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Industrial heritage at risk in Kent

PUBLISHED: 12:00 23 October 2011

general view of the quadrangle storehouse in the sheerness naval dockyard. sheerness naval dockyard quadrangle storehouse kent swale sheerness

general view of the quadrangle storehouse in the sheerness naval dockyard. sheerness naval dockyard quadrangle storehouse kent swale sheerness

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Iconic buildings standing as proud examples of engineering history are the focus of a major study into the condition of England’s industrial heritage.

The research project by English Heritage includes a national poll showing that some 80 per cent of people think such buildings are just as important as castles and country houses.

But problems with developers raising finance and lack of incentives to restore them means many listed industrial constructions are falling into disrepair.

Several Kent sites and buildings have been outlined as ‘at risk’ by English Heritage; the former working mast house and the boat store at Sheerness Dockyard; the South Darenth conservation area in Sevenoaks; and No 8 Machine Shop at Chatham Maritime.

English Heritage south east planning director, Dr Andy Brown, said at Sheerness work was being undertaken with owners Peel Ports to find a use for the two buildings.

“In most of these cases, if we can find a use for them they look after themselves,” he said.

“We find that when they are not used they start on the slippery slide towards ruin. At Sheerness, tiles are slipping in the roof which is a big problem because water gets in.

“The boat store is marginally more important than the mast house. There is really interesting space which could be used for storage or even its former use of storing boats.”

Dr Brown said 40 per cent of the country’s historical industrial buildings could be reused to house new advanced manufacturing on which the future economy depends.

“However, 60 per cent of our industrial heritage won’t ever attract developers and businesses,” he said.

“Its future could be bleak but, as our poll shows, people are passionate about our industrial past and since the 1960s there has been a strong tradition of local groups taking on the preservation of their industrial heritage.”

English Heritage is responding to the need to save the buildings by offering help to developers, owners and rescue groups.

One Kent heritage site being used as an example of what can be done is No 1 The Smithery at the Historic Dockyard in Medway which was saved from ruin thanks to a partnership between the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, the Imperial War Museum and the National Maritime Museum.

For more than 400 years, the dockyard was the Navy’s pre-eminent ship building yard.

But the building fell into disrepair in the 1970s and was on the Heritage at Risk register for many years.

In 2003, following the formation of the rescue group, the shell was refurbished and a series of boxes were constructed to house museum collections.

Dr Brown said: “This is a brilliant example of what can be done with imagination and effort. If you’d asked me before the restoration, I’d have said we’d never find a use for it again”

Many partners contributed to the £13.5m project, including the Heritage Lottery Fund which donated a grant of £5m.

Bill Ferris, chief executive officer of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, said the rescue of No 1 The Smithery involved “patience, partnership and creativity”.

“Its location at the heart of the historic site made suitable uses difficult to find, as did its big internal spaces and surviving fittings,” he said.

For more details on the English Heritage Industrial Heritage at Risk project go to www.english-heritage.org.uk/ihar.

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