Prompted by English Heritage’s call for ‘What is your #favouritelisted building, monument, park or garden?’ on Twitter yesterday, Jasmijn Muller asked the Fourth Street team for their favourites.
Ask anyone for their ‘favourite’ anything – be it their favourite book, music, film or building – and you either get an immediate and very passionate response or a long silence as there are just too many options to choose from. We are definitely spoilt for choice when it comes to picking a favourite from the English Heritage online database of over 400,000 listed buildings, registered parks, gardens and battlefields, protected shipwrecks and scheduled monuments.
Debates on listed buildings have a tendency to become rather heated, whether in the context of which buildings should or should not be listed or in the context of re-use options for redundant heritage assets.
Listed buildings are an important part of our culture. If we associate listing with buildings that are ‘old’ or ‘important’, then we easily accept the obvious ones like Hampton Court Palace or Somerset House, while we fiercely debate the controversial ones like post-war office buildings, multi-storey car parks and other Brutalist concrete structures.
Was Gateshead’s Trinity Square car park the Brutalist icon that its champions claimed it was or just another eyesore cloaked in the pop culture nostalgia of Michael Caine throwing gangsters off rooftops? In the end, the ‘haters’ won and the building was demolished, only to be replaced by a shopping centre that is arguably even uglier.
We can argue at length about whether or not listing should be affected by our taste about what is pretty or ugly – with the architecture of the past as evidence that our taste changes over time – but when it comes to the question of personal favourites we can be as partial as we like. So, let’s have a look at Fourth Street’s choices.
Jim definitely falls into that first category of people who can quickly and passionately give you a list of their favourite listed places.
“Most of my choices are based on childhood memories of family visits to listed places, particularly gardens. My first choice is Cliveden in Buckinghamshire (not Berkshire as marketed by Cliveden hotel). I grew up near there and have lots of fond memories of visiting the gardens, swimming in the Thames, dinners at the house, and sneaking into the infamous swimming pool.
My second choice is Chatsworth in Derbyshire, where I visited several times as a child and took inspiration to create my own Chatsworth cascade back home. My third choice is the Grade II listed Queen Anne home of Mary Berry in Penn where I often stayed when my parents travelled abroad and fed my entrepreneurial thirst by running a plant stall at their annual garden open days. Finally, I have to include the Royal Pavilion in Brighton for its extravagance, its decadence and because it is synonymous with Brighton, my adopted home town”.
George apologises that his favourite listed places are all based in south east England and are mostly National Trust properties. But there is no need to apologise. Our favourite places are often the ones we can visit time and again, to enjoy them at different times of the year and share them with family and friends. Surprisingly, George doesn’t mention his own house, which is itself a listed building. Rich historical significance can, I suppose, be a bit of a nuisance if it keeps you from putting a satellite dish on the roof.
“I have a favourite garden and it’s the White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle created by Vita Sackville West and her husband Nigel Nicholson. As far as I know, and I’m no Capability Brown, it is the only garden of that theme. It really is quite spectacular and while small it is completely magical.
Winston Churchill’s Chartwell is a great atmospheric house and a superb tribute to our wartime PM quite often viewed as the Greatest Briton of the 20th century. It is not the most attractive in appearance but the views from the small terrace over the Kent Weald and the smell of scented wisteria (sorry you have another 11 months before it blooms again!) on a clear summer’s day are hard to beat. I can understand how Churchill said “a day away from Chartwell is a day wasted”. The fact that it is only 30 odd miles from central London is quite extraordinary. Every time I have re-visited it has felt just as exciting as the first time.
In the depths of Kent is Ightham Mote, a serious gem with a Grade I listing. The National Trust spent something like a decade restoring it! The smell of history is all over it and is deeply embedded in its structure. There is one other moated building that has remained in private hands and regretfully one that I have never visited. Horselunges Manor in Hellingly, near Hailsham in East Sussex dates back many years. The house was substantially restored in the 1920’s. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s it was owned by Peter Grant the larger-than-life manager of Led Zeppelin and appears in the film ‘The Song Remains the Same’. After the death of John Bonham and Zeppelin’s subsequent demise, Peter became a recluse and pulled up the drawbridge not leaving the house for about three years.”
Whereas Jim’s choices are inspired by a love for gardens and George has a thing for National Trust properties, Dan’s picks are influenced more by the story behind the building.
“I like a building with a good story and one that uses its heritage to inspire and serve a contemporary use. Bletchley Park: is there a listed building anywhere with a better story than that?
An empty building, in my view, is just a dead building, however beautiful it may be. So Alexandra Palace remains a favourite. Even with a leaky roof and a steep uphill climb from the nearest tube it still attracts legions of fans to Jay-Z and Alice Cooper concerts. I also love the fact that it burned almost immediately after it was completed and within weeks they started rebuilding it. You wouldn’t find that kind of stoic determination today. I’ve never finished a round of golf in my life, but I love the buildings and grounds of Stoke Park Country Club – and not just because it’s the setting of that classic scene in Goldfinger where Oddjob cuts the head off a statue with his hat (although that doesn’t hurt). It’s just a beautiful environment. Does a meeting count as work if you are that happy to be there? I am also grateful to receive, every year, an invitation to the Boodles tennis tournament which is held in the Stoke Park grounds just before Wimbledon. For the talent, the setting, the food, the impeccable organisation and the general atmosphere it is far and away – with apologies to the darts at Alexandra Palace – my favourite sporting event of the calendar.
I also have a soft spot for any building or structure that was saved by the dogged bloody-mindedness of local communities that fought to preserve them. The Victoria Baths in Manchester, Dreamland in Margate, the St Pancras Hotel – but for the intervention of local champions, they wouldn’t be around anymore. There are exceptions to this rule. To this day, I don’t understand the obsession with Battersea Power Station. We already had an impressive specimen of a listed power station designed by Giles Gilbert Scott – we stuffed it full of art and called it Tate Modern. What did we need the second one for? It seems that we went to some pretty extraordinary lengths for the sake of a Pink Floyd album cover”.
Having grown up in the Czech Republic, Marketa couldn’t raid her childhood memories of visiting listed buildings or gardens in England. Although her choice actually isn’t a listed structure, some would argue it should be.
“My favourite place is Maunsell Forts …We build on land. The Dutch have learnt to build on the water. And they’re doing some cool stuff, from the classic example of Flevoland to the recent addition of floating houses in Ijburg. Yet all it takes is for us to look back at our history to see that we can do cool stuff on the water as well. Heritage should serve not only as a nod to the past but also an inspiration for the future”.
Jackie, our latest work experience intern, who comes to us from Canada via New York and Geneva, was inspired by the two things she immediately associates with England: music and the Royal Family.
“My first choice is Headley Grange in Hampshire, a Grade II listed building that was originally built as a poorhouse. However, my interest in it stems from the fact that the building was used as a recording and rehearsal studio for many bands in the 1970s, from Bad Company, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Peter Frampton, but most notably, Led Zeppelin. The whole band lived there for a time, during which they wrote and recorded their experimental fourth album. The house is now a privately owned estate, but its rich musical history is not forgotten.
My other choice is Swiss Cottage at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The Grade II listed cottage was built by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as a private escape for their 9 children. Everything is built in a miniature-scale, creating a private world where the royal children were able to act like children away from the responsibilities of their status. The cottage has been beautifully restored and offers you an insight into the private world of Victoria and Albert’s extensive family”.
Finally, my own favourite listed places are probably the ones where some of my favourite personal memories were created.
The first one that comes to mind is my ‘local’ Hampton Court Palace. Whilst I love to visit the Palace and its outer buildings, it is the iconic hedge maze (the oldest surviving in the UK) that I like best. At first sight the maze seems quite small and simple, but my sister and I have had lots of fun by somehow managing to get ourselves utterly lost.
My second choice is the Severn Bridge. Not necessarily because it is the most beautiful bridge – that claim, to my mind, still goes to The Erasmus Bridge (aka The Swan) in Rotterdam – but because each time I cross that bridge it reminds me of the first time I crossed it with my current husband en-route to the most amazing wedding of friends in Wales, which very much inspired our own wedding years later.
For a full overview of all the #favouritelisted submitted to English Heritage follow this link