Preserving Wrexham county’s heritage

Reporter:

Rob Bellis

YESTERDAY the Leader reported how police were called to the recently listed former mines rescue station in Wrexham as bulldozers moved in.

According to Wrexham Council, the intervention may have been too late.

The miners building was the latest of some 1,040 buildings in the county to have been considered important enough for listing by Cadw.

Some of these, like the rescue station which the council said may now have to be torn down altogether, are considered to be buildings at risk.

One of the first at the scene of the demolition on Friday was the council’s conservation officer Anna Irwin, whose job usually involves helping owners to preserve their historic charges.

“It is highly unfortunate that a unique building of both local and national interest has been needlessly damaged in this manner,” Anna said. “It is a criminal offence to undertake unauthorised works to listed buildings.

“As such the council is treating the matter very seriously and will now be considering prosecution proceedings. The maximum fine in such cases is £20,000 and/or six months imprisonment.”

While the mines rescue station may have suffered, perhaps irreversibly, Anna has seen a great number of successes since she came to the role in 2004.

In fact, when Cadw conducted its survey of the county in 2008, 90 listed buildings were considered to be at risk compared to 150 in the previous survey of 2002.

Whether the buildings are in council or private ownership, Anna’s aim it is to ensure that she does whatever can be done to save them.

But it isn’t always straightforward. “In some cases it can be difficult to find out who the owners are,” she explained. “In the first instance we’ll do land registry searches but in some cases it might be that somebody has inherited a property and doesn’t know it.

“That was the case with a property in Ruabon: we couldn’t find the owners and in the end we had to serve a notice on the property. It was some of the neighbours who eventually found the owners – they’d inherited the property but had no idea that it was theirs.

“It happened that the house was eligible for a grant so it worked out really well for them.”

Anna, originally from Northern Ireland, graduated in architectural and urban conservation from the University of Northumbria.

She has always had an interest in historic buildings and is passionate about her job and about saving the county’s heritage.

Anna took the Leader to two listed miners cottages in Minera, one which has recently been restored and another that is awaiting renovation.

While they may not seem particularly important at first glance, these simple cottages are a reminder of the area’s social history and connection with lead mining.

She explained that both houses had once been in a similar state of disrepair and that she works closely with the owners of buildings at risk to see what can be done to help them renovate or at least secure the properties.

“We will speak to the owners about looking into a grant and encourage them to apply,” she said. “In some cases we’ll ask them to at least carry out temporary
works to keep the building in a reasonable condition, watertight and secure.

“The grants available are match funded so if they don’t have the necessary funds then we might encourage them to sell.“

While developers will almost certainly shudder at the mere mention of a listed building, Anna explained that there are instances where planners will be more lenient if it can encourage the renovation of an important property.

“Sometimes the cost of the work on a property will be more than the final value,” she continued. “If this is the case then we will allow for additional works to be done to compensate for that, such as an extension.”

The next stop on our tour illustrated this.

Surprisingly it was the expansive and famous Wynnstay Hall on the outskirts of Ruabon.

But it wasn’t a building as such that had been at risk here, rather a historic wall.

Anna explained that the important walled gardens, designed by the great English
landscape architect Capability Brown, predated the current hall which replaced the one that burnt down in the mid 19th century.

She said the walls were important not only because of who designed them but because they boasted an innovative heating system that had allowed for the growing of vines and other plants that relied on warmer temperatures.

Despite being listed, they had fallen into a very poor state and restoring them would yield little financial benefit to any potential developer.

The walls were saved thanks to an agreement that allowed the building of a number of new properties sympathetic to the original layout of the garden.

Archaeologists visited the site and were able to map out the old gardens. The new properties will reflect the orangeries and glasshouses that would have stood there centuries ago.

See full story in the Leader

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