20 YEARS OF MISDIRECTION - THE TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION
We are now in the modern electrical age. We rely on electricity for computers, to power our factories, run our offices and our homes. This was all made possible because of the electrical generating industry which began with private landowners installing generating equipment for their estates. Landowners were encouraged by an Act of Parliament to lay power supply lines and generate electricity for their area, pending compensation in the event of absorption. The practice soon spread as townships started up municipal supplies, eventually absorbing the private installations as they expanded so heralding the modern age.
As recently as 1995, English Heritage realised that all evidence of this important stage in Man's development would be lost as the archaeological remains of early installations were being demolished unchecked. Local authorities failed to recognise the importance of redundant generating buildings, where their agenda was to allow these perceived eyesores to rot away. For this reason English Heritage commissioned a Monument Protection Program in 1995, as a means to identify and preserve the few remaining examples of different types of installation.
No restoration until history recognised - ongoing 2004
One such example that was nearly overlooked is the Old Steam House at Herstmonceux, Sussex in England, the home of Solar Navigator's designer, Nelson Kruschandl. The story of how this building came to be recognised by English Heritage, the East Sussex County Archaeologist and others is a lesson to public authorities to tend to their duty to protect the historic built environment and properly assess that on their doorstep. In this case it was unfortunate that several neighbours with good connections wished to purchase this old barn building to demolish it. However, Nelson had purchased the building in 1982 from Nikolia Askaroff, to restore it for use as his home. Naturally he resisted neighbours offers, knowing that if they were to acquire it, the rare building would be lost forever.
After several planning applications and appeals, the truth about the history of this unusual building finally surfaced. Nelson had not been familiar with the planning system, guidance notes etc, and for this reason relied on his local authority. Unfortunately, the local authority did not apply themselves to the taks in the mistaken belief the building was not significant historically.
Hence it was that on Appeal in 1987 officers of Wealden District Council (WDC) told the Planning Inspectorate this historic building: "held no history worth preserving". When asked by the occupier, the Secretary of State said they accepted WDC's evidence in 1987-88 and 1995-7 in good faith - but confirm their was no statutory right of appeal as to the history (there is a right of appeal on a point of law only) in any event even though this may contravene the Human Rights Act. In similar circumstances Lord Mac Fadyen (the Scottish case) ruled the planning system failed to ensure a right of appeal. Accordingly, the last surviving building as evidence of private enterprise supplying a whole village was kept at risk by inadequacies built into the system.
As with many true stories, it was just a stroke of luck that later in 1997 Nelson was introduced to a gardener named Ron Saunders. Ron had worked on the Lime Park Estate in 1936 and remembered seeing the generating machinery and batteries in situ. He went on to explain that his father was an engineer who operated the equipment. Ron was so concerned the history should be so maligned, he set out his recollection in an Affidavit.
Armed with this new information the occupier applied himself again in 1998 to saving the building by means of a conversion. This is the usual way old buildings find a beneficial use and become restored. This application was fudged by confused officers and committee members who still believed the building was without a history worthy of preservation.
Undaunted, the occupier applied again in 1999 and this time sought the advice of English Heritage and the County Archaeologist independently, where it was likely Wealden Council were still in a confused situation. An article in the Evening Argus netted the 1911 operating instructions missing from Amberley Museum, when a member of the public realised what he'd bought at a boot fair. Where the Royals are not in a position to become directly involved in run of the mill cases such as this, English Heritage did what they could to persuade Wealden Council to re-examine the case.
It seems incredible that despite the efforts of English Heritage and the above Archaeologists, to direct Wealden District Council carry out their statutory function to "protect the historic built environment," the Old Steam House generating building remains (as we write) without a reasonable or beneficial use as the incentive to restoration. Nelson Kruschandl says: "This is this kind of apathy that shames us as a nation and at what cost to the ratepayer." Let this be a lesson to us all to be vigilant when it comes to protecting our heritage.
Herstmonceux Electricity Generating Works Circa. 1900 - 1936 Links: