Buildings At Risk - London 2007

Getting involved with a Friends Group could help save some of London's threatened landscapes,

July 24th 2007 saw the official launch of English Heritage's 17th Buildings at Risk register for London 2007. The register contains information on all listed buildings and Scheduled Ancient Monuments which are at risk from neglect, decay, under-use or redundancy.

The Gothic Boathouse in Gunnersbury Park

The Gothic Boathouse in Gunnersbury Park is listed as: Condition - bad,  priority - A.

An increasing proportion of the buildings identified in Buildings at Risk are set within historic landscapes and include a considerable collection of garden buildings, shelters, statues, temples and fountains. The value of these features is not only in their individual architectural merit but also in their contribution to the historic landscape as a whole. Cemeteries like Abney Park and Stoke Newington are also included.

Around 22% of the entries are owned by local authorities and at least 20 of the 33 local authorities in London have appointed an elected member to act as their borough's Historic Environment Champion. English Heritage sees the role of these Champions as critical in establishing improved working relationships between conservation staff, planners and estate managers to find solutions for buildings owned by local authorities across the capital.

But not all the buildings on the register are in the public domain. One celebrated garden now in sad decline is that around Witanhurst, the historic Hampstead mansion, which has the second largest private garden in London and was the setting for the BBC show Fame Academy. The house is for sale for £32m and the future of the site uncertain. The Italianate garden, designed by Harold Peto in 1913 for owner Sir Arthur Crosfield, is deteriorating fast. You can help Witanhurst and other important historic gardens and garden landscapes in London by raising the profile of gardens like that at Witanhurst, forming Friends Groups and notifying English Heritage of important landscapes and garden buildings at risk.

More info:

English Heritage London Region,
1 Waterhouse Square,
138-142 Holborn, 
Tel: 020-7973 3000

The Story of Witanhurst

Sir Arthur Crosfield, MP, soap magnate, saw himself as a future Liberal prime minister and his house, Witanhurst, as Highgate's Cliveden.

Reported to be the largest house in London after Buckingham Palace and listed as grade II*, Witanhurst has stood empty for years and is included in English Heritage's Buildings at Risk Register.

Derelict tennis pavilion at Witanhurst
Derelict tennis pavilion at Witanhurst

The original and modest eighteenth century house was extended in 1913 in Brobdingnagian neo-Georgian style to designs by George Hubbard and, before the glory departed, political society and royalty were entertained there for a while between the wars.

The gardens on the slopes of Highgate West Hill cover about four acres and include an Italianate walled garden designed by Harold Peto a tennis pavilion and ambitious terracing and steps, all now derelict. The stone columns of the pergola survive but the statuary has gone, the fountain basin is dry, and the elaborate paving around the empty flower beds is lifting and cracked.

Harold Peto's architectural schemes, not all implemented, survive on paper as do Percy Cane's planting plans, and the gardens could be recovered once a viable use was found for the house.

Chris Surnner