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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Preservation and Recording of Old Houses in Kent.
by K W E Gravett.

The County of Kent is particularly rich in old and beautiful houses although with the pressures of modern life, many are now in danger of demolition. This is especially so in town centres, within commuting distance of London, and with very isolated farms. Constant vigilance is needed to protect them, and this is where a local archaeological group or historical society can help. With its knowledge of its area, it can find out which buildings are important and can often get early warning of danger.

Certain antiquities in Kent are scheduled by the Ministry of Public Building and Works. These include the Castles and Monuments taken into guardianship and open to the public and also the much more numerous class of earthworks and ruins, but does not normally include occupied houses. Churches in use are subject to a special series of regulations. This does not mean that they are safe; for example, Eastwell Church was allowed to fall down since the war. Also occasional dreadful things are permitted to their fabric, due to lack of architectural appreciation or structural knowledge. Churches do require constant vigilance, even though they are less likely to be swept away by a developer. Particularly in danger, with present church policy, are old domestic buildings which they own. These are likely to be sold to the highest bidder, quite regardless of their architectural, historic or amenity value. A recent example of this was the completely wanton destruction of Maidstone Vicarage, an early hall with a unique roof and fine fourteenth century kitchen behind. Even its association with Laurence Washington could move no-one to save it.

Houses, which are occupied, are listed under the Town and Country Planning Acts by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. An inspector was sent into each area and prepared a Provisional List of Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest. He has no right of entry and often in towns may judge the building solely on its street frontage. The Provisional List does include short architectural descriptions and is one of most value to local historians. It may usually be consulted at the Town Hall or Council Office. The Inspector also has to grade the house and this is done very roughly on the following basis.

Grade 1 - Buildings of particular merit and which would be a considerable national loss if destroyed, e.g. Knole or Penshurst.

Grade 2 - Smaller but fine buildings, the more important one in towns and villages. In recent lists, the particularly fine examples are put in Grade 2.

Grade 3 - Small houses and Cottages, generally regarded as contributing to the townscape or village scene rather than being of architectural importance in their own right.

The Inspector also observes which buildings have extra value as a group together. Provisional lists exist now for the whole of Kent. Sometime after they are completed, the owner of Grade 1 and 2 houses are informed and the Statutory List is completed. This is a list of owners and occupiers of Grade 1 and 2 buildings only. For these houses the owner must give two months' notice to the local planning authority before demolition or any exterior alteration. These arrangements do not apply until the Statutory List is published, and they are not yet all complete for Kent.

The Grade 3 buildings are listed in a Supplementary List, which carries no protection and is mainly for the information of the planning authority. The owner is not informed, and such buildings can (and often do) disappear overnight.

In Kent complete sets of these lists are kept by the County Council and also by the Committee for the Preservation of Rural Kent at Folkestone. In all, some 14,000 buildings are listed, more than for any other County. The grading may be criticised on several counts. First, there are many omissions. Second, many buildings have been refaced and their true age is not apparent from their street frontage. Third, much has been learnt in recent years about early timber buildings (see especially recent papers in Arch. Cant. by Messrs Parkin, Swain and Tester), and it is realised that many of these are undervalued in Grade 3. The earlier lists are poorer in these respect than some of the later ones, and it is hoped that some revision will be possible when the statutory lists are completed. Thanet is particularly poorly covered.

On receipt of the two months' notification from an owner, the planning committee must act if the building is to be saved. It does so by issuing a Building Preservation Order which prevents the owner demolishing, but does not prevent the building being left to decay. In this case, only the extremely rare exercise of compulsory purchase powers can ensure preservation. There is a financial implication to a Building Preservation Order, and this often deters a local authority.

In the last few years the tempo of destruction has increased. Alarmed by this the Council of the Kent Archaeological Society set up a sub-committee in 1961 to see what could be done to assist the preservation of ancient buildings. This soon amalgamated with an existing sub-committee of the Committee for the Preservation of Rural Kent to form the Joint KAS/CPRK Sub-committee. This has forged valuable links with national, county and local bodies and committees. It meets regularly to discuss action in cases of danger and to augment the almost constant efforts of its very energetic Hon. Secretary, Lt Col R F H Drake-Brockman. It is especially important that the earliest possible notice of danger is sent to him c/o Kent Council of Social Service, 1 Holmesdale Terrace, Folkestone.

As a positive step towards appreciation of our heritage, a plaque has been designed to be displayed on buildings of sufficient merit. This scheme is only beginning, but enquiries from interested owners will be welcomed by Lt Col Drake-Brockman.

Sometimes buildings cannot be saved and their recording becomes necessary. This is co-ordinated by a study-group of the KAS/CPRK Sub-committee, who issue a document "Notes for Recorders" and keep a card index of measured drawings to avoid duplication. Measured drawings produced under the scheme are microfilmed and deposited in the County Record Office at Maidstone where they may be consulted by students. The most important drawing is the plan. This should be carefully measured and thought given to the logic of the development of the house. Detailed drawings are invaluable as they may give dating evidence, but elevations are only worthwhile if plenty of time is available. An adequate series of photographs is also highly important. Extra information is given in Notes for Recorders available from Col Drake-Brockman or the undersigned, who will be pleased to hear from anyone interested in recording, at 85 Seaforth Avenue, New Malden, Surrey. The study-group hope they may microfilm the results and will endeavour to help in return with information on dating and parallels. In this way, a body of information and trained observers, who can recognise the remains of early houses we can ill-afford to lose, will be built up.

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