Looking after our historic City: you can help

Members of the Canterbury Society have always been concerned about looking after our historic city and about conserving the buildings that create the beauty of our streets.  Many of you are worried by the current deterioration of some of those buildings.

The Canterbury Society would welcome your help in keeping a watch out for any buildings in the city that are being neglected and in need of maintenance and or repair.  This requires looking up at the roofs, gutters and valleys, as well as at the facades or shop fronts.

In the meantime, Hubert Pragnell, a member of the Canterbury Society committee, has written to the City Council about some of the buildings whose current condition is most worrying.  Here is what he said.



For some time the Canterbury Society has been concerned with the increasing dilapidation or decay of certain historic buildings in or near the City centre. This report outlines our concerns and asks the City Council to take appropriate actions.

The first building is the former Nat West Bank building at the corner of St Dunstan’s Street and Orchard Street which has been unoccupied for some years.  We know it has been the subject of an application for conversion to a pizzeria on at least three occasions, resulting in appeals and rejections. We feel the uncertain fate of this building cannot be allowed to run on indefinitely as the external fabric is showing decay, with peeling paint at the very least. In recent days it has been attacked by an outbreak of graffiti.  Over a year ago it was for a time occupied by squatters.

We know the building has a private owner who we gather is anxious to fill the former bank with a pizzeria or take-away in spite of strong objection from neighbours in Orchard Street and traders in St Dunstan’s Street. It has been rumoured that he is prepared to ‘let the place fall down’ if applications for such conversion are rejected. We feel this state cannot go on, eventually leading to it become unsafe and needing substantial structural restoration. It is of course in a conservation area.

The second building is the Falstaff Hotel in St Dunstan’s street. We greatly deprecated the restoration several years ago in a dark chocolate coloured paint, covering both mathematical tiles and hung or Kent-peg tiles. The paint surface is peeling and in the past couple of weeks there has been a rough mortar repair to the surface of the main gable. We have written to the manager twice on what we in the Canterbury Society believe was a poor choice of colour scheme, and the resulting rapid decay. So far there has been no response.

Now it looks worse than ever as the paint lifts off the surface, no-doubt caused by heat over the past year or so. To put it bluntly, it looks run-down, and hardly a good advertisement for Canterbury’s oldest hotel, indeed one of the oldest in England. We would like to see it restored to its original cream or white painted mathematical tiles.

Thirdly, we move a few yards down St Dunstan’s Street to the corner with North Lane and the former Chinese Take-away, in which there was a fire some months ago, since when it has been boarded up and attacked by graffiti vandals.  Obviously we accept that there may be insurance and fire regulation matters to resolve before restoration or a return to former use can take place. However, the fire aside, the exterior is a cause for concern, especially the North Lane frontage. Here hung tiles are loose as well as those on the sloping roof. The gutter is also blocked with growth causing water to overflow and spill on to the pavement below.

This building is in a very vulnerable visual position and passed by numerous tourists to and from the City centre. We feel it should be watched with concern for possible future deterioration. This might be an opportunity to urge the City Council and fire authorities to check all listed historic properties serving food, or where there are ovens, to see that the facilities are fully compliant with fire regulations: we gather the St Dunstan’s Street property was not.

Fourthly, and within the City walls, we wish to bring to notice two properties in need of attention. One is the property above Holland and Barrett, where the rainwater-head is blocked causing the rainwater to overflow and pour down the painted brickwork. The drainpipe was renewed recently so it seems strange to us that the rainwater head was not cleaned or renewed at this time.

We know that the Poor Priests Hospital is undergoing change of use and internal refurnishing. However, the rear or riverside of the building is in need of attention. Here the gutters are blocked by growth causing water to overflow. The roof also needs checking for lose tiles.

Finally, another building which is increasingly causing us concern is the Hostyngs in Old Dover Road. Dating from at least the 18th century, perhaps earlier with Flemish gables, it looks decayed, derelict, and possibly suffering internally from damp. At least one window has been boarded up recently which suggests it may soon become an increasing target for vandals if not taken in hand.  It is a very fine brick building with excellent detail and the windows have traces of 18th century gothic influence, so of considerable architectural interest. It should not be allowed to decay further.

We appreciate that to restore buildings costs money, and that if a building is in private ownership it may not be easy to advocate or push for repairs. We believe, however, that there may come a time for when a compulsory purchase order has to be sought; this particularly applies to the former bank building in St Dunstan’s Street.

The Canterbury Society is very appreciative of any work that Canterbury City Council does to preserve our historic buildings, protect our heritage or enforce planning regulations. We would simply like to draw the attention of the Council to the buildings we have listed and hope that it may be possible to conserve them so that they enhance our historic city.

Hubert Pragnell   MA  Ph.D

March 2018

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