‘When someday it may happen a developer’s around
I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list,
Of important architecture that is really pretty sound
And it always would be missed – it always would be missed.
There’s cathedrals, palaces and monuments that always need our care
Most stately homes and churches we think always should be there
And lesser pleasures, too, whose loss we really couldn’t bear
Such as shelters for the cabbies who are waiting for their fare . . .’
Sorry, W S Gilbert, to pervert Koko’s song from The Mikado, but listing has been topical over the last few days. Unlike his ‘little list’ of things that ‘never would be missed’, the big list of buildings that is compiled by English Heritage on behalf of the government is one of the most important weapons that the nation has of helping to ensuring that our built heritage is preserved.
As English Heritage’s website says, ‘Listing helps us acknowledge and understand our shared history. It marks and celebrates a building's special architectural and historic interest, and also brings it under the consideration of the planning system so that some thought will be taken about its future.’
In England there are almost 373,000 listed buildings – listed at Grade I (‘of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important.’), Grade II* (‘particularly important buildings of more than special interest’) or Grade II (‘nationally important and of special interest’).
To complete the picture, there are also almost 20,000 scheduled ancient monuments, more than 1,550 registered historic parks and gardens, More than 9,000 conservation areas (of which Ripon has two), 43 registered historic battlefields, 39 designated wrecks and 15 World Heritage Sites, including Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. Of these, by far the greatest majority are the Grade II listed buildings. They comprise 92 per cent of all the protected buildings.
So why would a building be listed? If a building dates from before 1700 that is in anything like its original condition it is almost bound to be listed. Survival alone is, of course, not a guarantee of high quality, but our view of the buildings of the past is never the same as our ancestors’ view. Time, taste and destruction weed out a vast majority of buildings, usually leaving for us the best, the most interesting or the most useful. So anything from before 1700 will already have gone through its own ‘weeding-out’ process.
As we come nearer today, the critera tighten. Most survivors up to about 1840 will be listed, too; thereafter, with an increasingly greater stock of buildings, the choice becomes more and more selective. Anything that is listed from the second half of the 20th century onwards will have to be of exceptional quality.
It will not come as any surprise that almost 65 per cent of England’s listed buildings are from the 18th and 19th centuries. In sharp contrast, buildings constructed between 1900 and 1944 comprise just 3 per cent of the list.
The Cabmen’s Shelter was provided for the city in 1911. Its listing earlier this year places it within that exclusive 3 per cent. As the official listing schedule from the Department of Culture Media and Sport says, ‘It is a nationally rare and well-preserved example of a cabmen’s shelter, an important reminder of the importance of horse-drawn transport in the early C20, supplied by the well-known firm of Boulton and Paul of Norwich.’
Ripon Civic Society twice restored the Shelter and in 1999 it gave it, in pristine condition to Ripon City Council, which undertook, in writing, to keep it in good repair. For several years the Society has been urging the Council to repair the shelter, which is noticeably deteriorating. With no action forthcoming, the Society decided that to request its listing might help to move the process along.
Look again at the passage from the English Heritage website quoted above, and note that one reason given for listing is that it ‘marks and celebrates a building's special architectural and historic interest.’ The Society had hoped that the listing of the shelter would be a cause to ‘celebrate’. Instead, the Council has seen it as an affront, and one they appealed against.
Now that the appeal has been lost, the Society hopes that the Council will change its opinion, begin to celebrate the uniqueness of this structure, and work together with all interested parties to have the shelter repaired and restored immediately – a task that can be done undercover, as the shelter can be moved; listing does not mean it has to stay in situ. All it needs, as Harrogate Borough Council has confirmed, is a letter to them saying that it is being taken for restoration and will be replaced in the same position once restoration is complete.
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