The History Men
I could only bear to watch one of the episodes in the series of documentaries about English Heritage which first aired over a year ago and was repeated recently on BBC.
The Park Hill one, where the visiting English Heritage preservation enforcer stands and ponders the best solution for the dirty crumbling concrete shell of the massive listed 1950s flats in Sheffield. Should it be covered in a fresh coat of protective paint to give it a neat new coating, as preferred by developer Urban Splash, or should the 5,500 patch repairs be colour-matched back to the nearest piece of original, as preferred by the gentleman from the ministry in the name of authenticity?
Splash successfully argued – seemingly to the chagrin of the EH chap – that the original colour was the grey of concrete and matching the patches to the yellow and brown stains from the rust and pollution of 60 years was less authentic.
Others may not be so persuasive or have the useful pressure of a TV audience to show EH how to amend its thinking.
All this came up again at a recent trip to the farmer's market where I live in Lark Lane, leafy south Liverpool. The good folk from the nearby St Michael's Church were out shaking their collection tins for money to paint the outside of their listed church, built by pioneering iron merchant John Cragg in the early 19th Century to show off his wealth and his wares.
The church keepers could paint the building tomorrow except EH won't allow it, unless it's the lime paint that would be true to the original and cost £200,000.
Would the same EH director who made this decision not paint their own house with Crown Period from B&Q or re-plaster the walls with a decent modern mix if they were short of money? Do they leave the mortar to perish and the paint to flake because it looks authentic that way, albeit decrepit? Maybe they always have the cash and the problem simply never arises. Or perhaps they live in a glass house.
EH must be consulted by law on any changes to Grade 2* or Grade 1 buildings or large schemes affecting a conservation area or World Heritage Site.
As we face a drastic change from new-build to refurbishment, unless such an important watchdog is flexible on cost and time-sensitive issues many of our most precious buildings will continue to deteriorate and the number of people willing to take on heritage projects will be even fewer than before.
- If unsolicited website soundtracks – the fancy 'lift music' that pipes up when you load a website – are your thing then check out the Eddie Stobart website for a delightful specimen in this growing field of annoying workplace audio.
- Trying to find a black cab in the centre of towns and cities with a heavily Muslim cabbie community – the majority of Manchester's according to the cabbie that picked me up from the station last night – might require some forward planning or luck around sunset, between 8pm and 9pm, during the coming weeks of Ramadan as many drivers will be heading home to break their fast and enjoy a good meal. You might be able to catch one on their way home though: it is a cab driver's duty under the terms of the license granted by the local authority to stop if someone is stood waiting at an allotted rank. Ramadan finishes on 9/10 September this year.