Thousands of years of history at risk

Ford castle.
Ford castle.

Some of Northumberland’s most ancient sites are at risk from rampaging rabbits and the rapid spread of plants, according to the latest English Heritage At Risk Register.

The document, which is updated annually and addresses the state of everything from listed ancient monuments to historic buildings, has made a number of new inclusions in the county – some dating back to the Bronze Age – to its 2012 list.

Hotspur Tower, Alnwick

Hotspur Tower, Alnwick

They include earthworks, a stone alignment and a hillfort near Harbottle, the remains of an enclosed settlement at Kilham, plus prehistoric field systems, hut enclosures and what was once a Romano-British village in the Cheviot foothills around Wooler and Kirknewton.

All are suffering from the effects of burrowing animals and runaway plant growth.

And the medieval Crawley Tower at Powburn, which was built in the 14th century, also makes an appearance for the first time.

Bondgate Tower and General Lambert’s House, both in Alnwick, remain on the register and are listed as being in a ‘very bad’ and ‘poor’ state of repair respectively.

coquet island

coquet island

Others repeat listings include Cartington Castle, near Rothbury, the rare greenhouse at Felton Park, Ford Castle and the monastic cell on Coquet Island. In total, 69 of the North East’s Grade I and II-listed buildings, 181 scheduled monuments, 18 places of worship, three registered parks and gardens, one battlefield and 20 conservation areas are now deemed to be at risk.

English Heritage has also embarked on an ambitious programme to find out how the one major element of our heritage not already covered by the Register – the nation’s Grade II-listed buildings - can be assessed. Adding the North East’s Grade II buildings found to be at risk from neglect, decay, damaging alterations or dereliction to the national or a local At Risk Register would be a first step to securing their future.

There are more than 11,000 Grade II buildings in the North East, accounting for 90 per cent of all listed buildings in the region. Beautiful, historic or architecturally special, they are the cottages, factories, shops, town halls, libraries, farm houses and other distinguished buildings that shape the character of the region’s cities, towns and villages.

Carol Pyrah, planning director for the North East, said: “We launched the first ever Buildings at Risk Register in 1998 and have expanded it over the years to include archaeology, monuments, gardens, conservation areas, places of worship, wrecks and battlefields. Now, with the economic climate putting more pressure than ever on Grade II buildings, it’s time to plug the one remaining gap.

“Grade II-buildings are the bulk of the North East’s heritage treasury. When one of them is lost, it’s as though someone has rubbed out a bit of the past – something that made your street or your village special will have gone.

“We need help and are prepared to fund up to 15 pilot surveys around the country with local authorities, national parks, heritage and community groups as partners. For local authorities or other groups who come forward this means the chance to find out which buildings most need their increasingly scarce resources. And the results will help all parties involved, including the Heritage Lottery Fund and other grant-givers, to get rescues underway where nothing has been happening for years.

“Some local authorities already have excellent local Heritage at Risk Registers and we are hoping to learn from them and from the pilots, how we can support the spread of this nationally. It isn’t just bean-counting. It really works. In London, Grade II buildings have been included on the Heritage at Risk Register since 1991 and 96% of them have been saved since then.”

To combat the further decline of those places on the register, English Heritage offered £345,000 in grants to 15 sites at risk last year and has given £10million in grants to buildings and monuments since 1999.

Higher Level Stewardships, funded by Natural England, have been awarded to remove bracken from Bewick Hill Moor camp, Soldiers Fold univallate hillfort near Hepple, and enclosed native settlements, cultivation terraces and a cairn field at Kirknewton, among others.