days are now in full swing and yesterday a friend of mine took me on a grand day out to Astley Castle in Warwickshire. I’m sure I could find a tenuous link to Lichfield if I looked hard enough, but why be parochial when there’s an opportunity to share a stunning example of how even our most neglected historic buildings can be given a sustainable future? Even if it is in Warwickshire. Anyway, I really like castles.

Astley Castle exterior - new bricks built into ancient stones

Astley Castle exterior – new bricks built into ancient stones

I’ve never seen one quite like this though. Actuallly, it’s more fortified manor house than castle, but it has crenellations and a moat and has been associated with three English queens so let’s not quibble too much over nomenclature. The fortified manor house castle has fallen into varying states of disrepair at various points throughout its seven hundred year history but it was a fire in 1978, and the subsequent vandalism, theft and collapse, that rendered Astley a complete ruin. In the late 1990s, the Landmark Trust (1) attempted to rescue the property using conventional restoration and conversion methods but it was financially and technically impossible. However, the Trust refused to give up on Astley and returned to the property in 2005. Accepting that parts of the building were now beyond repair, they held an architectural competition with a brief to create a four bedroomed house to sleep eight people at the castle. Ideas ranged from building an new house in the grounds, which would have made the castle itself the world’s grandest garden shed (“Have you seen the tool box, love? Think it’s in the Jacobean wing, next to the hosepipe”.) to building a new house behind the retained facade (2). The design that won the competition, and went on to win the 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize was created by Witherford Watson and Mann architects. In my very humble opinion, it blends and bonds the ancient and modern together magnificently. I’ve seen it described as a reinvention rather than a restoration and perhaps that is the way forward. After all, as one of the project architects said, when you have a building that has been continually altered to meet the needs of its inhabitants over a span of seven hundred years, which point in time do you choose to restore it to?

A room with a view

A room with a view

astley castle ruins from windown

Another one

Of course, following our visit I now really want to stay there (I don’t have a bucket list but I am going to start one so I can put ‘have a bath at Astley Castle on it’). I’d say that about anywhere with a bed and a bit of history though. What’s different about Astley is it’s possibly the first historic building I’ve visited where ideas about the present and the future have captured my imagination more than stories about the past. At a place where those stories include that of the fugitive Henry ‘father of Lady Jane’ Grey hiding in a nearby hollow oak, being betrayed by a servant and executed at the Tower of London, and returning afterwards to haunt his former home minus his head, that’s quite an achievement.

Immerse yourself in history

Immerse yourself in history

(1) The Landmark Trust is a conservation charity which rescues at risk historic buildings by restores them using traditional techniques and makes them available for holiday lettings.

(2) Bingo! There’s our tenuous Lichfield link. I’m sure I remember this being proposed (and subsequently rejected) as an idea for the Victoria Hospital.

astley castle exterior

Advertisements

Broken Record

The ‘Heritage at Risk’ register for 2014 was published by English Heritage today. The Register includes grade I and II* listed buildings, grade II listed buildings in London, and all listed places of worship, scheduled monuments, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields and protected wreck sites assessed as being at risk.

There are eight entries from around the Lichfield District this year, including scheduled monuments at Alrewas, Elford, Fradley and Streethay, the Fazeley and Bonehill conservation area and three buildings, namely, the Angel Croft Hotel on Beacon Street, the Manor House at Hamstall Ridware and the old church tower at St John’s in Shenstone.

Angel Croft Railings

The Angel Croft Hotel has been deemed ‘At Risk’ for many years, but there is now a glimmer of hope that Lichfield’s fallen Angel may be saved. This year’s entry notes that, ‘permission has been granted for conversion to apartments with an agreement to secure the repair of the gates and railings. Work should start in the summer’. Time will tell, but I really do hope that 2014 will be the last time that the Angel Croft appears on the register.

Whilst the plight of the decaying Angel Croft is well known in Lichfield, other local entries on the list may be less familiar, but no less worthy of salvation. Fazeley, according to Lichfield District Council, ‘represents a remarkably intact industrial community of the period 1790-1850. It contains all the principle building types necessary to sustain the community; terraced housing, mills, factories, a church, a chapel, public houses, a school and prestigious detached Georgian houses’. They go on to say that, ‘the waterways, pools and associated structures built by Robert Peel Snr are an important part of Fazeley’s industrial heritage and have archaeological significance. Their significance extends beyond just the immediate locality as they represent one of the most important water power systems dating from the early part of the Industrial Revolution. As a contrast to Fazeley’s industrial heritage, the appraisal tell us that, ‘the historic hamlet of Bonehill…. is an important remnant of the areas agricultural past and despite the developments of the twentieth century still retains a peaceful, rural feel. It has a direct association with the nationally renowned Peel family’.

Yesterday, Gareth Thomas, GIS Manager at Lichfield District Council, uploaded a number of photos from their archive to Flickr. It just so happens that alongside the reminiscence-tastic images of Lichfield shops and businesses, Gareth has uploaded a number of photographs of the conservation area at Fazeley and Bonehill, showing us just what is at risk here, hopefully inspiring us to pay a visit ourselves.

Taken from Lichfield GIS photostream, Flickr

Taken from Lichfield GIS photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Also making an appearance in both the Lichfield District Council’s photo collection and on the ‘At Risk’ Register, is the Manor House at Hamstall Ridware. The pictures speak for themselves – the condition of watchtower is so bad that it is deemed at risk of collapse. Perhaps appropriately for something that may not be long for this world, I first caught sight of it from the churchyard of St Michael’s and All Angels and managed to find out a little about its history here.

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

That’s quite a crack! Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Hamstall Ridware manor 3 Hamstall Ridware manor and church

Over in Shenstone, it seems there are ongoing discussions between the council, the Parish Council and the church regarding the old tower. At least for the time being, the structure is ‘considered stable’ – let’s hope that they all start singing from the same hymn sheet soon.

Old tower at St John's Shenstone, by Jason Kirkham

Old tower at St John’s Shenstone, by Jason Kirkham

Same time, same places next year folks? Let’s hope not…

 

 

Thanks to Gareth Thomas and Lichfield District Council for the archived photos of Fazeley and Hamstall Ridware, and to Jason Kirkham for his photograph of the old tower of St John’s at Shenstone.