That wrecking ball, I fear, is being prepared, and – if you listen very carefully – you might even hear the bulldozers revving up writes Phil Gillam.
I have a horrible feeling that the Battle for Besford House is already lost.
And yet we are talking here about a handsome Victorian mansion which (wait for it) stands within a conservation area, for heaven’s sake! If a place like this cannot survive in a conservation area, where would it stand a chance?
We are also talking about a Shrewsbury building which, having been for decades an important children’s home, has much to say about the history of the area.
And almost 70 members of the public have objected to the plans which would see it swept away.
When I first wrote about Besford House some weeks ago, I had little idea that it meant so much to so many people, but the article generated considerable and heartfelt feedback from readers.
Within days I received letters and emails from people who really care about this gem which is tucked away in a quiet corner of Belle Vue.
It is currently under threat because developers wish to build new housing on the land and dear old Besford House does not figure in their plans.
Councillors were today due to be discussing and making a decision on this issue.
And the scheme, which would include demolition of Besford House, is recommended for approval.
In the comprehensive report before councillors, it says:
“It is clear from the historical assessment that has been done of Besford House that it does retain some character and features that are of some architectural and historical interest.
“Furthermore, it is acknowledged that even in its considerably altered form, or some modification of it, it would probably be preferable to retain the building as part of any redevelopment of the site.
“Notwithstanding this, located where it is on the site, it would be difficult to incorporate redevelopment of the house into an overall development scheme for the site.
“Furthermore the only real potential use for the building which might be economically viable would be conversion to flats which in itself in all likelihood would require significant alteration and sub-division, which would introduce a form of accommodation that is not currently present in the local area.
“On balance officers, including the Conservation Section, have concluded that the loss of Besford House can be justified for the greater beneficial use of the whole site provided this is in a form which is of good quality and which is acceptable in all other respects, including impact on the conservation area.”
Did you catch those two points early on in those paragraphs?
1. It does retain some character and features that are of some architectural and historical interest.
2. It is acknowledged that even in its considerably altered form, or some modification of it, it would probably be preferable to retain the building as part of any redevelopment of the site.
Now I know I’m a sentimental old thing and I happen to think old buildings should almost always be saved if at all possible (because, let’s face it, they are almost always more beautiful than modern buildings). But mine is not merely an argument over aesthetics. Mine is an argument about history and heritage and what is and isn’t appropriate in an area like Belle Vue.
There is an “old boy” of Besford House, 80-year-old Bill Preen of Monkmoor, who is currently researching and writing a book about the place; about it having been built in 1897, and then how, very soon afterwards, it became a children’s home in those dark days of crushing poverty and terrible workhouses for those whose options had run out.
Such ‘new’ and relatively enlightened children’s homes back then must have shone like a beacon in an era when the alternatives for youngsters without support were grim indeed.
This is history. This is part of the story of Belle Vue. This is important stuff.
Angeline Smith wrote to me to say: “My father and two brothers were put into the home in 1914 when their father died at the age of 35.”
Raymond Bullock wrote to me to say: For me Besford House was wonderful and the staff were outstanding.
“I was there during the 1950s after spending time at Pen-y-bont, Shrewsbury, The Hollies, and the Vineyard children’s homes in Wellington.”
Vivienne Rozario wrote to say: “I was so pleased when I read your article about Besford House. I too think this is a beautiful building and should be saved from demolition. There must be something we can do.”
And Michael Holliday wrote from Australia: “Besford House is very important to literally hundreds of Shrewsbury and Shropshire families. Between the wars it was home to large numbers of boys who were either orphans or from homes where a single parent could not cope.”
What an awful shame it would be if, by the time Bill Preen’s book is published, Besford House itself is gone