The Lost Chapel of Lidsing, Kent

St Mary Magdalene Chapel, Lidsing (1776)

St Mary Magdalene Chapel, Lidsing (1776)

Having had a long-standing fascination with buildings that are long gone from the landscape, it was inevitable that I should be interested in one particular building that once stood not a mile from where I grew up. The building in question was the chapel of St. Mary Magdalene in the hamlet of Lidsing, an outlying part of the parish of Gillingham in Kent, which stood for at least 750 years until its demolition in the 1880s.

The hamlet is located nearly 4 miles from the parish church, which, aside from the distance, could be reached only by traversing a steep wooded valley, and so it is no surprise that the inhabitants were keen to have religious facilities closer to home. Indeed some residents of the neighbouring parish of Boxley, part of which was located on top of the same plateau high above its own parish church, were obviously users the chapel, as evidenced by bequests from numerous 16th century wills of Boxley parishioners. It will almost certainly have been used by inhabitants of the hamlet of Hempstead (now greatly expanded), located only a mile distant.

The chapel was located on an area of high ground overlooking a dry valley, which acquired the name ‘Chapel Valley’, and which is now almost entirely taken up by Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre, opened in 1978. A chapel appears to have been present on this site as early as the 12th century, as a chapel at ‘Lindisinge’ is mentioned in the Textus Roffensis (transcribed by Thomas Hearne, 1720). However, documentary sources are thereafter silent until 1448, when it is mentioned in a rental, and then the bequests mentioned above. The narrow two-cell arrangement of the chapel hints towards an early date and bears comparison with extant chapels at Dode and Paddlesworth, both located on the other side of the Medway valley and both of 12th century date, though the former was largely rebuilt in 1990.

The chapel had fallen into disrepair by the early 18th century, but seems not to have become totally disused. Attempts were made to reinvigorate the chapel under the incumbency of Rev. John Jenkinson, vicar of Gillingham from 1753-87, who rebuilt the east wall of the chancel in brick at his own expense and is recorded as having done so by Hasted. The Churchwardens’ Accounts reveal various repairs throughout the 1720s to 1750s and these are recorded to the end of the extant accounts in 1775.

Lidsing Chapel from the northeast (c.1880)

Lidsing Chapel from the northeast (c.1880)

As well as the 18th century engraving shown above, made in 1776 and originally from Bibliotheca Topographica Brittanica, 6 (part 1) (1782), various photographs of the chapel survive from the time just before its demolition. The photos show a stone building, most likely ragstone, although samples of stone retrieved from field-walking the site include tufa. Tufa was not unknown in Kentish building: it is used on the 12th century church tower of St George’s, Leeds (Kent), and is often found on buildings of the Norman period in the county. The east wall of the chancel, along with two attached buttresses at the eastern end, are in brick, reflective no doubt of the ‘rebuilding’ mentioned by Hasted. Unlike Dode and Paddlesworth chapels, the chancel roof is hipped at the east end, rather than gabled, although it too might have been remodelled at the time of the chancel repairs.

The photos of the front (south) elevation show round-headed Romanesque windows with a shallow-pointed Gothic arch door, together suggestive perhaps of a transitional architectural style. The remaining fenestration comprised a round-headed window in the north wall of the nave and an 18th century timber casement window in the rebuilt east end wall. By the time of the photographs, there does not appear to have been any other window into the chancel, though one photograph shows the hint of a blocked window on the north wall. A collapsed bell turret, added in 1821 and notably absent from the engraving above, lies forlornly over the roof at the west end. The peg tiles of the roof are largely missing, revealing the common rafter roof beneath.

Lidsing Chapel from the south (c. 1880)

Lidsing Chapel from the south (c. 1880)

The chapel is shown on the Tithe Map of 1838 and on the 1st edition of the 6-inch Ordnance Survey of 1869, its last appearance. The maps show the chapels position at a confluence of trackways, leading from Hempstead to the north, Lidsing to the south and Bredhurst to the southeast. One of these tracks, called Chapel Lane, lead east across the front of the chapel before curving south and then sharply diverting southeast towards Bredhurst. This road survived as a public highway until it was closed to traffic in 1987, though its route was altered to run directly south at the time the M2 was built in 1964, thereby severing the old route to Bredhurst.

Chapel Lane looking towards site of chapel

Chapel Lane looking towards site of chapel

Chapel Lane looking south towards Lidsing

Chapel Lane looking south towards Lidsing

The site is now overgrown, the trees of the churchyard and chapel garden themselves now indistinguishable from the copse that has sprung up around them. It is of course regrettable that the chapel was demolished at all, especially at a time when the conservation movement was just getting off the ground, but it is equally sad that neither Gillingham Borough Council, nor its successor Medway Council, have ever sought fit to investigate the site further, or provide any information identifying and interpreting it; the shopping centre directly opposite would be an obvious location for information boards. Therefore to the majority of those passing the site, it is nothing more than another clump of overgrown woodland in the landscape, while its position in the religious and architectural landscape of the area fades ever further from memory.


Former Burma Railway Company Building, Yangon

Burma Railways Building 2

Former Burma Railways Building, 2012 (©Myanmars Net Inc)

On the corner of Bogyoke Aung San Road and Alan Pya Pagoda Street in the Pabedan district of Yangon (formerly Rangoon) stands one of the nearly 200 designated buildings on the Yangon City Heritage List. Completed in 1896, the building housed the Burma Railway Company, becoming Burma Railways from 1928 to 1989 and thereafter Myanmar Railways. The building has lain derelict since 1994, with an ever darker shadow of doubt creeping over its future.

The building very much represents a key moment in Burma’s transport history, when three of the region’s competing and privately-run railway lines came together into a single network, the national scope of which knitted the country into one unit. The first line in the British-controlled region, then comprising only Lower Burma, ran northwest from Yangon to Prome (now Pyay) along the Irrawaddy river and was opened in 1877 as the Irrawaddy Valley State Railway. The line primarily served an economic function, facilitating the transportation of agricultural goods, mainly rice, from the valley to Yangon. In 1884, a second line was opened, running north from Yangon along the Sittang river valley to Taungoo, extended north to Mandalay soon after the annexation of Upper Burma in 1885. By 1895, a third railway line, run by the Mu Valley State Railway, connected Mandalay with Katha on the northern reaches of the Irrawaddy. Between them, these three lines connected the north and south of the country, serving both economic and strategic functions. In 1896, the three companies coalesced to form the Burma Railway Company, which was to be a state-run organisation and it was in response to this that a new headquarters was built in Yangon, just across the way from the Central Station (built 1877, destroyed in WW2).

The Burma Railway Company Building, c. 1925

The Burma Railway Company Building, c. 1925

In 2012, the neglected building was purchased by a developer who began to look for a suitable new use for this huge structure, comprising three ranges around an inner courtyard. Though the building itself was certainly imposing at the time of its construction, the architectural style can best be viewed as a subdued form of Indo-Saracenic, of which there were exuberant contemporary expressions in British India (e.g. Victoria Terminus by F. W. Stephens, 1887, now the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai) and also in Malaysia (e.g. Government Offices by A.C. Norman, 1894-7, now the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Kuala Lumpur). Interestingly, the architecture of many Yangon buildings from this time reflect this more restrained confection of European and Asian details, without the flourish of domes, chattris and guldastas that characterise so many other buildings of the neighbouring regions.

Elevation detail, 2012

The building is given a Gothic feel by the regularity of its pointed cast iron canopies to the first and second floors, with their intricately carved wrought iron brackets and finials, echoed by similarly-wrought ‘Juliet’ balconies at each window position on the external-facing elevations. The building is constructed with red brick to the upper floors and laterite blocks to the ground floor. Laterite is a clay-like soft soil layer, commonly encountered in tropical regions, that is excavated and easily cut into blocks, which are then left to dry and harden. The dried block, often called a ‘stone’, displays a porous surface which, from a distance, much resembles artificial vermiculation. On the ground floor, projecting courses of laterite blocks are used to articulate what could be interpreted as a simplified classical idiom, with a frieze of triglyphs and metopes, with guttae below. The keystones of the arched window/door positions below extend upwards to join with the ‘guttae’ of the triglyph frieze above.


Surface detail of laterite block

Conservation challenges included, as so often, retaining as much of the fabric as possible, whilst remedying structural defects and accommodating a sustainable future use. For this, two particular strategies put forward were for a façadism on the one hand, or a free-standing internal steel frame on the other. We counselled strongly against the first option, as this would entirely strip the building of its character and, in the parlance of our own heritage legislation, rob it of its special architectural and historic interest. The second option, if proposed modifications required such intervention, was thought preferable in order that the impact on the existing structure might be kept to a minimum. The external treatment also requires attention, as in almost all locations there are vestiges of cementitious render that had formerly been applied to the laterite, presumably to increase its weathering properties. However, the gradual build-up of moisture behind the render has caused systematic failure, such that the block faces are now all but clear of it.

Since our involvement, it has been confirmed (in March 2014) that the building is to become a luxury hotel, part of the global Peninsula chain, due to open in 2015. It is hoped that this use will allow retention, repair and celebration of the building’s existing features; indeed, early visualisations indicate that the outward-facing elevations will be retained and repaired, whilst the courtyard (whose elevations are treated less grandly) will receive a glazed roof to create a new atrium.

Bournemouth’s Lower Gardens

Lower Gardens

Lower Gardens

Prior to the Christchurch Inclosures Act of 1802, the area of central Bournemouth (then in Hampshire) was uninhabited heathland around a small stream, the Bourne, which discharged into Poole Bay at the head of a small chine. The result of the Act was that some 240 acres of the heath were given over to the then lord of Christchurch Manor, Sir George Ivison Tapps (1753-1835).  Soon after his acquisition, in 1809 he built perhaps the first building on the heath, The Tapps Arms (later the Tregonwell Arms, demolished 1885).

Even after Lewis Tregonwell had established himself in the area with the building of his mansion in 1812, traditionally cited as the ‘beginning’ of Bournemouth, there was little planned development of the town centre until the succession of Sir George William Tapps-Gervis, 2nd Baronet (1795-1842) to his father’s estate. Tapps-Gervis commissioned the Christchurch-born architect Benjamin Ferrey (1810-1880) to develop the area as a seaside resort, undoubtedly influenced by contemporary success of resorts such as Weymouth and Brighton. Ferrey commenced with the laying out of the Westover estate (1836, demolished early C20), a string of large Gothic holiday mansions along what is now Westover Road. Ferrey’s work at the time also included the Royal Bath Hotel (1837-8) and the Belle Vue Boarding House (1837-8, demolished 1928).

To complement the Westover development, Ferrey laid out the Westover Pleasure Grounds, located on the opposite side of Westover Road, for the private use of the villas. Dr A. B. Granville, author of the influential The Spas of England (1841), suggested that the whole area beneath the bridge over the Bourne (then located in what is now The Square) should be laid out as a ‘promenade-garden’, as he saw the nascent town as ‘the very first invalid sea-watering place and winter residence for the most delicate constitutions’. After this vote of encouragement, Tapps-Gervis employed Decimus Burton (1800-1881) to lay out part of the site. The Pleasure Gardens, which comprised a strip either side of the Bourne stream running over a mile inland, were completed under the aegis of the Bournemouth Improvement Commission by 1873. Burton’s designs for the Lower Gardens were added to by Philip Henry Tree (1834-1914) at this time and the finished article reflecting the ‘Gardenesque’ style.

View of Central and Lower Gardens after completion (1870s)

View of Central and Lower Gardens after completion (1870s)

The buildings in the Lower Gardens were intended to increase the grandeur of the resort and so its appeal to well-heeled visitors. In 1875 a glass pavilion was built on a site on the south of the Bourne, which would become The Winter Gardens. The designer was undoubtedly mindful 0f Paxton’s Crystal Palace (1850-1) and Burton’s Palm House (1844-8) and Temperate House (1859-63), the latter two at Kew Gardens. Sadly, the building was demolished in 1935 and replaced by a far inferior brick-built hall (itself demolished in 2006).

The Winter Gardens Pavilion, c. 1900

The Winter Gardens Pavilion, c. 1900

The south-eastern end of the Gardens had, until the early 20th century, been marked by Ferrey’s Belle Vue Hotel and adjacent Assembly Rooms, but in 1928 these were demolished to make way for the Pavilion Concert Hall (now Theatre), completed in 1929 in a somewhat restrained Beaux-Arts design by G Wyville Home and Shirley Knight. The theatre survives and dominates the beach end of the Gardens, particularly following extensions of the 1930s (notably the huge fly tower above the stage) and 1950s, the latter conceived in a sympathetic Empire style.

Pavilion Theatre (1928-9)

Pavilion Theatre (1928-9)

In essence, Bournemouth’s Gardens, which are now Grade II-listed, represent a well-preserved example of 19th century civic garden design as part of a master-plan of high-quality development of the town as a resort. In a town where, it must be said, successive Local Authorities have been, and occasionally continue to be, remiss in their preservation of  the town’s Victorian (and later) heritage, the gardens stand testament to the pride and ambition with which the town was conceived from its earliest days.

A Case for Delisting

On many occasions I have been involved with buildings that are being proposed for inclusion on the National Heritage List; establishing special architectural and historic interest is something with which most of us who work in the historic environment will be familiar. On far fewer occasions, I am sure, will we be involved with removing a building from the List. I would suggest there are two principal reasons for this: first, there is perhaps a genuine reluctance to strip a building of its statutory protection, which in itself seems anathema to most of us who fight the heritage cause, ‘just in case’ it should need protection from some future development. Secondly, there are perhaps few occasions when one would confidently assess a building to have lost the very prerequisite that demands its protection: how does one define and rate special architectural and historic interest?

A recent project brought these considerations into sharp relief. We were instructed to carry out a Historic Building Appraisal of a small cottage in the heart of rural Essex to inform future proposals. The building is sited on a quiet, though rather large, village green that developed as a hamlet of the original parish core, now located about a mile north. Ostensibly the building was a fairly straightforward example of late 15th or early 16th century single-storey thatched hall house, with an attic half-storey at the southern (service) end and a perhaps an ad hoc mezzanine at the northern (upper) end. It is a type of small hall-house that has surviving counterparts in neighbouring villages in this part of Essex. On this basis, the building was listed Grade II in 1983, when the building was in a state of dereliction.

Essex Cottage

The cottage from the southwest

Sadly, disaster struck within a year of listing when the building was gutted by fire. Photos taken at the time of rebuilding revealed that, despite the loss of internal partitions and the external timber-frame infilling, a good deal of structural fabric had survived, including sole and wall plates, most principal posts, the southern hip and a number of common rafter pairs. The brick stack, a 17th century insertion, also survived. There was therefore every reason to conclude that much of this fabric has been incorporated into the new-build.

1984 before rebuild

During rebuilding (1984)

However, there were some features of the building which challenged this viewpoint: the current brick stack bore no resemblance to that shown in the pre- and post-fire photos and was of a noticeably modern brick, the exposed rafter feet were all identical in shape and mathematically-precise in spacing, with modern machine saw marks. Internally, there were indications that the wall plate had been removed, as two reused jowled posts showed a gap where the plate should be, whilst the tie-beams were in new, band-sawn timber and the square-section crown posts were clearly modern insertions. Reflecting on these details, it was fairly clear that the building had been a wholesale rebuilding, incorporating only a small number of reused timbers, only one of which was in the same place. On this conclusion, initial discussions were opened with the Local Authority to discuss an application to delist the property; initial support was given but further opening-up was advised to be sure that no historic timbers remained in the walls or roof. The opening-up revealed that the entire roof and the external walls were in modern timber-frame; the reused principal posts and tie-beam had been relegated to a non-structural function.

Therefore on the basis of our report and the opening-up, an application was submitted to English Heritage to delist the building, on the grounds that it was now nothing more than a replication of an early Tudor cottage and, though the rebuilding largely attempted to replicate the overall 3-cell plan and even the position of the original hall window, its special architectural and historic interest had been greatly diminished, if not wholly lost. The application was subsequently approved after further investigation by English Heritage and the building removed from the List. Though some might argue that the mere replication of the hall-house plan retained some historical interest, the scale of the rebuilding and near-total loss of fabric made this argument difficult to sustain. Such cases, where the building’s spirit has been lost and effectively forged later, are regrettable, and serve to remind us that the National Heritage List is there to protect those buildings that retain their history and spirit. To maintain statutory protection of a building no longer meeting the requirements, would, to my mind, do a disservice to those that remain designated.

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013

On 6 April 2014, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 came into effect, resulting in amendments to the Planning (Listed Building and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. The ERR Act has resulted in some changes to the current framework of heritage protection which, according to English Heritage, ‘are aimed at making protection more efficient and effective’. Just to makes sense of these changes, I have included a brief summary below. Further information on each of the new measures can be found by hovering over the titles and clicking the links.

Certificates of Lawfulness of Proposed Works

These (optional) certificates can be sought by those planning works to a listed building, or other designated heritage asset, when it can be demonstrated that the works do not affect the special architectural or historic interest. The effect of the Certificate, issued by the Local Authority, is to confirm that the proposed works do not require a formal Listed Building Consent Application. It should be noted that a Certificate cannot be sought for demolition and is only valid for 10 years.

The intention behind these Certificates is to reduce the number of formal Listed Building Consent applications by providing an option to remove those for minor works. However,  I’m sure I don’t need to outline the difficulties of making judgements of impact on character etc. from applicant submissions that will be de facto scantier than for full LBC applications. Caveant consilia.

Heritage Partnership Agreements (HPAs)

Informal agreements along these lines have been promoted by English Heritage in the past, but the ERR Act puts them on a statutory footing. The HPA will comprise an agreement between the Local Authority and the building owner for a period of years that permits Listed Building Consent to specified alteration (or extension, but not demolition) to a designated heritage asset or group of assets.

Listed Building Consent Orders (LCBOs)

LCBOs can be granted by the Secretary of State, following mandatory consultation with EH, to grant Listed Building Consent to specified works (again excluding demolition) to any designated heritage assets covered by the Order. In practice, this is intended to be relevant for standardised building types that might cross regions or Local Authority boundaries.

In my view, the application of these Orders should necessarily be limited, as there are few buildings that can be said to be so totally removed from their local or regional architectural and social context that individual works should not be individually assessed. However, the Canal & River Trust are currently piloting an LCBO scheme for the repair of standard canal locks.

Local Listed Building Consent Orders (LLBCOs)

As for national LBCOs above, the intention of the local orders is to permit Listed Building Consent for specified works of alteration or extension (not demolition) to specified designated heritage assets within a Local Authority’s area. Again, this should only be applicable where a ‘class’ of asset along with a set of predictable or repetitive works can be readily identified. In order to avoid inappropriate works carried out under a thinly-woven blanket consent, it will be absolutely vital that extensive historical analysis of the assets and their individual contexts  is undertaken for all the assets intended to be covered.

The measures above coming into force on 6 April 2014 can be added to those measures from the ERR Act that came into effect last year, which include the following:

Amendments to Listed Building Entries

As of 25 June 2013, it has been possible for new list entry descriptions or amendments to state that any given feature(s) of a listed building, or a structure forming part of it or its curtilage, is not of special interest.

Though the intention is again to reduce the number of LBC applications for elements of listed buildings that might be unremarkable, but the keen-eyed will realise that this is rather a perilous judgement. We are fairly well alerted these days that heritage fashion and appreciation ebbs and flows, care should be exercised that some building element is not simply written-off on the whims of the time. Experience would suggest that it is rather difficult to avoid such influence, which is why blanket listing enables careful consideration in each individual case.

Replacement of Conservation Area Consent

From 1 October 2013, the requirement for Conservation Area Consent for demolition of unlisted buildings within Conservation Areas has been removed and the application is now subsumed within a normal planning permission application.

Certificates of Immunity

From 25 June 2013, it has been possible for Certificates of Immunity to be applied for at any time, whereas previously this was only possible where the building was subject to a planning application.