18 sites saved as Historic England reveals North East heritage locations at risk

Marsden Lime Kilns, in South Shields, are one of the locations to be saved Credit: Historic England

18 historic sites across the North East have been removed from the 'at risk' register.

Historic England says many have been saved thanks to the hard work and dedication of local communities, who have come together to rescue places despite the challenges wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Charities, owners, local councils and Historic England have also worked together to see historic places restored, re-used and brought back to life. Important ancient sites in the Cheviots have been rescued with funding from the Countryside Stewardship scheme.

It comes as Historic England publishes its annual Heritage at Risk Register for 2021.

The Register is the yearly health check of England’s most valued historic places and those most at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development.

Six sites in the North East have been added to the register because of concerns about their condition. They are at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development.

North East sites removed the heritage 'at risk' register in 2021 includes:

As the tower begins a new chapter, local volunteers will continue to be involved in running it as a visitor attraction. Credit: Historic England
  • Cresswell Tower, Northumberland

Cresswell Tower, until recently a roofless shell with a history of vandalism and graffiti, has been transformed into a remarkable community space.

The project has seen public and private organisations and the local community work together to restore this Grade II* listed building and Scheduled Monument. 

The castle-like structure is a 14th century pele tower, originally a three-storey sandstone building, with an entrance on the first floor accessed with a ladder or wooden staircase.

Pele towers were common across Northumberland between 1350 and 1600, built to protect local families from Border Reivers, who launched raids along the Anglo-Scottish border from the late 13th century to the beginning of the 17th century. They included both Scottish and English people, and they raided the entire Border country without regard to their victims' nationality. 

The conservation project began in 2014 when parish councillor Michael Wright met with Parkdean Resorts, holiday park operator and owner of the tower, along with Cresswell Parish Council and Historic England.

The team went on to secure a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other funders, which enabled the complete restoration of the building. There has been a huge amount of local interest and involvement throughout the restoration – with help to raise funds and with community excavations.

As the tower begins a new chapter, local volunteers will continue to be involved in running it as a visitor attraction and working on the restoration of the nearby walled garden.

Red Barns is built of hand-made local bricks with clay roof tiles and sash windows. Credit: Historic England
  • Red Barns, Redcar

Red Barns is an important house, designed for Hugh Bell by architect Phillip Webb between 1868 and 1870.

Webb was a founding member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and leading light of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The house is also important because of its association with the Bell family: Hugh Bell was a popular local industrialist and benefactor. His daughter Gertrude, honoured by a blue plaque at the house, was a celebrated archaeologist, writer and traveller.

Her achievements were dazzling: born in 1868 she was one of the first women to obtain a degree from Oxford, she travelled widely in the Middle East and spoke Arabic, Turkish and Persian. In the First World War, she went into service with British Intelligence. She was part of the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force in Basra and Baghdad, mapping Iraq single-handed. She advised Winston Churchill and was influential in British foreign policy.

Red Barns is built of hand-made local bricks with clay roof tiles and sash windows. Over the years Red Barns was converted into a pub and hotel, suffering disrepair and vandalism when those businesses closed.

The present owners have been instrumental in tackling its repair and conservation, showing a great appreciation of the building’s original design and detail as they breathe life back into Red Barns. From 2022, the beauty of Red Barns will be shared with the wider world when the present owners open the doors of their home as a B&B.

The conservation area includes Soho House and survivals from Soho Engine Works. Credit: Historic England
  • Shildon Conservation Area, County Durham 

Stockton & Darlington Railway (S&DR), a cradle of modern railways, opened in 1825. Shildon Conservation Area, an intact part of the S&DR route, represents one of the most significant early railway sites in the world.

It was home to railway pioneer Timothy Hackworth whose locomotive designs paved the way for the international adoption of steam-powered rail travel. 

The conservation area includes his home Soho House and survivals from his Soho Engine Works, along with other railway and public buildings, and workers’ housing. Previously vacant, and needing repairs to key listed buildings, the conservation area was at risk. Now, thanks to collaboration between partners within the S&DR Heritage Action Zone, including Durham County Council and the Science Museum Group, which operates the Locomotion museum at the site, its future is bright.

In 2019, Durham County Council and the Science Museum Group spent £1.8m on repairs, uncovering unusual construction techniques including walls reinforced with railway tracks.

Today, the buildings are part of the Locomotion museum, with volunteers helping to open the site to the public. Historic England is researching Shildon’s history and pursuing an archaeological investigation of the site of Hackworth’s engine works. The museum continues to develop a masterplan to tell Shildon’s story as the world’s first railway town. 

Locomotion is developing exciting plans to regenerate the area in the run up to the bicentenary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025. This will see the construction of a new collection building, plans to return the historically significant Guanless Bridge to Shildon and other investment, to help create a sustainable future for the site.

  • Marsden Lime Kilns, South Shields

A significant link to the region’s industrial past, Marsden Lime Kilns have been saved, thanks to an agreement between Owen Pugh, owners of the site until 2017, and Historic England.

The kilns, now 150 years old, were built in the 1870s to produce lime for farming, construction and the steel and chemical industries, including Consett Steelworks Co. Durham.

They were operational until they were abandoned in the 1960s. The kilns were closely integrated with the local railways so that coal from nearby Whitburn Colliery could be unloaded directly from the railway trucks at the top of the kilns, along with limestone from the adjacent Marsden Quarry. The bank of kilns housed within a large stone battery with its series of arches is a prominent local landmark, visible from the coast road and nearby bridleway.

Owen Pugh provided half of the funding to consolidate the kilns, some contributed in kind, by way of their work to clear the site, improve access and reinstate timbers on the front of the kilns. These timbers provided structural integrity and helped the kilns withstand the effects of intense heat. The lime industry was once prolific in the region, but today little remains of it.

The Marsden Lime Kilns are a rare survival, now in robust condition, thanks to the work of the team at Owen Pugh.

Historic England has funded repairs to one of four corner bastions on the boundary wall of the garden. Credit: Historic England

In progress:

  • Seaton Delaval, Seaton Sluice, Northumberland, fourth bastion and ha-ha walls

Seaton Delaval Hall is a rare example of early 18th-century design in the North East. The landscape and hall were created by architect Sir John Vanbrugh, known for his work on Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace.

Since 2009 the National Trust has been working on a major conservation project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project has addressed urgent conservation work needed to the hall and grounds as well as improvements to visitor facilities and bringing back to life the stories of the ‘gay Delavals’ who inhabited the hall through creative interpretation and a re-presentation of the collection.

The 12th century Church of Our Lady lies within the Seaton Delaval landscape. It was a private chapel for the colourful Delaval family, before being given to the Church of England in 1891. This year, Historic England has funded repairs to one of four corner bastions on the boundary wall of the garden and a section of the ha-ha wall located within the churchyard.

The success of this project is rooted in the productive working relationship forged between neighbouring landowners: the Church and the National Trust; as well as the involvement of Northumberland County Council, the local community, National Trust volunteers, and the recently retired vicar.

This work will move the site much closer to coming off the Heritage at Risk Register, with the Church, Northumberland County Council and the National Trust having established an agreement for the long-term maintenance of the bastion and ha-ha wall as a part of the wider landscape. and It also opens up the churchyard for the public to enjoy. 

Heritage Minister Nigel Huddleston said: "I'm delighted that so many famous landmarks have been removed from the Heritage at Risk register in 2021. We've supported the sector throughout the pandemic with our unprecedented Culture Recovery Fund and it is great news to see this investment, along with other financial support, having such a positive impact.

"Heritage helps us understand our past and bringing old buildings and sites back into public use helps us to level up communities, create growth and protect these important assets for future generations."