Saturday, 05 December 2020

Campaign to stop historic house demolition

A CAMPAIGN has been launched to save an historic farmstead in Henley which is set for demolition.

A CAMPAIGN has been launched to save an historic farmstead in Henley which is set for demolition.

The collection of buildings at Highlands Farm, off Greys Road, would be bulldozed under Crest Nicholson’s plan to construct 170 homes at the industrial estate.

The developer says that the farmstead is of “limited architectural and historical interest”.

But conservationists argue that the buildings, some of which are thought to be around 500 years old, are a significant piece of Chilterns history and should be retained in the development.

They include the Ancient Monuments Society, the Henley Society and the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group.

The buildings include the original farmhouse and barn, thought to be from the mid-18th century, and the stable from the 19th century.

The Ancient Monuments Society says Crest Nicholson has ignored the thatch and earth walling, historic fittings such as doors and windows and the inscriptions.

Lucie Carayon, casework secretary for the society, said: “The buildings are not currently listed and the site is not in a conservation area but the photographs included with the application suggest that the farm complex has architectural and historic merit.

“We are concerned that buildings of local and national interest may be lost without a proper assessment of significance having been carried out.

“Should development on this archaeologically sensitive site be deemed acceptable, consideration should be given to whether the existing farm buildings should be retained and adapted as part of a new housing scheme.”

The Henley Society said: “In relation to the proposed demolition we recommend that an exception be made for the original Highlands Farm farmhouse which, although modified, dates back several hundred years.

“The building would serve as a visual link to the past history of the site and could well act as a focus for the development by providing an attractive centre for the community hub.”

Pam Syrett, chairwoman of Henley Archaeological and Historical Group, said: “We are of the opinion that the farmhouse and timber-framed barn, plus adjoining brick and flint stable grouped around a former farmyard, still survive as they are a major asset to the site, confirming its identity as a typical Chilterns farmstead derived from the Chiltern woodlands.

“[It was] probably constructed in the post-Black Death era, when it was owned by the Stonor family, at a time when land was being cleared and taken into farming use.”

Ruth Gibson, who is acting secretary of the group and a planning field officer of the Chiltern Society, tried to have the buildings listed by 2012 but her request was refused.

English Heritage said the “degree of alteration is such that the buildings now lack sufficient interest to merit listing”.

This is because only fragments of the original timber-frame farmhouse survive and the original roof and that of an adjoining 17th century block have been renewed.

But it also said the buildings were “of strong local interest for their early fabric and as a typical instance of the settlement patterns of the area”.

Mrs Gibson, of Vicarage Road, Henley, said: “Keeping it would give the development so much character, making it more interesting and preserving a bit of Chilterns history.

“The farmhouse could be two smaller cottages or a four-bedroom house. It could be a focal point for the hamlet or village, as I would like to call it.”

Henley Mayor Lorraine Hillier said: “If the building is of strong local interest we should retain it. If English Heritage feels it is not worthy at national level then we have a duty to preserve it. I don’t see how any development around it could not incorporate it in a sensitive way.”

The original farmhouse is thought to have been timber-framed. Other features include a 17th century parlour wing with flint brick quoins and dressings laid in a Flemish bond, a newel staircase and restored ceiling timbers.

Crest Nicholson’s development would also include a community hall, three junior sports pitches and up to 2,000 sq m of office or warehouse space. As well as the farmstead, the trading units on the 12.8-hectare estate would be demolished.

However, a large old oak tree to the north-west of the old farm would be preserved.

The company’s application to South Oxfordshire District Council for outline planning permission says there are better preserved farms with statutory protection less than a kilometre from Highlands Farm.

But Cotswold Archeology, which completed the historic building record on behalf of consultants CgMs, did not actually survey the farmhouse building.

The document says: “A farmhouse is situated 30m to the south west of the barn.

“This was not surveyed but on the basis of external architectural details, elements of this building are likely to be of early 18th century date and therefore at least partly contemporary with the former farm buildings.

“The farmhouse is of limited architectural and historical interest in view of extensive later extensions and alterations which have severely altered and masked its original form.”

Highlands Farm, off Greys Road, is the largest site earmarked for homes in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, which was the subject of a referendum yesterday (Thursday).

Councillor David Nimmo Smith, chairman of Henley Town Council’s planning committee and a district councillor, said: “If English Heritage doesn’t think it’s of sufficient value to warrant listing I can’t really disagree with that but I’m happy to talk to planning officers about it and get their view as to whether it is worth saving.”

Henley MP John Howell said: “It’s a matter of negotiation between conservationists and the developer. They’ve obviously tried English Heritage and that has failed so it has to be done between them, the district and the developer.”

A Crest Nicholson spokeswoman said: “Throughout the neighbourhood plan process and in preparing this outline application, we have undertaken extensive surveying work on all existing buildings on site to establish their provenance and structural integrity.

“This includes instructing historic building experts CgMs to put together a historic building record for Highlands Farm.

“South Oxfordshire District Council’s conservation officer has agreed that Crest Nicholson’s work in this regard provides a sufficient record of these buildings’ history.”

More News:

POLL: Have your say