Our heritage at risk

PUBLISHED: 11:30 13 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:35 20 February 2013

Martello Tower

Martello Tower

ESSEX is home to some of the most stunning pieces of architecture and beautiful stretches of landscape in the country. However, some of our most precious heritage is at risk if we don't do something now to preserve it.

In July this year, the English Heritage launched an in depth study into the state of the region's historic treasures. Called Heritage at Risk, it found that 17% of the scheduled ancient monuments in the East of England are at risk of damage and decay.

In Essex there are 318 Scheduled Ancient Monuments of which 34 have been identified as being at risk. Although law protects these monuments, a wide range of factors, such as neglect and natural processes, threatens them. Essex Life has given its support to this campaign by highlighting some of the of county's most significant landmarks that are in need of protection.

Easton Lodge, Great Dunmow
Great Dunmow's Easton Lodge is one of the sites that has been identified as being at risk. Originally this was a hunting lodge of Elizabethan origin, but by the 1770s it had been transformed into a grand estate complete with acres of superb parkland. The golden age for Easton Lodge was during the 1900s when designer Harold Peto was commissioned by the owner of the property who redesigned the gardens incorporating a passion for Italianate and French styles, but carefully adapting them to complement the English countryside. The gardens today are now Grade II listed.
Despite ongoing maintenance and care, the resources for looking after the gardens, in particular the structures within them, are proving difficult to find. The gardens of Easton Lodge are open to the public and have proved to be a popular attraction. However, necessary visitor infrastructure, including the car park, kiosks and pathways, now scars the original appearance of the site and general visitor wear and tear is also evident. The Gardens of Easton Lodge Preservation Trust has been formed in response to the poor state of the land and has embarked on a Heritage Lottery bid to restore the gardens as well as setting a 30-year development plan.

Coastal Fish Weir, Maldon
The Coastal Fish Weir in Maldon, located near the southern shore of the Blackwater estuary, is under threat of further damage. Its timber structure is the remains of a V-shaped fish weir which would have once been used to channel fish into traps formed by either baskets or nets placed at the point of the 'V'. Positioned to face the sea, it would draw in the fish on the receding tide. Although fish traps are known to have been used in the early prehistoric period onwards, it has been suggested that the surviving weirs in the Blackwater estuary date from the Anglo-Saxon and medieval periods.
As with any type of structure that is positioned in water such as the Blackwater estuary, it faces the challenging nature of the tide. The remains of the fish weir are in a fragile state and with the unpredictable natural forces operating within the estuary it is difficult to guarantee the preservation of the fish weir indefinitely. However, detailed recording and monitoring of the remains by Essex County Council, supported by the English Heritage, will assist in recovering the maximum amount of archaeological information from the site and to minimise the risk of accidental damage from the human activity in the estuary.

Coalhouse Fort, East Tilbury
THE Coalhouse Fort is a Victorian coastal defence armoured fortress set in parkland next to the River Thames at East Tilbury. The fort was completed in 1874, on the site of previous gun batteries, to defend the approaches to London from the potential threat of invasion from France and other Continental powers. It once provided accommodation for 180 men including officers' quarters, a cook house, an hospital, a guard room and a cell block. Over the next 80 years the fort was adapted to accommodate later developments in artillery and remained an important element of the Thames defences until 1945.
Over the years the state of the fort has deteriorated, with a lack of adequate maintenance and repair over such a long period of time contributing to its poor condition. Efforts have been made to keep the fort in its original state, but this has proved to be difficult due to the high maintenance requirements. However, Thurrock Borough Council has granted the Coalhouse Fort Project a lease and they have invested time and resources in maintaining and repairing parts of the historic structure, also opening the fort to the public on a limited basis.

Waltham Abbey
recently added to the Heritage at Risk register is the Waltham Abbey monastic site. In 1177, Henry II founded the monastery that is based at the site and the church itself was officially made into an abbey in 1184. This particular location is famously known for being the burial site of King Harold, who was killed in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The ruinous remains, now given Grade II listing status, are well worth a visit because of the interesting history. Although the church has now been reformed and is used as the town's parish church, the building still requires much care and maintenance as it faces everyday wear and tear. The other remains in and around the grounds, such as the former gatehouse, a vaulted passage and Harold's Bridge are all in very poor condition. The flint rubble walls that form part of a public park at the site, desperately require consolidation and repointing.

Martello Towers, Clacton
Two of the Martello Towers have also been added to the register. Martello Towers D and E are part of the original Martello Towers that were built along the east coast in response to the threat of French invasion between 1808 and 1812. The buildings were originally divided into three stories which provided storage and rooms for the men defending the land with one or two canons fixed on a central pivot on the roof. Tower D was sold in 1904 and became absorbed into Clacton Golf Course. The second tower, known as Tower E became part of Butlin's holiday camp in 1935, but it has now been sealed up and there is only access to the first floor via a ladder. Being situated along the coast, both towers face constant erosion from the tide, and are suffering from water ingress.

How to help

For a full list of the 34 sites at risk in Essex or to find out how
you can help, contact the English Heritage East of England
branch on 01223 582700


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