For Suffolk Free Press from the Sudbury Society for 6 May 2021
Listed but not loved
What’s happened to a Grade II Listed building At Risk?
Several old buildings in Sudbury have been in the news recently: notably Belle Vue House but there is another that is not so well known because these days it is off the beaten track for most people. It is at the end of a cul-de-sac: 48 North Street. However, it too hit the headlines and even the TV news but for all the wrong reasons: it was being used as a cannabis farm and was raided by police in January 2021.
When, in 2006, I first saw what had been an elegant, red-brick Georgian/Regency house converted into the obviously closed Monsoon restaurant with its net curtains still in place, I thought it must have recently become empty and would be quickly snapped up, be well-kept and maintained. How wrong I was! When I learned it was one of the 240 nationally Listed Grade II buildings in Sudbury I thought, “Oh, that’s all right then. It’ll soon be smartened up.” Wrong again!
Being Listed does not mean that it will automatically be loved and cared for. Far from it. That all depends on the owners and if they are not local (perhaps abroad and even untraceable) they can virtually ignore it and let it fall into disrepair (to put it mildly) so that it becomes ‘at risk’.
Then one day the curtains had been removed and posters for wrestling and circuses were plastered over the windows. A tatty notice with a phone number invited viewings of the property. The ceiling had fallen in in one place, perhaps through a hole in the roof and the rain percolating the upper floor.
It turned out that at one time the owners had applied for Listed Building Consent to convert it into flats on the upper floors with retail at ground level. However, Babergh District Council advised basic conservation repairs first.
Then there was scaffolding all around the building and work was underway to repair the roof, replace the pointing, restore the lovely front door with its pilasters and fanlight, repaint the woodwork, clean the windows! What a delight! I was thrilled – at last, 48 North Street was being cared for. Perhaps the owners had stepped up to their responsibility of caring for their Listed building.
But my joy was short-lived when I looked at the ‘workmanship’. The original builders would be turning in their graves if they could see what had been done to their fine brickwork. Cement (very likely modern and incompatible with an old building) had been squashed in to fill random gaps and it was oozing out like an over-full cream cake. Here and there, modern bricks and been crudely substituted.
The painter appeared to have had only one size of paintbrush – big – and used it for the tracery of the fanlight above the door so that grey paint was sloshed onto the glass. Again, naively, I thought he would return to clean it up but he didn’t. However, the windows looked better for being cleaned.
What I was surprised about was that all this was allowed to remain – a travesty of ‘restoration’.
A Heritage Economic Regeneration Scheme grant was offered for improvement but then everything ground to a halt and went quiet and it appeared that nothing further could be done. Apparently, despite repeated attempts to contact the owners, no one has been forthcoming. English Heritage which designates buildings for national Listing could also do nothing even though the building is at risk.
Within a few years the interior plaster was falling off again – that was before the windows were whitewashed presumably to cover up the illicit cannabis growing – and it is as bad again now. What happens when a Listed building becomes unsafe and either falls down or has to be demolished? We don’t want to have to find out the hard way. So, a plea to the owners of 48 North Street, if you are ‘out there’ please give your lovely old house some TLC – it is Listed and it deserves to be loved.