Saving Surrey’s historic buildings
- Credit: Archant
Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the Surrey Historic Buildings Trust is a charitable organisation charged with protecting and enhancing our architectural heritage. Here, the trust’s Andy Smith takes us on a fascinating tour around some of the gems they’ve helped to save
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine March 2015
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While it may be the major restoration projects across our county that tend to dominate the headlines – Guildford Cathedral and Watts Gallery for instance – Surrey’s lesser-known heritage sites need some tender loving care too.
This is often where the Surrey Historic Buildings Trust (SHBT) gets involved – whether it’s 19th century kilns turned bat colony; the resting place of a number of Epsom Derby winners; or one of our county’s finest Arts & Crafts houses (more on all of those in a moment...). Not that the trust doesn’t support the big projects as well, mind – indeed, it just made a grant to the cathedral for the re-leading of the windows – but it’s also there to help with the preservation of our smaller, less well-known buildings.
A potted history
For those discovering SHBT for the first time, in short, it is a charitable trust charged with caring for all of Surrey’s architectural and constructional heritage and preserving it for the benefit of future generations. Established in 1980 with the backing of Surrey County Council, SHBT has over the past 35 years directed hundreds of thousands of pounds into vital conservation projects across the county.
The initial funding for the trust came from a former High Sheriff of Surrey, Philip Henman, who put in £25,000 of his own money to ‘set the ball rolling’, and this sum was matched by the county council. From there, SHBT has built up its reserves through donations, subscriptions and with assistance from the council. This has enabled it to make numerous grants for building repairs, to give awards for conservation, and also to provide advice and support to property owners and community groups seeking to conserve and restore local buildings of historical interest.
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Managed by a board of trustees drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, including local government and the private and voluntary sectors, the trust is based at County Hall in Kingston and is advised by a team of professional conservationists. Part of the Association of Preservation Trusts, it also works closely with bodies such as English Heritage. Indeed, high up on SHBT’s list of priorities are the county’s historic buildings that appear on the national Heritage at Risk Register, and SHBT aims to deploy its resources and expertise to help rescue these buildings from decay and get them off the register.
This work doesn’t always involve the sort of restoration work that one would usually associate with building conservation. One of SHBT’s most recent projects was funding a topographic survey of the East Battery Lime Kilns in Betchworth. These 19th century kilns are in the care of Surrey Wildlife Trust as they are also home to a large and growing bat colony! The kilns are Scheduled Ancient Monuments – the highest level of protection for historic buildings – but are currently on the Heritage at Risk Register due to their state of disrepair. The results of the survey will form the basis of a long-term conservation programme for the kilns, which will preserve their historic significance as well as their value as a wildlife habitat.
Animals also feature in another recent SHBT project. The trust funded repairs to some unusual Grade II-listed graves in Epsom – the burial place for a number of racehorses including several famous Derby winners from over a hundred years ago. SHBT’s grant has been used to fund the repair of grave slabs and railings in woodland adjacent to The Durdans riding stables at Epsom Downs. The property was owned by the Victorian statesman and racehorse owner Lord Rosebery and the graves are of horses he owned. The stables themselves have just been refurbished, thanks to a substantial grant from English Heritage, which has enabled them to come off the Heritage at Risk Register.
Another beneficiary of SHBT funding is the Grade II-listed, neo-classical Hope Mausoleum in Dorking, which is being restored as part of a much larger conservation plan for the site. The mausoleum was designed by Thomas Hope, a collector and connoisseur who was a major figure in Regency England. Hope is interred there, together with eight members of his family. SHBT is providing funding for the reinstatement of the railings and forecourt of the mausoleum. The plan is for it to be accessible to the public via a walk around the estate and SHBT’s grant will help make this a reality.
The trust has also recently part-funded repairs to windows at Leith Hill Place, near Holmbury St Mary. This Grade II-listed, Georgian country house, which is in the Palladian style, was inherited by the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose grandfather Josiah Wedgwood III – of the famous Wedgwood pottery family – had moved there in 1847. Vaughan Williams’ uncle, the naturalist Charles Darwin, was also a regular visitor in Victorian times. The property was given to the National Trust by Vaughan Williams in 1944, but was leased as a school boarding house for many years. However, it was opened to the public by the NT for the first time last year.
One of the buildings of greatest architectural significance to benefit from SHBT funding is Goddards, a Grade II-listed house in the Arts & Crafts style at Abinger Common. The trust has made several grants to Goddards over the years, most recently for restoration of the ‘ha-ha’ in the grounds. The creation of the distinguished architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (designer of numerous Surrey houses as well as the government buildings of New Delhi and the Cenotaph in Whitehall) and his regular collaborator, the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, Goddards was built in 1898-1900 and enlarged in 1910, and exemplifies the traditional ‘Surrey style’. The property is now owned by the Lutyens Trust and leased to the Landmark Trust for holiday lets. It also houses the Lutyens archive.
Among the most distinctive buildings SHBT has supported is Abbot’s Hospital, a magnificent Grade I-listed Jacobean building at the top of Guildford High Street. The Hospital of the Blessed Trinity, to give its original name, was founded in 1619 by George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, as a gift ‘out of my love to the place of my birth’. It was not Abbot’s intention to provide a hospital in the modern sense of the word but a place of shelter for elderly poor, under the care of a resident master. Four centuries after the first residents moved in, Abbot’s Hospital continues to offer accommodation for local elderly people. Interestingly, Abbot’s Hospital does not look at all Jacobean but harks back to earlier times – and its gatehouse bears an uncanny resemblance to the Tudor gatehouse of Hampton Court Palace.
Another intriguing building is Chatley Heath Semaphore Tower, near Wisley. One of SHBT’s first grants was for restoration to the tower after a fire and repeated acts of vandalism in the 1970s and 1980s. Built in the 1820s, the 60-foot high tower was part of the Royal Navy’s signal chain stretching from the south coast to London, which enabled messages to be transmitted from Portsmouth to the Admiralty in Whitehall in under 15 minutes. It is the best preserved of the remaining towers, and still has a working mast. It remains well worth a visit for anyone with an interest in Surrey’s significance in the Defence of the Realm.
One of the best ways to experience all of these buildings, however, is to join the Friends of Surrey Historic Buildings Trust and enjoy the organised visits and private tours. We look forward to welcoming you!
Need to know: For details of SHBT’s Friends scheme, visit their website at surreyhistoricbuildings.org.uk or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are proposing a conservation or restoration project that you would like the trust to support, contact conservation officer Martin Higgins on 01483 518758.
Making their mark
One of the better known buildings that SHBT has assisted is Guildford Cathedral. While the main story of the appeal to save the cathedral has been the efforts to secure a £4.5m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, there are smaller challenges being faced too and SHBT recently supported the re-leading of windows above the organ console with a grant of £5,000. To find out more about the Guildford Cathedral Appeal and another historic Surrey home undergoing renovation, read on...