Upton Cressett Given Grade I Heritage Listing

After a year-long campaign, William Cash's historic home, Upton Cressett, has been upgraded to Grade I listing, giving it extra protection from the menace of wind turbines

After a year-long campaign, William Cash's historic home, Upton Cressett, has been upgraded to Grade I listing, giving it extra protection from the menace of wind turbines
  
   
THERE WAS RATHER a scary photograph of me standing beside Upton Cressett in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday. I don't normally look so angry or belligerent but ever since the National Heritage List was first published on-line about a year ago, giving the impression that Upton Cressett Hall and Gatehouse was a ruin and unoccupied as a home, I have been furious about the level of misinformation on the list, which I wasn't even aware of until the government put the listings system online. For the last year I have been working closely with English Heritage – the government's heritage protection body – to correct the record.

With under 50 surviving 15th or 16th gatehouses in the entire country – and even fewer with the main houses still attached – it would seem obvious that Upton Cressett's 'spectacular' (Country Life) turreted Elizabethan gatehouse, which was described by Simon Jenkins in England’s Thousand Best Houses as an 'Elizabethan gem' , should be given the correct level of statutory protection that its exceptional architecture deserves.

Read more: Spear's Save Britain's Historic Landscape Campaign

Secondly, the previous 1951 listing was woefully inaccurate in many regards, in particular the dating of the Great Hall and the architecture of the main medieval house. As Sir Nikolaus Pevsner said in his post-war Buildings of England entry for Upton Cressett, the house deserves more 'serious study' – and that is exactly what English Heritage have been doing over the last eight months.

The Church of St Michael has stood beside the Hall since the 12th century. It is maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) and is open every day of the year with free entry. When the regional director of the CCT came to visit the church the other day, she could not believe that St Michael's was only Grade II. Well, not any more.
   
   
THE TRIGGER FOR my mission to get English Heritage to reassess the entire hamlet of Upton Cressett was a planning 'scoping report' by a wind power developer called Sharenergy, in conjunction with a local farmer, who had chosen (based on a desktop survey and never having bothered to visit us) the ancient hamlet of Upton Cressett as a potential site for an industrial wind farm which would ruin the entire historic setting.

Following a year of correspondence and field site inspections and meetings at Upton Cressett with senior members of English Heritage's Designations team, I was delighted to be informed last week that Upton Cressett Hall and Gatehouse – which won last year's Hudson's Heritage Award for Best Hidden Gem heritage destination in the UK – has now been awarded Grade I status.

Included in the reasoning for listing is acknowledgement of the exceptional series of 16th-century-inspired murals at Upton Cressett completed by the Jerwood Prize-winning artist Adam Dant (collected by HRH Prince of Wales, and whose work is held by the V&A, Tate Britain and the Met in New York). Basing his designs (pictured left) on the original vibrant murals that covered the Hall in the 16th century, Dant took nearly two years to complete the works, which were featured over four pages in Country Life.

The 12th century Norman church of St Michael, adjacent to Upton Cressett Hall, has also been upgraded to Grade I status which now makes the historic setting around the intimately connected group of buildings at the settlement of Upton Cressett one of the most important and heavily protected heritage sites in the Midlands.

We now have three Grade I-listed buildings and three Scheduled Ancient Monuments at the settlement of Upton Cressett, within a radius of less than a mile. I hope this new statutory designation sends out a clear government-endorsed message that Upton Cressett is one of Shropshire's special heritage assets and deserves full protection so the asset can be enjoyed by both tourists visiting Shropshire and the local community.
   
   
THE MANOR WAS was the historic home of the Cressett family for centuries, before my father Bill Cash MP and our family began living there in 1970. The Hall and gardens have been open to the public since the 1970s. In addition to its Tudor architecture and twisted brick chimneys, the house is famous for being where young King Edward V (eldest son of Edward IV and one of the Princes in the Tower) reputedly stayed on his fateful journey to the Tower of London after the royal party left Ludlow for London in April 1483.

Professor Hancock, author of Richard III and the Murder in The Tower, gave a talk in the summer endorsing the long-held Shropshire tradition that the young king did stay at Upton Cressett manor in 1483.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine, commander of the royalist troops, also stayed during the Civil War when Sir Francis Cressett (although we now have doubts about whether he really ever was knighted) was treasurer to Charles I.

Others who have been to Upton Cressett include prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who stayed in the Gatehouse.
   
    
THERE ARE APPROXIMATELY 500,000 buildings on the National Heritage List, of which approximately 2.5 per cent are listed Grade I; of these some 45 per cent are churches, meaning only a tiny number of listed buildings are Grade I houses. Upton Cressett is very much lived in as a family home and we enjoy opening to the public so that others can also enjoy the extraordinarily rich history of the place.

Grade I is defined as having 'exceptional architectural merit'. English Heritage states that achieving Grade I status on the National Heritage list is to be regarded with exceptional importance in the planning process. 'Designation allows us to protect and celebrate England's historic buildings, monuments, parks, gardens, battlefields and wreck sites, by highlighting their special interest in a national context. It identifies an asset or site as having significance within the historic environment before any planning stage that may decide its future.’

Backed up by a community of over 300 local supporters from our Stop Bridgnorth Wind Farm (www.stopbridgnorthwindfarm.org) campaign group, the group of which I am co-chairman with Dr Chris Douglas of Grade I Morville Hall, and supported by local MP Philip Dunne, I sincerely hope that this heightened protection will be the end of the saga which has bitterly divided the Shropshire Hills community around Morville and Bridgnorth, and that by this Christmas the community of Upton Cressett and Criddon – where the proposed wind farm was to be located, right in the middle of the old historic Upton Park – can return to harmony.
   
   
THE NOTIFICATION LETTER of Grade I status states that the new designation was, as stated above, precipitated by a wind farm proposal around 1.6km from the Grade I historic Gatehouse at Upton Cressett. The chosen proposed position of the towering industrial turbines – each much higher than Nelson’s column – was in the middle of the ancient Upton Park deer park within clear view of the first floor and second floor windows of the Gatehouse, thereby destroying both the approach and the historic setting of Upton Cressett.

Fortunately there has been a clear and unambiguous planning decision precedent relating to preserving the historic setting of a proposed wind farm close to a group of Grade I buildings, built by Sir John Vanbrugh. A government planning inspector named Paul Jackson threw out an appeal for a wind farm proposal by Broadview Energy that was 2.6km from Kimbolton Castle in Huntingdonshire (pictured left), the former royal palace of Catherine of Aragon.

The local council had refused the proposal on the grounds of damaging the historic environment and local community feeling but Broadview had appealed the Council’s decision.

Kimbolton Castle, like Upton Cressett, boasts three separate Grade I listed buildings within the castle grounds. The inspector described the historic grouping of buildings as of ‘very significant heritage value’ and ruled that the turbines ‘would be a modern, elevated, intrusive features in the countryside to the north seen from many parts of the grounds that would be difficult to avoid in interpreting the setting of these buildings’.

Under the new National Planning Policy Framework planning reforms, special protection to the historic setting of listed protected buildings of exceptional merit was included by the government after lobbying by heritage campaigners, including the Historic Houses Association and the National Trust.

Mr Jackson, the inspector at Kimbolton, took his definition of ‘setting’ from English Heritage’s own guide to planners, entitled The Setting of Heritage Assets. The historic setting, he stated in his reasoning for turning down the Appeal, ‘embraces all the surroundings in which the asset may be experienced’.

Following the heritage protection announced last week, Culture minister Ed Vaizey MP has been invited by my father, Bill Cash MP, to visit Upton Cressett and the vibrant heritage tourism at Ironbridge, another popular Shropshire attraction.

Mr Vaizey's office has indicated he would be interested in coming to Shropshire, one of the jewels of the UK's flourishing heritage tourism industry, and we look forward to showing him why the landscape around the Bridgnorth and the Shropshire Hills is worth preserving from industrial development.
    
   
IN ITS OFFICIAL Designation notification letter to me English Heritage acknowledged that the previous 1951 listing was in need of updating as it erroneously gave the impression that the Hall and Gatehouse were unoccupied and 'dilapidated'. There were also errors about the importance of the architecture of the Hall and Gatehouse which have now been rectified by tests which date the Great Hall roof structures to between 1420-40.

Extraordinarily, the desk top survey developers at Share Enegry and Natural Power tried to erase the existence of Upton Cressett's Norman, medieval and Elizabethan buildings away. All they mentioned was the old moat and some medieval fish ponds. The new Designations correct the record and shows how lucky this country is to have dedicated professionals such as at English Heritage.

It is a statutory and legal requirement that English Heritage must be consulted with regards to any planning application relating to the historic setting of a Grade II * building or listed historic park. But English Heritage were not consulted because the developers simply chose to ignore the existence of Upton Cressett Hall, Gatehouse and Norman church.

As a result of the misinformation provided by Share Energy the initial 'scoping' consultation went unnoticed under the radar of Shropshire Council's historic environment department, opening up the way for a potential Judicial Review as the correct statutory consultation procedures were not carried out.

As of today, I am personally sending copies of all the new designation notifications by English Heritage to both Clive Millington and Share Energy so this time they cannot attempt to mislead the Council. I sincerely hope that for the sake of the Shropshire landscape, and the riders, walkers, heritage lovers and tourists who come to the Shropshire Hills and Upton Cressett, that common sense will prevail and the proposed application will now be dropped for the sake of the community which has become deeply and bitterly divided ever since the application was first proposed.
   
   
IN ADDITION TO the Grade I listing status awarded by English Heritage to Upton Cressett, the ancient settlement – extending to Upton Cressett's medieval village which was enclosed in the 16th century by Thomas Cressett into a famous Shropshire deer park – added heritage protection to the ancient landscape around Upton Cressett, and the adjacent hamlet of Criddon (formerly part of Upton Cressett Park), was granted by English Heritage with the award of Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) status given to the Medieval Settlement at Upton Cressett.

The important Roman settlement at Upton Park Farm, close to the Hall, was also awarded Scheduled Ancient Monument status. The Roman site at Upton Cressett has been regarded in archaeological circles for many decades to be one of the most important Roman sites in the Midlands after Wroxeter because of the extensive amount of Roman and Bronze Age finds brought up during ploughing over the last forty years.

Dr Roger White, the respected Birmingham University senior archaeologist who also sits on the Advisory Board of English Heritage, and who has led the field excavations at Upton Cressett for over 20 years, said the award of Scheduled Ancient Monument status to Upton Cressett's Roman site was well merited because of the importance of Upton Cressett to the Wroxeter hinterland project which he has also overseen.

English Heritage were provided with photographs of the Upton Cressett 'hoard' finds discovered over the years by the Pugh family, who farm the land. For years, the valuable museum-quality Roman finds – including axe heads, coins, large pottery fragments and jewellery – were proudly exhibited in the kitchen at the Pugh family farmhouse.

Jonathan Roberts, the Sheffield based archaeologist who first alerted Dr White in the 1980s to the 'Upton Cressett hoard' owned by the Pugh family said of the Scheduled Ancient Monument award. 'Ever since my first field walking survey of Upton Cressett, it was obvious from what was being revealed during ploughing that it was an important Roman trading site – and very possibly the site of a Roman Fort, all connected to the Roman road network running along the Corvedale. I am delighted that the site and surrounding historic landscape now will be fully protected as it is of critical importance for educational and archaeological purposes.’
   
   
THERE IS ALSO an interesting royal footnote to the saving of Upton Cressett and its Norman church – whether it be from industrial developers, local farmers unappreciative of the rich history and heritage surrounding their land, thieves stealing the exceptional panelling and wood carvings in the sixties or just the building suffering from weather and sheer neglect.

When the beautiful Norman church of St Michael was only given a Grade II listing in 1951, the church was an overgrown wreck with many features hidden from view. The listings officer was also not aware of the fine 12th century medieval frescoes in the church, the exceptional quality of the Norman chancel arch or the Norman font which was reportedly was transported to Gordonstoun school in the Sixties when HRH Prince Charles was there, apparently because the Duke of Edinburgh wanted the young prince to be surrounded by beautiful objects reflecting England's ancient history.

At the time, the Church of St Michael was derelict and anybody could have stolen the Cressett brass or the famous Norman font, so it was just as well that the Redundant Churches Fund – as it was then called – decided to move the font and brass and other objects such as the stained glass to other locations for (temporary) safe-keeping.

It is not known who suggested the Upton Cressett font from St Michael's as a suitable object to be moved to Gordonstoun while the young prince was at the school but it is very likely to have been Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, the journalist, scholar and church conservationist who set up, in the fifties, the Friends of Friendless Churches with himself as chairman. This organisation came out of a falling out Ivor-Thomas had with the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, which he had been closely involved in setting up and gaining initial government funding to save the worrying number of historic churches that were being demolished. Bulmer-Thomas's new body saved at least seventeen churches from further ruin or the wrecking ball.

In 1969 Bulmer-Thomas was made the first chairman of the Redundant Churches Fund, which he ran for seven years during which it went on to have hundreds of Churches in its care. He was also secretary of the Ancient Monuments Society in the late 1950s.

Interestingly, Bulmer-Thomas was personally involved with saving St Michael’s, one of the very first churches that the Redundant Churches Fund protected in the late 1960s. The story of the saving of the church of St Michael – as well as the Hall by my parents – shows how, despite the hard work, a fervour for saving the best of Britain's heritage is worthwhile.
   
   
OUR PAST IS what makes Britain the envy of the world, and why heritage tourism contributes over £20 billion to our economy. Indeed, heritage tourism – whether it is a small Norman church like St Michael's or Blenheim Palace – is one part of our economy that is growing as people begin to understand why our unique historic landscape and buildings are worth protecting. Thank God for English Heritage.

Read more: Spear's Save Britain's Historic Landscape Campaign