King Arthur hall and institute run by Dickens among 175 at-risk UK heritage sites

More than 230 sites have been rescued with help from volunteers, community groups, charities and councils

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An educational institute once run by Charles Dickens and a hall linked to the legends of King Arthur are among 175 English historic sites at risk of being lost forever.

Historic England has added places over the past year to its Heritage at Risk Register as a result of decay, neglect or inappropriate development.

The organisation publishes the register to give an annual snapshot of the health of valued historic sites, as well as sharing updates on places that have been saved with help from repair grants.

Newly named buildings on the list include the 19th-century Birmingham and Midland Institute, which was key to scientific and technical learning in the region.

Charles Dickens was one its earliest presidents and gave reading recitals in the nearby town hall to raise funds for its development.

Once a bustling cultural centre offering arts and science lectures, exhibitions and concerts, the building has fallen into disrepair in recent years, with a leaking roof and cracked windows.

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Also under threat are King Arthur’s Great Halls in Tintagel, Cornwall, where a group known as the Order of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table once gathered.

The building was designed in the 1930s by Frederick Thomas Glasscock as a meeting place for Arthurian devotees to exchange interpretations of medieval literature.

Its 73 windows depicting the tales of King Arthur are widely considered to be among the finest examples of stained glass workmanship.

Historic England said that while more than 100 sites had been added to the register, 233 places have been rescued with help from volunteers, community groups, charities and councils.

The organisation has awarded £8.66 million ($9.8m) in repair grants to 185 historic places and sites, including conservation areas, over the past year.

Fifteen sites have benefited from £3.25m in grants from the heritage at risk strand of the Culture Recovery Fund during 2021-2022, it said.

Among those to be saved are a pastoral landmark used by Second World War sailors, two well-known sections of the 117-kilometre Hadrian’s Wall and a museum housing the original manuscript of Great Expectations by Dickens.

In Merseyside, a nine-year restoration of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul and St Philomena — known as the Dome of Home that showed the entrance to the River Mersey for the returning Royal Navy — has been completed.

The church, which was a sign to sailors that they had survived the perils of the Atlantic, underwent conservation work to fix its roof, poor insulation and water damage.

Steel Rigg in Northumberland and Port Carlisle in Cumbria, two scenic viewpoints along Hadrian’s Wall, have been protected through conservation work in time for the wall’s 1,900th anniversary this year.

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Another listed building linked to Dickens is the Wisbech and Fenland Museum in Cambridgeshire, a popular pilgrimage site for enthusiasts because of its display of the original draft of Great Expectations.

The manuscript, full of handwritten pages littered with corrections and notes, was bequeathed to the museum in 1868 and will remain there after a £667,300 grant awarded by Historic England helped with roof repairs.

“Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register plays a vital role in our ongoing mission to protect and preserve our rich heritage across the country," said Heritage Minister Lord Stephen Parkinson of Whitley Bay.

“It helps to ensure that future generations can continue to benefit from everything our historic sites and buildings have to offer.

“It is also wonderful to see so many heritage sites removed from the register thanks to the support of local communities together with Historic England.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “It is central to Historic England’s mission that we pass on to future generations the rich legacy of historic buildings and places that we have inherited from previous generations.

“Our Heritage at Risk programme is a key contributor to this ambition. With the help of local communities and partners, imaginative thinking and business planning, we can bring historic places back to life.

“As the threat of climate change grows, the reuse and sensitive upgrading of historic buildings and places becomes ever more important.

“Finding new uses for buildings and sites rescued from the register avoids the high carbon emissions associated with demolishing structures and building new."

Updated: November 10, 2022, 11:42 AM
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