The Romping Donkey, Cheshire is one of a number of buildings at risk with which we have been involved over a period of several years. Sadly, the building remains in a poor and vulnerable condition with no use at present; however, a recent submission of planning and listed building consent applications suggest there may be fresh hope on the horizon. Located within the village of Hassall Green the Romping Donkey is a Grade II-listed timber frame building believed to date from the 17th century. We understand it ceased trading as a public house in the summer of 2011 and changed ownership sometime between then and the January of 2012. A turbulent time followed in subsequent years with the new owner carrying out a number of unauthorised and damaging works - including the demolition of the 19th-century wing. Failure to carry out little, if any, proper maintenance and repair during this time means the building remains in an extremely vulnerable condition. Earlier this year Cheshire East Council consulted the Society on planning and listed building consent applications to convert the former public house into a single dwelling and to erect three new dwellings on the site. Our assessment of the current application proposals concluded that the proposed conversion of the former public house to a dwelling could provide a compatible use, and we felt it may be possible to accommodate a small number of new dwellings on the site. Unfortunately however, we did not feel able to support the applications in their current form as we believe the nature of the proposals would have resulted in harm to the building’s special interest and its setting. The application drawings for the Romping Donkey, while considerably better than those submitted in previous applications, still lack some key information. Additionally, it was felt that the proposals did not appear to address crucial structural issues where members of the timber frame had previously been truncated or were missing completely. Consequently, we urged the Local Planning Authority to request additional information and we encouraged the applicant to ensure that they fully understand the structural condition of the building, and that any structural problems are addressed as part of the conversion scheme. The scheme for the Romping Donkey included a proposal which sought to increase the building quite considerably with a sizeable two storey extension to the rear, and this addition was one of a number of matters on which we commented. The Society indicated that while it does not have objection to a modest addition to the building in principle, it felt that the proposed extension was far too large, and that we remain to be convinced that the rear is the right location/point at which the building might be extended. It would, we suggested, be far less harmful to extend the building at the eastern end where very little/no historic fabric appears to survive. We therefore encouraged the applicant and their advisors to review the proposed scheme and to explore the possibility of extending at the east end as opposed to the rear. In respect of any new development on the site, we offered advice on the number, layout, size, massing, overall design, and likely impact of the proposed dwellings on the setting of the listed building. In our view, the proposed dwellings would, by virtue of their height, massing and development layout, visually challenge and dominate the Romping Donkey. We advised that any new development on this site should respect the listed building and not compete or overshadow it. Additionally, we felt that the overall design of the proposed houses did not appear to respect the Romping Donkey nor the local vernacular and the character of the village. While we were pleased to see attempts at a modern architectural response we did not feel that the proposed designs were successful and we were not persuaded that they would sit well in this context. Sadly, the proposal drawings gave the impression of standard house types with very little interest. While we were not able to lend our full support to the latest proposals, owing to an insufficient level of detail and the harmful nature of some of the proposals, the Society welcomes this most recent attempt to develop a scheme for the repair and re-use of the listed building and the wider site. Given the potential impact of the proposals on the Romping Donkey and its setting, we advised that the proposals for its conversion and extension be reviewed and amended, and that the Local Planning Authority establish basic principles (of no. of dwellings, site layout, orientation, height and massing) with the applicant and their advisors before new detailed designs are developed. In spite of the challenging circumstances and neglect of the building in recent years, there is a high survival of historic fabric at this former public house. Fortunately, the Romping Donkey is still standing, albeit a little less stable and high spirited than it once was. The Society remains willing to offer advice to both the Local Planning Authority and the applicant and their advisors in an endeavour to help secure a new use for the Romping Donkey and its careful repair; and we keep our fingers crossed that a sensitive scheme will come to fruition in the very near future.
News - Casework
07th December - 10:50
The Royal Clarence Hotel (RCH) is a Grade II Listed complex of buildings which suffered catastrophic damage resulting from a fire on the 29 October 2016. The hotel is situated in a highly sensitive location within the city of Exeter, being within the Cathedral Yard and the setting of numerous historic and important secular buildings. The primary façade of the RCH complex is made up of elevations dating to the 17th and 18th centuries: to the front of the site the range is made up of three buildings – The Well house (16-17 Cathedral Yard), The Royal Clarence and the Former Exeter Bank (left-right) – and to the rear is a range of service buildings/spaces of various dates, as well as The Clarence Room. Until the fire, the surviving properties on the site had been dated at their earliest to the 17th century, however, the long-held belief that the buildings sit above and incorporate medieval fabric from the site’s previous use as Canon’s houses has been substantiated with the uncovering of medieval fabric in The Wellhouse and hotel proper in the post-fire clearance. The Wellhouse is the oldest surviving building on the site and is named as such after a medieval well was discovered in the basement in the 1930s. It comprised of two buildings – 16 and 17 Cathedral Yard – both of which are narrow five storey buildings, principally 17th century in date. Number 17 has continuous fenestration on the second, third and fourth floors where number 16 has sash windows throughout to a pattern installed in the 18th/19th century. Internally, The Wellhouse retains some significant elements, such as a masonry chimney breast incorporating Romanesque carved stonework and 17th century Delft tiles and fragments, and a late medieval/16th century timber frame that has been built into the masonry at mezzanine level. When this frame was exposed after the fire clearance works, it revealed decoration of the vertical studs to number 17. This is currently being studied in more detail to comprehend its significance. The Royal Clarence section of the site had been a hotel since the 18th century and it was extended in the same century to include The Clarence Room, or Assembly Room. The hotel had a four-storey, six-bay Georgian façade of white stucco with a Tuscan porch entrance and cast iron balconette. Post -fire it became clear that the Georgian building incorporated an earlier medieval building with fabric suggested to be of the 13th, maybe even 12th century, uncovered. After the fire the principal façade of The Royal Clarence was lowered by two storeys due to the structural instability of the remaining fabric. Internally the space is all but gutted save for the brickwork walls and large window openings that defined the extent of The Clarence Room to the rear of the site. In the days after the fire, the Society was in touch with Exeter City Council to offer our support and state our willingness to be involved in the discussions about next steps for the building. Unfortunately this offer was not taken up, and in September of this year plans were submitted to the Council for the reconstruction and extension of the complex, including a roof extension to the Royal Clarence building to create 74 bedroom hotel. I visited the site to clarify the extent of survival of historic fabric and understand how the surviving buildings and proposed interventions will intersect. The details of the applications were considered by the Society’s Guardians Committee where a number of concerns were raised. The applications propose to reinstate the Georgian façade of the RCH and propose a more contemporary treatment to the Martin’s Lane, Lamb Alley and High Street elevations. Disasters such as the fire suffered by the RCH are sometimes argued to demand a response different to that which would normally apply, but in this case we see no reason to adopt an alternative approach. As such we would expect to see a design approach to the new envelope of the RCH which considers the building group as a whole; taking into account the sensitive, historic context of the Cathedral green and responding to it in an innovative way whilst reflecting the newly-created spaces behind each façade. Unfortunately, the current proposals result in an uncomfortable dichotomy of a restored Georgian building to the front and a collection of unremarkable and homogeneous ‘contemporary’ secondary elevations elsewhere. The Guardians felt that a two-pronged approach of reinstatements and new design is likely to offer an appropriate response to the site, but we do not believe that a successful balance has yet been struck or that a convincing scheme has been devised overall. It was also felt that the proposed replication of the Georgian elevation to Cathedral Yard would have little integrity or authenticity, given that the building behind would be almost entirely modern. In addition to the reinstatement of the buildings lost in the fire, the proposals seek to increase the height of the existing RCH complex by a storey to maximise accommodation and provide a terrace space for the hotel. We understand the applicant's wish to increase the accommodation on the site after what has been a devastating loss of the original buildings and a vital business, however, given the very sensitive setting of the RCH we do not consider the current proposals to be appropriate in terms of scale, bulk and appearance in long-range views. In addition, the roof structure of modern design would sit awkwardly against a reinstated façade and would compound the incongruous effects of the un-unified design. Design of the new interventions aside, we are concerned that there is a lack of detail in the applications dealing with the repair and conservation of the uncovered and surviving fabric in The Wellhouse. At present the application offers no detail on the treatment of the timber frame in The Wellhouse in terms of how it might me incorporated into the proposed refit of the hotel, and more alarmingly the repair drawings suggest that timbers from the first floor to fourth are to be removed in their entirety and to be replaced like for like throughout. No post-fire assessment of these members were provided in the application, and as the interior of charred timber normally retains its structural integrity, (though perhaps at a reduced capacity) we would expect to see structural-led justification from a conservation accredited engineer for selective removal where that integrity is lost, and a greater incidence of historic timbers to be left in-situ.Given that the RCH has suffered a sad loss of historic fabric, the cumulative harm arising from removing these residual timbers is considerable. We believe the RCH as it now stands represents a unique opportunity to design an intervention into a complex of historic of buildings, which reflects the architectural innovation of our own time, and contributes positively to the streetscape and to the setting of the Cathedral. We have written to the Council expressing the serious reservations about the scheme as discussed above. We have urged that they seek clarification and details regarding the treatment of the highly significant fabric which survives in the Wellhouse, and argued that they must strive for excellence in design in this case.