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Redundant Buildings in the Countryside

New Uses for Old Buildings

Throughout the Yorkshire Wolds, as in the rest of East Yorkshire and the country as a whole, there are buildings that are no longer used or required. Modern scientific and technological advances have changed the face of agriculture and the requirements of farm buildings have changed too. Communities and their needs have also altered.

In the open countryside there are many picturesque groups of farm buildings which are incompatible with the needs of modern machinery.

There are blacksmith’s shops and mills whose work is now concentrated elsewhere. In small towns and villages, there may be buildings formerly used for local trades, schools whose numbers have declined to a point of non-viability and nonconformist chapels whose congregations have dwindled away.
Increasingly there are churches at risk of closure and the possible loss of a village church is of special concern not only to the local community but to everybody who cares about the English landscape. The history of a settlement is likely to be enshrined within and around the church which may perhaps have been built on a site that was sacred even in pre-Christian times.

Many of these buildings are old and form an integral and pleasing part of the landscape of the English countryside.

Over the years, particularly after the Second World War when society was adjusting to a new way of life, many large houses became too unwieldy, and difficult to maintain without servants. Several disappeared.

Among these, Kilnwick Percy Hall was part demolished in 1946 because it was too large. Tranby Park, Bishop Burton High Hall, Kilnwick Hall, Welham Hall, Flat Top Farm Hilderthorpe, Brough House, Aston Hall North Ferriby, Warter Priory and Tranby Lodge were all demolished between 1950 and 1984. There were others.

Industrial buildings in small market towns like Pocklington and Market Weighton were demolished, thereby obliterating all outward signs of the town’s working past.

The wholesale demolition of country houses throughout the length and breadth of England may be a matter of astonishment for succeeding generations, but in post-war England the old order was changing and the destruction of buildings continued.

In 1974 a major exhibition, The Destruction of the Country House, was staged at the Victoria and Albert Museum to be followed in 1977 by Change and Decay: The future of our Churches.

Since then the work of Civic Trusts and other conservation groups has been instrumental in helping to change attitudes and encourage people to look more closely at endangered buildings of particular merit.

In more recent times, new developments have encroached upon our villages, which are wholly unsympathetic with the surrounding local character. Throughout the country the same suburban type dwellings have been erected without regard to local distinctiveness. The diversity of England has been sadly compromised.

In order to reverse this trend and to strengthen the powers of the local authorities, communities have recently been encouraged by the Countryside Commission, in conjunction with local authorities, to examine their settlements closely through a community based project aimed at defining local character. This ultimately leads to the production of a Village Design Statement. The aim is to help determine the special character of each settlement and lay down guidelines to assist local authorities when dealing with planning applications.

While carrying out such a project, it is likely that quite modest buildings in and around our villages may come under close scrutiny. People may ask whether these could possibly be refurbished and used for a small business, for community needs, for small care homes for the elderly, for nursery accommodation for the young, for farm diversification or for tourism related industries.

Substantial experience of such conversions has now been built up by the Rural Development Commission, English Heritage, the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency, the Country Landowners’ Association and the National Farmers’ Union as well as local authorities.

Not all redundant buildings are suitable for conversion and some will have suffered too much decal to make their conversion financially viable. It is hoped that as more communities become involved in assessing the character of the local settlement, they will learn of the wide range of possibilities that exist to convert or refurbish redundant buildings. Bringing such buildings back into use can be an environmentally sustainable way of creating work places and jobs. It also helps to maintain rural communities and support services in the Countryside.

The Countryside Agency

The Countryside Agency works through regional offices and has established a national centre of rural expertise. It helps to develop and sustain a diverse, prosperous and high quality countryside with a sound rural economy and integrated planning for development, promote balanced rural communities, ensure access to the countryside for recreation and tourism and conserve the natural habitat.

The Countryside Agency is not, however, involved in the Rural Development Programme, the responsibility of which is with the Regional Development Agencies.