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.

Advertisements

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.

laterite

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.