Tom Lloyd’s book on the lost houses of Wales, originally published by SAVE in 1986, with a second edition in 1989, first highlighted the appalling loses of historic houses in Wales. However, unlike the seminal 1974 V&A exhibition on the destruction of the country house, the attention drawn to the plight of these buildings did not stop the destruction.
This was dramatically highlighted in a recent book by two of our trustees, Michael Tree and Mark Baker, Forgotten Welsh Houses which graphically illustrates the nature and scope of the problem today. This identifies many significant houses at risk, a significant number of which are Georgian.
Unfortunately, it is a sad fact but there are a far greater proportion of historic buildings at risk in Wales than in any other part of the United Kingdom. The Condition & Use Survey of Listed Buildings in Wales 2013 Update records that there were 2,673 buildings at risk in Wales at the time of publication.
So often these problems are related to those structures that are no longer being used for the purpose for which they were built. This often results in a lack of use that can then lead to a sometimes rapid decline in condition. Add to that the possibility of wilful neglect and vandalism and very quickly a building can be deemed as vulnerable and at risk.
The key to preserving historic buildings is, of course finding viable and sustainable long- term uses.
The situation for domestic historic buildings in Wales is variable. This is partly to do with economics and the relatively low house prices throughout Wales. The geography which endows Wales with such beautiful scenery has a corollary in that the roads and communications are not straight forward. The distance of much of Wales from major centres of population is a contributing factor in limiting economic opportunities. There have been some outstanding successes as is it is possible that with the right amount of grants, loans, desire and expertise some of our houses – large and small – can be saved and given a new lease of life. Some of the buildings, Cardigan Castle and Llanelly House for example, have been preserved by Building Preservation Trusts, others have been saved by the efforts of private owners, such as with Hendre House, an award winning project by out trustee Michael Tree.
Saving a historic dwelling can be so significant to a community. As well as preserving an important part of the local and national heritage, a historic building can also provide good quality accommodation and, importantly, help with economic regeneration. Repair and refurbishment provides employment for local crafts people and a once abandoned house being re-occupied helps inject money into the local economy.
An historic house is a lasting expression of social and economic change over time and can add character to our towns, cities and villages and contribute to a greater sense of community wellbeing and pride.