Mrs Brenda Watkin was then of the Historic Buildings section, County Planning Department, responsible for Witham (inter alia).
Her talk was to the Witham History Group, on 15 March 1995, and was about some historic buildings in Witham.
The original recording of this talk is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at email@example.com or 033301 32500.
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Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Well, I think in actual fact I’ve been very lucky over the last two years, because there’s been an awful lot of work going on in Witham, and thankfully, I have got something to talk about tonight. And then you suddenly start to panic, because I had comparatively little time to put the talk together, and I must say I’ve got to thank an awful lot of people who’ve come to my aid to produce photographs for me, and some very very good slides. And I haven’t got a lot of interior shots of The Gables [125 Newland Street], but placed around, and you can have a look at them when you have your coffee break, there’s some photographs of the interior of The Gables, there’s an isometric of a lovely house at Chipping Hill. So wander round and have a look at them.
26-30 Chipping Hill (later known as 30 Chipping Hill; fronts the green and backs onto the churchyard)
Well, I found a copy of this black and white photograph when I was going through our slides at County, and I thought this would be an ideal one to start off with, because so much of our legislation tells us to protect the cherished scene. And if there’s ever a cherished scene, it certainly is the green at Chipping Hill, and I’m sure all of you have looked on with great interest as work was undertaken to this house. And it’s one that I’ve always looked at with great interest, because it’s got the two cross-wings, it looks such a typical double cross-wing Essex timber-framed building, so the chance to look at it and record it was extremely useful. But going back just a little bit in time, and this is a black and white print that appears in the Royal Commission volume of Essex, of Chipping Hill at Witham, and there is our double cross-wing house, but look at all the buildings on the frontage there. And I did wonder, what response would there be from Witham if we had a planning application in to put those houses back again [laughter]. So much for protecting the local cherished scene. Which is the local cherished scene? Obviously the one that we know during our lifetime, and not necessarily the one that went before. And I think those would have caused a tremendous amount of problem now when you have your medieval fair.
And this is an isometric sketch that I did, while I was recording the frame of the building. And what was of great interest to me was the fact that it wasn’t once double cross-wing house. In actual fact it was one cross-wing, the one the nearest the path and the entrance to the church, which had a recessed high end, and its hall coming in this direction [?across the entrance to the churchyard], and the lower cross-wing, away from the church, in actual fact belonged to another property, and had its hall coming off towards the river. So in actual fact the hall of this one has been demolished and a two storey hall built in the centre and that is what you now read when you look at the house. So you’ll have to stop and think now, what was that like, and how it would have looked with another hall range on the property. And this is one of Mike Wadhams’ lovely models. Mike made many models, and at County we’ve got a lot of his documentary work that he did on Witham, and I must admit I used a lot of slides of his models. And this gives you the idea of a typical cross-wing with its jettied front to the front. And you can see more or less the various members of the timber frame. So bear that in mind as we go round the house.
This was one of the first pieces of evidence that we were presented with when they started to do some stripping, and all of this had just been covered with a rather tacky piece of hardboard. And what you can see are some very very black timbers. And to us timber-frame freaks, this is something that is always exciting. Because what you’re looking at there is the build-up of soot from an open fire in an open hall house. So at least that’s given us some idea of the age of that cross-wing at Chipping Hill. We know that it went with an open hall house. And we know that most properties in Essex by the late 1500s, early 1600s, had had their open halls replaced either with a two-storey hall or a floor inserted and a new brick stack built. So at least it goes back to the 1500s. And again you can see this lovely build up and encrustation of soot, and how the decorative braces are actually cut in, they’re trenched into the stud and also halved, and again, a sign of high quality work. Normally they’re just trenched into the face of the stud. And that shows further stripping having been done, and there you can see the braces going through.
And this is a shot on the ground floor of the cross-wing nearest the church, and you can see a rather interesting shaped post here, which actually formed the opening recess at the high end of the hall. And a doorway framed by the side of it, which most probably gave access to a stair trap, and you can see a mortice here which would have trimmed the floor. Unfortunately like so many of these timber-framed properties, it had had quite a lot of going over at various times, and none of the original floor survived. But still enough evidence left behind to at least give some idea of what was going on. And here you’ve got a dovetail and again we now know that that cross-wing was jettied towards the church and also towards the green.
And that’s a sketch showing you how you had the two jetties. That one to the front of the cross-wing and facing the green, and that has now been extended out at a later date. And here’s the wall towards the church, and again originally jettied in that direction as well. And that’s the post that you saw with the swelling at the top, which again would have been echoed by one on the other side, giving this rather nice opening as a high end recess. And the typical W brace wing of the fourteenth century. And this is when you really start to get excited, when you see a splayed scarf joint, used to join two pieces of timber, and Cecil Hewitt called this a trait-de-Jupiter, or a thunderbolt, but you can see how simple it is, and what you can’t see, but I hope you can on the drawing, are the pegs that secure it in place. And again, going by Cecil’s dating, we can put a date of somewhere around 1350 on that joint. And certainly that fits in with the bracing and other evidence that we were seeing in that cross-wing.
And I put this in as a little exercise to show you why we are still relying so heavily on Cecil’s research that he did on carpentry technique in Essex. We’ve now got a marvellous process of dating timbers, called dendrochronology, where you take a bore through a timber, and with a vernier scale you calibrate the width of the annual growth rings. But I think all of you can see how few annual growth rings we actually get in a lot of our Essex timbers, and Ian Tines[?] from the Museum of London at times throws his hands up in despair when he comes to Essex, and says ‘Oh no, it’s another one of those timbers. And right towards the part[?] more or less you can actually see, one, two, three, four, five annual growth rings, and counting out how few you actually get, on quite a substantial piece of timber.
And another reason why I enjoy timber-framed buildings so much, is, it doesn’t matter how much has been taken out, how much the building has been changed, it leaves all the clues behind, and looking up at the underside of this bridging joist, you can actually see the pressure mark of where the brace went, and you can almost see the shape of it, look, it had a lovely chamfer on that corner, this corner is square, there’s the mortice that’s now been just daubed with infill, and again another line here, where you had another timber crossing. And if we look at it from a little bit further away, you can still see your mortice for the brace, still got the mortice here, but suddenly you can see a post. Well what was the post doing in that position, and a brace slot, but surely the brace didn’t go in this direction? And what they’ve done is just taken the post out of that position, and changed it round. So originally the post would have been on this line, with a bracket up at this position, and then the very nice rounded edge of the bridging joist, denotes that we’ve got an internal jetty. So again, a recessed high end, towards the hall, and here you can see the grooves for the wattle infill and another mortice for the partition at the back of the high end recess.
And if you hunt around long enough, people never threw anything away, and there’s the brace, re-used against the back wall of the cross-wing, and there’s it’s chamfer on one side, and the sharp arris[?] to the other. And that shows you where you had the recess, at the high end of the cross-wing. And this set back, and most probably with the bench just over one section of it. And then an access through here and up the stair trap to the first floor. And I hope you can all see it, that you get very nice marks as well on the timbers, and that’s a carpenter’s face mark, so again he was marking the best side of the timber before he actually started to cut out the mortices, and again you can see his scribe-marks, for where he was going to cut the mortice. And what’s interesting that again the face mark faces the front of the building. So as you came into that cross-wing, you saw the good side of the timber. In some ways still exactly the same as we do today. I mean to say, if we’ve got a good piece of furniture, we make sure people see it as they come in, and exactly the same, you were showing off the quality of the timber that you could afford to buy. And heavy section joists, and again with centre tenons. So again on this cross-wing we’re most probably looking at a date of about 1400.
And on the rear wall you can see evidence of diamond mullions, so again a simple diamond-mullioned window, unglazed, but with the groove for the shutter. And there you can see where one of the diamonds has actually been infilled with plaster. And again lovely evidence of how the carpenter actually cut the groove. So there’s the spoon[?] bit that he would have drilled in and then taken it out afterwards. And a brace and a tie-beam, what we term as an open bay of a house, so that it means all of this is just later infill, as they decided to divide the volume of the house up and use it in a different way. But again, all of the little clues that help us to put together the history of the house, and to actually make it work.
And now we’re standing in the two-storey replacement hall, and looking back at the very early cross-wing against the church, and there you can see the door opening, and the very nice moulded bridging joist that went in when the two-storey hall was built, and the partitioning now being done with solid planks of wood, set into grooved studs
And what I find interesting is that this type of construction is usually very early, but we’ve still got it being used in this house at a date most probably late 1500s, early 1600s. And unfortunately only a very very small piece of the wall painting had survived on a mid-rail[?] at the back of the hall. But again, evidence of the over-painting of the timber-work and the studs, and how elaborate that hall must have been at one time. So all evidence of a very very high quality house. And interesting dates as well. Mid-1300s and then into the 1400s. And we know that we had the market at the end of Church Street and the open area of the green below the church, and this infill starting to take place, even be allowed, once the new market at Newland Street has become established and is taking off, and the market at Chipping Hill actually starting to wane and lose its influence. And Janet Gyford the local historian, has done some research in the Essex Record Office and again has come up with evidence, certainly by the 1440s, of the two properties at Chipping Hill, and I think they’ve got lovely names, because one of them was called Struggles and the other one is called Druggles. And also evidence in documentary form that one of the first non-conformist preachers actually was a tenant in the cross, well, whether it was just a cross-wing then or whether it was still a complete hall house, but was actually a tenant in the one nearest the church, and again that rather appealed to my warped sense of humour, about the stranger outside the gate. And that is a shot of the house as it was undergoing its restoration, and I must stop one day as I go by and now take a photograph of it completed.
Avenue House, 4 Newland Street
And I don’t know how many of you have read Warwick Rodwell’s book, but he wrote a very intense book on the origins and the early development of Witham, and he talks about the separate areas of the medieval development, starting from south of the river, and then slowly building up along Newland Street until the later development, and how he feels that most of it, this area, was infilled at a later date than this area, because it was most probably in the ownership of the King because of the medieval earthworks, and so it was the Knights Templars having to apply to the King for their charter of land that unlocked this area and then slowly through from the 1200s into the 1300s, the houses started to develop along Newland Street and then later into this area. And again, he’s done it in fairly easy stages, so this is the earliest development, this is the earliest development, south of the river [Note by JG, this part is wrong, south of the river was not part of the Templars lands], and then the plots slowly working their way up Newland Street, and again, interesting plot sizes of half an acre or an acre, giving a frontage onto Newland Street of thirty-three foot or sixty-six foot, the market area and then further development.
And it’s in that area of further development that we find Avenue House. And this is an engraving, and the date given on it is 1732 [Should probably be 1832?, JG} And what’s very interesting is that in the restoration of the house, there are so many re-used timbers. And still a little bit left of the medieval house, that obviously this was a very prestigious house being built on the site of a much earlier medieval house. And you can just imagine the impact that that must have had on people travelling out of London and through up to Ipswich and beyond. Really a very prestigious house. And some very prestigious repairs and gentle restoration has been done to it. And to me this is always one of the signs of a real craftsman at work, where you’ve got the very very finely gauged brickwork, and the lime putty actually used to joint it. And it’s certainly been interesting watching the work being done in Witham and luckily you had some very very good craftsmen actually being used, and I think that’s to Witham’s good. It’s not always you get craftsmen of this competence. And some of the internal shots showing the Georgian fireplaces, again in the process of restoration. And so many times you go into a house and you find all of the internal shutters have either just been taken off and perhaps carted up to the attic first, and then somebody gets fed up with them being in the attic, and then eventually they get thrown outside and burnt. But again, Avenue House still has original shutters. And very very interesting early sash windows on the front elevation. And I think you can see from the profile of that, how it differs to the much later Georgian glazing bars with their very very fine profile, and almost paper-thin leading edges. And these are what we call anobolo[?] moulded mullion. And not every one of those windows slides from the top and the bottom. We find that alternate ones have only got sliding sashes to the top.
And this is a sash pane from a similar window from the Charles Brooking collection. But because he’s taken the paint off one section of it, I think you can see the profile a little bit clearer. And what we often never see are the intricacies of the construction of these sash boxes. And again I like the Brooking collection because he cuts through sash boxes and you can actually see how intricate all of the work was, and where you’ve got the boxes and the divisions were the weights for the shutters. And I think now we can start to understand why it’s so expensive now to actually have to replace sashes, and why we try nearly all the time to get people to repair them, rather than just take them out and put in modern ones.
And again, the staircase being repaired and re-sited. Work had been undertaken previously, and it really hadn’t got the setting that it should have. And it really has made a lovely space. And again, the incredible amount of love and care in restoring the panelling, and all of this is belection[?] moulded panelling, which has actually been taken out and turned round, and then hessianed and papered over. And when it was found, the owner thought that it was worth the time, the trouble and, I have to say, the money, to restore it, and I must admit, it’s a real treat now to go round the house. And again, an interesting example of graffiti, somebody leaving their name behind, call it what you like, but a nice date of 1805, and there’s also pencilled notes as well, on other panelling, so that we can very firmly date the time when the changes were made to the architrave and the mouldings around the door. And this is something that quite often we can go to pattern books, and you can see that yes, in London they were doing it at such and such a date, but it’s always difficult to find how it slowly moves out, and at what date things are being done in a local area. So again, it’s nice to know when I see that sort of detailing on other houses in Essex, I can go back and think, well, it’s going to be somewhere around 1805.
61 Newland Street; now Town Hall
And again, another building that I’m sure you’re all very familiar with, and this is a fairly old photograph that was taken from the book of Witham in postcards, and this is when it was Barclay’s bank, and then it went to the newsagents and Building Societies and various others, and now is restored and become the Town Hall. And I think it’s only the start of the renovation, restoration, as far as I can tell, because there seem to be some very exciting plans for a garden at the back as well, so I think it’ll certainly be one place where I shall be going and sitting in my old age.
And why have I put this shot in? As if that bears no resemblance at all the 61 Newland Street. But look at this long-wall jetty, and in actual fact that’s how 61 Newland Street started its life. Inside the building is a timber frame, and it had a long-wall jetty right the way along its front, fronting onto Newland Street, and not only that, but only part of the building is still there, where you’ve got the gap between the Town Hall and the bank [59 Newland Street]. Previously the Town Hall would have continued right the way across that gap. And it’s rather nice because the construction of this room, with its side purlin and the lovely wind-bracing, is almost identical to the roof in the Town Hall, which unfortunately has had to be covered in. And that’s some of the timber framing that was exposed during the renovation work, and again, I mean to say, that’s a door, standing against it, so I think that gives you some idea of the height and the impressive nature that that building must have had before it was re-fronted. There’s the floor joist running through, and the jetty would have been at that height. This is again unusual in Essex, but you find it on more prestigious buildings, where you get a rail actually dividing the studs, half-way up a wall. So you’re going to come across it in places like Codham Hall at Shalford, and other prestigious buildings. And again, evidence of the dove-tail underneath the floor joists at ground floor level, where the jetty plate would have sat before the building was flush faced.
And there was an article written in the forties about wall-painings that had been found in this building, and there’s a photo-copy of it there, and they were showing some of the most super Jacobean figures and designs, and on the first floor tie-beams, you can just see a small area of painting, and that gives you a close-up of it, and when you think of the whole of the building being painted out in this fashion, it certainly was something that I would have liked to have seen, but at least it’s been recorded and the ceilings have been put back and it’s still there. Unfortunately I don’t think anybody knows what happened to the wall painting that was previously found, whether it’s still there or whether it was just lost. And again on the ground floor you can still see remnants of the painting still surviving on the main bridging joists. And evidence here, and again showing the quality of work, with the chamfering, and detailing, where you have the main bridging joists meeting.
So you really are lucky in Witham. Just think what you’ve got, lurking behind all of these buildings.
115 Newland Street, The Gables, and 117-119, Fern House
And this is the last one that I’m going to talk about, and this is the Gables and Fern House, at the end of the High Street. And as I said, unfortunately I haven’t any internal slides of it. But again, there’s something very interesting going on behind this façade, and I think you can just about see where you’re getting the cracks in the plaster, and definitely this section, again had a long-wall jetty onto the front of Newland Street. Unfortunately most of this section is covered, but again I wonder whether there was a similar treatment to this side, because you’re getting the cracking in a very similar position. And I think this is really a lovely example of what has happened in Witham where in some ways this one still has kept its vernacular feel, but the Town Hall has been re-fronted and given a very polite architectural façade. And again you’ve got the very polite architectural façade of Fern House, with its lovely Georgian doorway and the fan-light. And I hope when you all walk through Witham, you won’t just go along looking into every shop window, but you will lift your heads occasionally and look at what has gone on above those shop-fronts, because it’s amazing how much still survives. And the lovely Victorian porch onto the front of the Gables, with its carved barley-sugar twist supports, and quite interesting because in the list description, they actually say that those are cast iron. Well, they’re not, they’re carved timber, and certainly the carpenter who did those, I think must have had quite a few laughs at how many people he fooled. And the entrance door to Fern House, with this very intricate fan-light, and the very very simple Georgian railings. And I think you’ll be able to see a tremendous difference between the arch detail at Avenue House, and the arch detail here at Fern House. We’ve got no lime putty, no nice white joints, and what has happened here, you’ve still got very very small remnants of very very high quality tuck pointing, so a completely different approach here to Avenue House. The mortar was coloured the same colour as the brick, it was then incised and the lime putty put on in a very very fine line, but put on all over the building, so again, evidence that somebody there had a tremendous amount of money to spend at the time. All of that is very high quality work, and I would hate to think how much it would actually cost the practice to now have that completely tuck-pointed over the front façade. Most probably as much as the rest of the
And again look for the clues of the way buildings have been extended. This has got quite an interesting set back in the brick-work, and when you go inside it certainly looks as if this is a later extension, and again the bays that have been put on. But it really does make such a feature, doesn’t it, with the lovely simple parapetted form of Fern House, and then these incredible Gables. It’s almost as if somebody thought, well, make sure that if we’ve got something simple there, we’ll have a really sort of finish there, something that’s going to compete with it.
And again, as you go down Witham High Street, if you could more or less look at the back of all of the buildings, it’s happened to so many of them, the way of living changes, and suddenly people don’t want to live in the front rooms any more, it’s becoming noisier, actually getting more carriages through each day, and so you decided to actually extend out the back, either with a very very nice Regency bay, or with a complete extension. And in Regency times, suddenly you find all of the houses changing emphasis as the people decide to put on their garden rooms, and then that becomes the best room of the house, and you spend more of your time looking out into your garden than looking onto the street. And I think that is an exceptionally fine bay, with its lovely curved sashes [back of Fern House]. And at the Gables they were doing something very similar as well, so again they were more or less putting an extension on, and here you’ve got very find glazing bars to the later sashes, and you can see how thin they are, and those are the type that we call sashes with marginal glazing lights. And they had tremendous problems with the roof spreading, so again additional support was introduced and then the brickwork rebuilt, and I’m sure it’s only going to be another two years and you’ll find that most of that has all weathered in, and you’ll hardly even notice the scarring of the building.
And that brings me to the end of my four buildings of Witham. So I hope I haven’t more or less confounded you all with too many terms, but if anybody feels that they’ve missed a point, or want to take it up with me afterwards, then I’d be only too pleased.
Chairman: Right, let’s thank Brenda very much indeed. We’ve got some photographs and plans to look at over there, we’ll have a cup of coffee, and then perhaps we’ll come back and see if anyone’s got any questions for Brenda, anything we’d like her to enlarge on. But that was fascinating, thank you very much, as we knew it would be.
Q: Really nothing to do with what you’re talking about (BW: Oh I like those sort of questions.) What do you think of the sort of national heritage people sort of settling on Harlow railway station as a place of beauty. [???]
BW: I always think sometimes these things are extremely difficult, and as I’ve had to deal with Silver End for quite a long time, you can imagine that I get asked that sort of question all the time. ‘What on earth do you want to more or less control what I do in Silver End?’. And I suppose it’s like everything, the powers to be say ‘Yes that is an important building’, and unfortunately I can’t pick and choose which ones I choose to abide by the legislation with, and then use a different criteria for the others. Though in some ways, once something’s been listed, then I have to treat it the same as, well, almost the Thomas Tait modern movement houses at Silver End I have to treat in the same way as I would more or less the medieval houses at Chipping Hill. But certainly it is difficult sometimes to actually quantify why things have been listed, and it’s even more difficult when the powers to be list a building such as Gilbey’s building at Harlow one month, and then six months later give Sainsbury’s permission to demolish it. And then, that really leaves you asking questions.
Q: It was very nice hearing you refer to the Gables and Fern House. I was wondering if we could request that these names be restored. They’ve really disappeared.
BW: Ah. Well, I was going to say, perhaps we can ask Roy to answer that because he …
Roy[?] [probably from Braintree District Council] Well, we’ve got a couple of doctors here as well.
BW: Oh [laughter]
[???] Fern House is now called Fern House surgery.
[???] Originally that was Fern House and is now the name of the practice.
BW: Oh good.
[???] It’s now known as Fern House surgery. [???]
BW: So more or less when you’re in conference we’ll now be told you’re Gabling [laughter]
Q: I didn’t know that the names had been lost, I’ve always called them Fern House and the Gables.
Q: Well, the name the Gables was on the front of the house, till [???] it isn’t there.
BW: Ah, so that most probably had disappeared under the previous owners’ occupancy.
Q: Were both houses known as the Gables [???] Are they both the Gables or are they separate [???]
BW: I’d always referred to both of them as the Gables, but I don’t know whether they had been separately named.
Q: They were in common ownership, weren’t they, when Mr Horrell was there, the whole thing was called the Gables in those days although they’re actually different numbers. Certainly the building was raised[?] at the same time, [???] four gables.
BW: Yes. Oh yes. Yes, I mean to say if one had been in separate occupancy then, or separate ownership, you would have felt that they would have just had three gables and left one plain.
BW: Well the earliest section is the, well there is actually a surgery isn’t there, in one part of the Gables, with the close studding and the arched bracing, and certainly that part of it is going to have to be more or less either very late 15th century or 16th. And again was long-wall jettied form, very very similar to 61 Newland Street that’s now the Town Hall. But this is always one of the frustrating things, you see, when so much is covered up in the other half, I mean to say, you’ve got interesting bridging joists that you suddenly see, but you’ve got no idea what section the joists are, whereas where you’ve got the exposed timber framing in the gable, you’ve got the horizontal emphasis floor-joists, which again we know go on till about 1600 and then they start to change to vertical emphasis, and the modern concept of flooring joists. So it more or less, because we’ve lost the roof, that was lost when they did the roof raise, then you’ve got no dating features in the roof, and you’re more or less trying to do it by stud work, floor joists, and general size of the timber and construction. So that was why in some ways, when you’ve got scarf joints, when you’ve got more or less the good dating features of crown posts, and floor joist joints, things like this, you stand far more chance of getting a good dating date for the house than when you’re just looking at isolated features.
Q: Brenda …
BW: There was a lady behind …
Q: Can you tell us anything about the cottages behind the Gables [123 Newland Street], they’ve intrigued me for years, and I just don’t know anything about them. They look very old to me.
BW: I can’t tell you a lot about the, unfortunately, no. This is always one of the problems, we tend to get blinkered towards more or less the buildings that come in as an application, or buildings that we’re asked to go and look at, and the time to more or less come and do a dating exercise on the whole of Witham is just impossible.
Q: Those buildings there were completely refurbished, surely they must have had some kind of application to do it?
BW: Yes, there must have been some planning application, but unfortunately at County, we tend to more or less change areas, so in the time that I’ve been at County, I’ve given advice to Thurrock District Council, I’ve given advice to Chelmsford District Council, and so you’re more or less moving through different areas, and you don’t always get continuity to say ‘Oh well, I’ve been looking at Witham for twenty years and virtually now I know every building. So we see parts of areas and unfortunately somebody else is most probably overseeing the restoration of those, and I haven’t had the chance to look at them in detail.
Q: When you look at Andrew’s cottages up at, on the green at Chipping Hill [26-30 Chipping Hill], are they going to deteriorate now? I know they’ll be all right as long as he’s there, but, what’s the life of cottages like that?
BW: How long is a piece of string? I mean to say (Q: Are they actually deteriorating?) Well, I mean to say, as long as oak is kept dry, I don’t think anybody has determined how long it would last. I mean to say, we’ve got buildings in Essex, Fyfield Hall in particular, where there’s original structure that most probably goes back pre-Conquest. Yes [laugh]. I mean to say, somebody came along in about 1190 and more or less re-vamped it, but certainly that’s revamping and there’s earlier structure still there. You’ve also got a very early cross-wing at Tiptofts at Wimbish, and, there’s certainly, well, even, you think of the barns at Cressing, where you know, we’re getting dates of 1220, 1230, you know, 1350, that’s a mere youngster, isn’t it. [laughter].
Q: [probably Helen Pitchforth]: I was at a planning meeting last night, we had a list of buildings at risk, which the County kindly compiles and then sends out to the District. Now before we all worried about the house with the shop at the corner of Guithavon Street [68 Newland Street] (BW: Yes.) is there anything we can realistically do apart from worrying about it, to, we were told last night that there wasn’t much we could do except express our feelings to the owners, where they were known, obviously. But is there anything we as a Society, or as individuals, can do, to save a building like that?
BW: Certainly I know Braintree have put in a tremendous amount of work on that, the enforcement officer has done a lot of research trying to find owners, and it seems to be one where everybody passes the buck, and they’re having great difficulty in actually serving a full repairs notice on somebody. As a society certainly it’s always interesting to get articles in local papers and raise people’s awareness. Otherwise if you’ve got some money in the coffers, buy lots of lottery tickets. [laugh] Or I suppose make a bid for some of this lovely lottery money that there’s going to be around to do various projects. But … it does seem a great shame that with buildings like that, that are problem buildings, it’s just trying to get to the bottom of ownership, so that Braintree could actually serve a full repairs notice.
Q: Do you believe it’s a deliberate policy on the part of the owners, whoever they are, to let it become neglected so it’ll eventually be demolished?
BW: I was going to say, it’s very difficult, because sometimes yes, you feel that, and certainly I’ve had it quoted to me, usually by farmers, who more or less, ‘Well, I’ve got a farmhouse, the family doesn’t really want it, and I’m not really interested in selling it to anybody else, and I’ll just leave it to fall down’. And the same with listed barns. But with a property like that in the town centre, I would have thought that it would have been extremely difficult to say that it was a deliberate ploy, because it affects various parts of the building. I mean to say, within that building you’ve got parts that are let out, leased out, and you’ve got flying freeholds, flying usage, and things like that, how do you more or less allow it to fall down without damaging other parts and other uses.
Q: [???] with that property, some years ago, the County kept a revolving fund [???] Is that, does that still exist?
BW: It doesn’t still exist. They are looking at trying to get it working again, but as far as I know at the moment, unless you can find an owner, so that you can serve compulsory purchase on somebody, how do you buy it and use it as revolving fund target?
Q: It seems extraordinary that an owner can’t be traced, doesn’t it? It does to me, anyway.
BW: Yes, I think certainly Carol Brothwell, the Enforcement Officer at Braintree, had done a tremendous amount of research and it was, seemed to going through various companies and things like this, and she was finding it very very difficult to be able to pin-point who actually did own it.
Q: I expect if you moved in there and set up a stall or something, you’d soon … [laughter]. Start a charity shop.
BW: Yes. I think it’s a charity shop in its own right. Wanting charity.
Q: You’re not involved in bridges as well, are you? We’re interested in Sauls Bridge [Maldon Road]
BW: I started the ball rolling on Sauls Bridge, because Highways engineers have now got to look at the loadings and various other things, and they had come to the Historic Buildings section with an interesting scenario. ‘We want to strengthen it, we’ve got to do something, so can we more or less take it down and display it somewhere perhaps in one of the Country parks?’ And I’m afraid our response to that was ‘No, it’s a listed structure, there’s no way that if we suddenly said to them, oh well, the Town Hall’s in the way and we’d like take it down and move it to a Country park, that that would get consent, so why are we treating bridge structures in a different way.’ And they’ve been told to go away and have a look at the possibility of strengthening the structure.
Q: It’d be so nice, if we could just move it a few yards down the stream, it could then be used, displayed, and we could all admire it, without crawling underneath. We don’t see it at all.
BW: Yes, and then it’s a very difficult thing, isn’t it, because if it’s moved, it’s almost lost its reason to be there. Because then … it’s to cross it.
Q: [???] [???]
BW: I still feel that it can be strengthened sympathetically, and still be kept in its original position.
Q: But you don’t see half of it.
BW: And half of it’s already been changed, hasn’t it, because more or less one of the parapets has already changed.
Q: Yes, the bridge is still underneath. Whereas what we would like to see is it moved about a hundred yards downstream to where the trestle bridge used to be for the old railway, because that’s going to be a rail trail, going to, how lovely to be able to see it in its splendour, rebuilt and then [???] bridge and the road, it just seems so much simpler and most straightforward.
Q: It would be in daily use.
Q: How do you strengthen a cast iron structure anyway?
BW: The engineers were looking at it, Highways engineers.
Q: They’ve been looking at it for a long time. How much of the original Sauls bridge is actually there under the [???], any of it?
BW: Yes, I think most of it is still there, certainly [Q: One cast iron side] side, and then more or less it was widened wasn’t it, and more or less a new parapet put on the other side.
Q: So there’s still some of the original bridge underneath the road?
BW: Yes, oh yes. And certainly the report that was done for the Civil Engineers’ institute talks about most of it being complete underneath, and I think the surveys that were done by Highways show it complete underneath.
Q: And is the, there is one face, that as I say, you can see by climbing down the bank. The other face as you say is no longer there. (BW: Is no longer there.) But could possibly still be there under the road?
BW: I don’t think it is, I think it was lost when it was widened, and certainly I’ve never seen any evidence that it’s still there. But certainly it’s an interesting bridge and I was very disappointed that it hasn’t featured in lots of books rather like the one that was done by Ironbridge on iron bridges and iron structures, because it’s, I think it’s 18 – 1814, 1816 [Q: 1814. Ransome of Ipswich] But again, more or less one of the first of the bridges that they were turning out, and certainly the earliest one that’s still surviving.
Q: Really? Where does the name Saul come from in Sauls bridge, does anybody know?
Q: Was Mr Saul a carrier? [???] [???]
BW: Normally it’s taken, you know, the name comes from a local feature or something like that, but I can’t think of anywhere that I’ve seen anybody make reference to how the name came about.
BW: Yes, it was Ransome’s. [Q: Ipswich] And it was Sir William Cubitt? Who was the designer.
Chairman: We’ve lost Brenda now, she’s gone to pastures new. [ Thanks etc.]