How do we build support to revive our architectural gems?

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The derelict Central Plaza Hotel in Carlisle
The derelict Central Plaza Hotel in Carlisle

The Lake District National Park is about to be acknowledged as a World Heritage site this summer.

Hadrian’s Wall is already recognised as one.

Historic sites and structures can be found throughout Cumbria.

But are we ignoring the man-made glories of the region and will it cost us in the future?

The Victorian Society has appealed to people to nominate threatened Victorian or Edwardian buildings to boost their chances of revival.

Every year the society compiles a list of the Top 10 endangered buildings in England and Wales to draw attention to those structures at risk.

According to the Historic England Heritage at Risk Register, there are 24 buildings, sites and structures are at risk in and around the Carlisle area.

These range from a prehistoric enclosure, field system and cairnfield near Bewcastle, to an outcrop of Hadrian’s Wall in a farmfield, to the 1843 cornmill at Warwick Bridge, a Medieval Pele tower at Nicholforest and churches at Arthuret, Castle Carrock and Wetheral.

In Workington, there are three: St Michael’s Church, Church of St John and adjoining parish room, Washington Street and Workington Hall.

The Central Plaza Hotel in Carlisle was one of 2015’s Top 10 Most Endangered Victorian and Edwardian Buildings in England and Wales.

One leading Cumbrian architect described the dereliction of the Plaza hotel as a “national disaster”.

Speaking two years ago, TV presenter Griff Rhys Jones, Victorian Society vice president, said: “These are buildings that need help, and we need your help.”

Today little is visible as the building is shrouded by scaffolding.

The hotel closed in 2004 and the company that bought it ceased to exist shortly afterwards and it fell into the hands of the Queen’s Crown Estate solicitors.

They have declined to manage or market the building, but are open to a sale.

The council has spent £77,000 on the building in recent years but has been unable to find a developer willing to take it on.

There is some tentative talk of a rebirth, a refurbishment, but we seem to be a long way from work beginning there.

Cumbria County Council has just moved its offices from the landmark Citadel buildings in Carlisle city centre.

A budget has been set aside for their upkeep and maintenance, but the intention is that it should not be left empty and unused for too long.

 Viv Dodd

Viv Dodd

Viv Dodd is Carlisle city council’s retired director of planning and co-founded the State Management Story, an organisation set up to preserve the heritage of the State Management pub scheme. The secretary of Carlisle City Centre Business Group, he says the council is taking steps to find another use for the buildings.

And he doesn’t blame local authorities for failing to protect their landmarks.

He said: “They have been strapped for cash. How can you spend thousands of pounds on old buildings when you are cutting back on education and social care?”

John Kelsall’s Phoenix architecture and planning business specialises in building conservation and using contemporary design in historic settings.

He believes we should do all we can to retain our historical buildings and to make the most of what we have got.

“We have been involved in some Victorian shop revitalisations in Carlisle.

“The ground floor changes every eight years, but the building stays the same. If you look up you can see the quality of the buildings.

 John Kelsall

John Kelsall

“It is sad to see something like the Plaza. It is a national disaster. Griff Rhys Jones has spoken out about it. Why aren’t we doing something to save it?”

For four decades Prof Mullett taught early modern British and European History at the University of Lancaster where he is Emeritus Professor of Cultural and Religious History.

Prof Mullett retired in 2008 but is now producing a series of books charting the history of Penrith.

He says Cumbria, more than many other areas of the country should value its history and its historical buildings.

“We have a hell of a stock of buildings. The Americans would go mad for it.

“We have a lot to look after, but we don’t.”

He points out that the governments in France and Germany help provide funding for the upkeep of ancient churches.

Prof Mullett believes the Two Lions in Penrith is a typical example of how we neglect our history.

The oldest domestic building in the town, it dates from 1562 and is a former pub and before that, the home of Gerard Lowther, once the most powerful man in the area.

But it has been deserted and neglected for years and is deteriorating badly.

The professor said: “When it was a pub it was kept warm and dry, now it is damp and dilapidated.

“We are trying to get together a bid for funding from English Heritage, but they want to know where is the concern of the local community. How do we go about it?

“How do you get people in Penrith or Carlisle concerned in these days of so many worries about health and social care, do we have time to be concerned about Victorian buildings or other historic buildings?”

The historian says the stunning remodelling of the St Pancras rail station in London should inspire the preservation and updating of our old buildings.

“They have introduced 21st century style to Victorian gothic.

“It is a masterpiece that has been preserved.”

Mr Kelsall says that although there is little or no public money to finance any repair or rebuilding schemes, Government money could be used to pump prime such projects and encourage private sector involvement.

With interest rates so poor at the minute, investment in property is an attractive proposition.

The Carlisle architect added: “The Victorians did it. They did not go to the government for money.

“They sat round in a coffee house and said ‘who has the money?’

“Some got rich and some lost everything.

“I think a good quality, Victorian boutique hotel would go down well with Trivago (a hotel booking website) and I think those with the funds to invest would do well.

“If we don’t look after what we have got, we will never see it again.”


To nominate a building contact the Victorian Society via email at media@victoriansociety.org.uk – or by post at 1 Priory Gardens, London W4 1TT – with brief details of the building and at least one photo.

Nominations must be in by Friday, July 7.

The Top 10 will be announced on Wednesday, September 13.


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