By Ron Redgewell
Following the end of WWII there was a general move throughout the country to replace damaged and destroyed buildings with ‘modern’ concrete and glass ones, most local councils followed this pattern. There were a few examples where landlords/tenants withstood this mania, one such group being the Inns of Court, to the south of Fleet Street. This can be witnessed in many Georgian costume drama location shoots for film and television.
Gradually informed opinion began to question this approach leading to the formation of the Civic Trust and the adoption of a scheme for listing of buildings, monuments, and battle sites. Under the aegis of the Civic Trust, local Civic Societies were being formed.
Needless to say that travel round Europe, both East and West shows a much more enlightened approach to their heritage. A visit to what was Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, provides evidence that even Chairman Stalin had the palaces on the Gulf of Finland rebuilt, in order to maintain the ‘motherland’s’ heritage.
The stimulus to form our Society came with the demolition of the town’s Municipal Hall, I shall not detail the technical and emotional arguments of the case, suffice to say it was razed to the ground and a 60’s structure built in its place that is still standing today, among a row of listed properties. No effort was made to match the design with the place. A pressure group was formed to protect what was becoming a diminishing number of buildings that characterized the Town. From this beginning the Society was born in 1968 and charitable status obtained. It turned out to be just in time, for the Castle Hotel was the next target for the wrecker’s ball and chain. A popular campaign was mounted by the Society’s founding group, leading to some 200 members being recruited, and with pressure upon the Council a decision was taken to safeguard the façade of the building; a technique that was subsequently replicated with the protection of the Roebuck Hotel’s façade.
A personal story told by a former Secretary and past President of the Society, who recently died, gave an insight into the post-war approach to building design. On graduating, as an architect, his first commission in North Staffs was the repair of a Georgian property. Alas, his tutors had only concentrated upon steel, concrete and glass structures, and so he had to learn from the foundations up!
The Society Today
The Society has some sixty members, including a local MP, and a variety of Councillors, but as with most similar organisations, attendance at meetings is not large, we tend to average fifteen enabling all those present to take part in the discussions. Members of the Society receive a copy of the minutes during the following week. A copy is sent to the Council Leader and Chief Executive.
Meetings are held on the second Friday of the month, with the exception of August, commencing at 2.00pm in the Orme Centre, which is opposite to Greenhous Garage.
As a registered charity, members who are subject to income tax are encouraged to complete a Gift Aid declaration form, increasing the Society’s revenue.
Some of the Society’s Past, Recent, and Current Activities
- In conjunction with a local Rotary Club placed a small plaque on some twenty odd heritage properties around the Town Centre, most are still in place.
- The Society prepared a development scheme for the Lyme Valley that was instrumental in the Council taking steps to prevent piecemeal development of the area.
- An active part was taken in the saving of Maer and Hanchurch Hills to prevent mineral extraction. The Society continues to monitor proposals to develop a wind farm and holiday camp in Maer, at present on hold due to the ‘credit crunch’.
- The Society carried out a detailed survey of Betley, suggesting possible improvements to the Conservation Area and prepared a list of buildings for protection.
- Founded an award scheme to recognise built environment designs.
- Relocation of Queen Victoria’s statue from obscurity at Basford to the Queen’s Gardens, Ironmarket, as the Society’s Millennium project.
- Providing the evidence and documentation for the Grade II listing of Lancaster Building, as a fine example of 1930’s Art Deco design.
- Organised and funded a survey of QV’s statue by the Conservation Centre, National Museum & Garden Galleries, to establish renovation needs.
- Established a Borough wide Blue Plaque scheme.
- Mounted a successful campaign to prevent Somerfield (now Morrison’s) from expanding, but failed to prevent the building of Sainsbury’s new department store. Both actions in an attempt to preserve the viability of the Town Centre.
- Presentation of papers on Town Centre car parking and charges.
- Last year a member made a singular effort in arranging for a number of churches to be open in conjunction with the Civic Trust/English Heritage Open Days scheme. Such was its success that this year more have joined in.
- Put forward a Local List as required for the established Town Centre Conservation Area.
- Continuing membership of the Council’s Conservation Advisory Working Party.
- Membership, as ‘stakeholders’, of various Council working parties.
- Review of planning applications with support or opposition comments to Planning Committee and where required to Ward Councillor(s).
- Active in trying to get ‘stiffer’ enforcement action from the Council, when planning approval and/or conditions have not been acted upon.
- Active in trying to get the Council to use the ‘Hastings’ enforcement model, within the ‘prime retail’ area of the Town Centre.
- Influenced the Local Development Framework.
- The Society has representation on Local Action Partnerships.
- Has a close relationship with the Town Centre Chamber of Trade and Enterprise.
- Publishing of a quarterly, free, newsletter with a circulation to public agencies, Parish Councils and others.
- Hosting of a website to promote and inform about our activities and the Borough’s heritage.
We have not forgotten the next generation to whom we intend to hand over a Borough to which they will be proud to be associated. Each year schools in the Borough are invited to take part in a curriculum-linked project, in this way directing their attention to their local heritage. In a word, the Borough’s DNA.