diamond geezer

 Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Heritage at risk

English Heritage have just released an updated list of the country's most important endangered architectural assets. They reckon that the best way to protect these neglected special buildings and structures is first to identify them, and then hopefully preservation and conservation will follow. Sounds like a good idea to me. And there are thousands and thousands of at-risk sites on their list. Watermills, tower blocks, drinking fountains, lychgates, town halls, bandstands, brick walls, viaducts, battlefields... everything's on here. There are several impressively detailed regional pdfs, each downloadable from the Heritage at Risk website, on which you can discover whether there are any threatened gems near you. Go on, you might be surprised.

I was surprised, because apparently there are six threatened heritage sites within a five minute walk of my front door. I live, apparently, at the heart of an at-risk cluster. So last night I grabbed my camera and went out for a (short) walk to investigate. Here's what I found. You can click on the thumbnails if you fancy seeing a full-sized photo (although why you'd want to I don't know, I mean, one of them is a bollard for heaven's sake, a bollard!). I bet that the place where you live isn't this endangered...

163 Bow Road
163 Bow RoadEarly 18th century property. Stock brick with red brick dressings. Modern shop on forecourt. Interior includes panelled rooms and good staircase. Inappropriate window frames added to facade. Paint applied to brick facade.
And I'd always thought this building was just a narrow stumpy 1930s block of flats behind a kebab shop. Just goes to show that appearances can be deceptive. This Georgian residence stands a long way back from the road, accessible only via an alleyway along the side of a launderette, which can't add much to the value of its housing stock. The roof terrace looks a nice place to be in a heatwave, if you don't mind breathing in exhaust fumes and the smell of halal chicken wafting up from below. But I can't say I'd be longing to live here.

199 Bow Road
199 Bow RoadLate 17th century stock brick with red brick dressings. Neo-Georgian shopfront. Unauthorised works to shopfront and alterations including changes to dormer windows.
This unassuming building, dwarfed between a residential block and a police garage, turns out to be more than 300 years old! I'd never have guessed. The ground floor frontage is an unplanned mess, semi-boarded to prevent vandalism and with wholly inappropriate plastic doors and windows. The first floor flats look less than pristine, and the top floor's a delapidated shell with a wooden attic roof open to the sky. This is the perfect example of a building that's somehow survived against all the odds, but may not survive unscarred much longer.

Two bollards, Bow Road
Bollard, Bow Road E3Two 19th century bollards which formed a group along with St Mary's Church, its gates and railings and the statue of WE Gladstone. One of the bollards has been removed.
Honestly? This black featureless bollard that I walk past every day is a Grade II listed building? I'm amazed. I've barely given it a second look before, and even now that I have I can't quite see what makes it special. The metal post is covered in what looks like thick black paint, so there are no obvious inscriptions or emblems anywhere on its surface. And yet, look, there's the circular scar in the pavement opposite where its twin bollard used to stand. Presumably this was ripped out when a pelican crossing was installed immediately beside it, because pushchair access is more important than heritage. Blimey, the things English Heritage keep their eyes on! Load of bollards.

8-12 Stroudley Walk (including Rose and Crown public house)
Rose and Crown Public HouseLate 18th, early 19th century, three storeys, stock brick with shop on ground floor.
Late 18th, early 19th century inn, of three storeys with parapet and stucco band. The roof is not visible. Forms an important local focal point. Now vacant and boarded up.

Not so long ago the Rose and Crown was a rather shabby pub packed with E3's less salubrious drinkers. And now it's a boarded-up shell, somehow retaining an unshattered 'Taylor Walker' glass lantern above the front door. Local alcoholics have been forced to move on, and have since taken up camp outside the betting shop beneath the post-war arched colonnade, where they slouch their lives away while their devil dogs roam the bleak concrete piazza. It's lovely round where I live. Two sozzled characters were particularly intrigued as to why I might be taking photographs of their erstwhile boozer and insisted on staring at me as they necked cheap lager hidden within a rolled-up newspaper. Thankfully they walked out of shot without confronting me and nicking my camera. The 200-year-old shop nextdoor is faring slightly better than the pub, now home to a subcontinental emporium selling vegetables, phonecards and assorted plastic essentials. But it'll take more than an architectural makeover to breathe new life back into this impoverished retail backwater.

How Memorial Gateway, Bromley High Street
How Memorial GatewayCirca 1893. Gabled stone gothic arch with double buttresses at each side. Formerly an entrance to St Mary's Churchyard. Suffering from stonework decay.
There used to be a Saxon church beyond this elegant gateway, one so famous that even Chaucer wrote about it, but no more. A German bomb scored a direct hit during the war, and what ruins remained were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road. Now all that remains is an overgrown corner of the churchyard - perfect for glue-sniffing, arson and depositing canine excrement. Somehow this arched memorial to a much-loved Victorian vicar has survived the architectural carnage, but only just. It's now a depressingly downbeat gateway that nobody wants to use - overlooked, ignored and most definitely out of time. Here's hoping that an appearance on the Heritage At Risk register will safeguard it, and thousands of sites like it, for future generations.

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