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The Work of Historic Buildings Trust

Article reproduced from the UK Market Review spring 2014

During the last 40 years, many historic buildings that had fallen on hard times and for which no future has seemed commercially viable, have been rescued by building preservation trusts.

Such organisations, operating at both national and local levels and independent of Government – indeed sometimes at odds with politicians’ views – have kick-started whole neighbourhoods, often in urban areas of Britain, into a vibrant future. These non- profit trusts, set up for the most part by historians, architects and concerned and energetic locals, have changed the face of large areas of Britain and, in the process, found new uses for buildings that were regarded by many as past redemption. In the 1970s, the National Trust for Scotland started its own ‘little houses scheme’ in the fishing villages of Fife at Culross, Pittenweem & Anstruther, breathing new life into areas of Scotland that were then down-at-heel, while in England the old industrial town of Wirksworth in Derbyshire was rejuvenated by the Civic Trust together with the Monument Trust and the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust.

Many early model industrial settlements such as New Lanark in Scotland have been repaired and become an accepted part of our built heritage, to be cherished and enjoyed through the work of such groups. The scale of buildings repaired by preservation trusts has always varied greatly, in north Northumberland in the 1980s, the Northern Heritage Trust rescued Belford Hall, one of James Paine’s great Palladian country houses while in Cromford, Derbyshire, the Arkwright Society has restored Richard Arkwright’s model weavers’ cottages. One area now internationally renowned, is Spitalfields in East London, which was regarded as the back of beyond in the 1970s. At that time, while the area’s historic fabric was being gradually demolished, it became the focus of a group of energetic enthusiasts, who set up the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust in 1977. Using the tactic of squatting in derelict buildings while demolition squads hovered outside, the Trust has itself repaired – and inspired the correct repair – of an entire historic area of East London and beyond. The success of the neighbourhood, now a destination for people the world over and a much sought after residential area, has led to regeneration and economic affluence. It wasn’t always so, but building

preservation trusts have had the vision and nerve to go where many developers had not dared. When houses meticulously repaired by building preservation trusts come on the market, they command much interest because the quality of the work and fittings in them are often far above that of the usual commercially-driven restoration. Those that have been through the loving hands of the Spitalfields Trust are no exception. Their latest project, pictured here, is the 16th- century Shurland Hall, Isle of Sheppey, just 50 minutes from the City of London which, together with some seven acres including walled gardens, a farmyard and small lake, will be on the market later this year.

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