‘Restore our ageing landmarks’; Concern for five famous Doncaster buildings

Grand Theatre. Picture: Andrew Roe

Grand Theatre. Picture: Andrew Roe

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Some of them have been jewels in Doncaster’s townscape for more than 100 years - but now there are concerns for their future.

Today the Doncaster Free Press reveals the buildings experts in the borough believe to be most at risk, and which they believe should be restored to their original condition from back in their heyday.

50 Market Place. Picture: Andrew Roe

50 Market Place. Picture: Andrew Roe

The list has been compiled by the Doncaster Civic Trust - the organisation and pressure group founded in 1946 to help in the work of conserving and improving the town and its surroundings.

The list is topped by The Grand Theatre - the building which as a theatre featured performers ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Max Wall and Morecambe and Wise.

It went onto be used as a bingo hall, but has not been used since the 1990s. A Save the Grand campaign was set up, but had no success, despite thousands signing a petition.

Also on the list is the South Parade home of the Victorian MP Edmund Denison, an 18th century row of town houses on Hallgate, the former High School for Girls on Waterdale, and the former Brookes store at Market Place.

Doncaster High School for Girls. Picture: Andrew Roe

Doncaster High School for Girls. Picture: Andrew Roe

John Holmes, chairman of Doncaster Civic Trust, said there were no easy answers to restoring the buildings on the list. But he said he thought the best hope was tied into the economic success of the area and businesses taking the sites to use as their premises. He said: “I think part of the issue is the march of the supermarkets, taking the initiaive away from the town centres in terms of things like shopping.

“I think the council are really having to struggle now. There have been massive cuts.

“There are many former council buildings in private hands now. They have shining new offices, and don’t want buildings like Nether Hall any more.”

He said there had been a Heritage Lottery Fund bid for money for Mansion House turned down. He said although the HLF frequently put money into historic buildings, they had not usually been a factor in smaller buildings. He does not see the fund as the solution to keeping many of Doncaster’s old premises, although he would like to see more grants available.

41 Hall Gate. Picture: Andrew Roe

41 Hall Gate. Picture: Andrew Roe

“We are slowly losing all our attractive older buildings, and I don’t have a clear answer, but I feel very sad about it and very disappointed.

“The way forward is that we must try to get Doncaster noticed, to get more investment and get more people interested.”

Mr Holmes said he accept the needs for towns to change. He said that there would have been great problems in Doncaster if the town had remained as it was at the end of World War Two, a time when the route of the A1 came through Doncaster town centre.

Changes to the town centre’s roads were responsible for the demolition of many buildings in the 50s and 60s.

15 South Parade. Picture: Andrew Roe

15 South Parade. Picture: Andrew Roe

“Towns are living and breathing systems. Some buildings come and go, but some of them are worth saving,” he said.

A spokesman for the Frenchgate Centre declined to comment on the future of the Grand.

The Doncaster Council cabinet member in charge of regenerating the borough said the authority was aware of the importance of its architectural heritage. The council still owns the former girls school site, which is one of the buildings on the Civic Society list.

Coun Joe Blackham, cabinet member for regeneration, said: “We know that for many people the former Girls’ School is a valuable local landmark. The Council will continue to progress options for the site and we hope the original entrance features can be incorporated into any future development.”

“We certainly recognise the importance of Doncaster’s rich and proud heritage. Where possible the Council will invest in historic buildings and aim to secure sustainable futures for them, a recent example being our project to restore Doncaster’s wonderful Mansion House on the High Street.

“Most historic buildings need economically viable long term uses to ensure they can be effectively maintained and we will do what we can to support the owners of important buildings across the borough who obviously must ensure they have the appropriate consents for any works if their building has Listed status.”

We are revealing the buildings experts in the borough believe to be most at risk, and which they believe should be restored to their original condition from back in their heyday.

The list has been compiled by the Doncaster Civic Trust - the organisation and pressure group founded in 1946 to help in the work of conserving and improving the town and its surroundings.

The list is topped by The Grand Theatre - the building which as a theatre featured performers ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Max Wall and Morecambe and Wise.

It went onto be used as a bingo hall, but has not been used since the 1990s. A Save the Grand campaign was set up, but had no success, despite thousands signing a petition.

Also on the list is the South Parade home of the Victorian MP Edmund Denison, an 18th century row of town houses on Hallgate, the former High School for Girls on Waterdale, and the former Brookes store at Market Place.

John Holmes, chairman of Doncaster Civic Trust, said there were no easy answers to restoring the buildings on the list. But he said he thought the best hope was tied into the economic success of the area and businesses taking the sites to use as their premises. He said: “I think part of the issue is the march of the supermarkets, taking the initiaive away from the town centres in terms of things like shopping.

“I think the council are really having to struggle now. There have been massive cuts.

“There are many former council buildings in private hands now. They have shining new offices, and don’t want buildings like Nether Hall any more.”

He said there had been a Heritage Lottery Fund bid for money for Mansion House turned down. He said although the HLF frequently put money into historic buildings, they had not usually been a factor in smaller buildings. He does not see the fund as the solution to keeping many of Doncaster’s old premises, although he would like to see more grants available.

“We are slowly losing all our attractive older buildings, and I don’t have a clear answer, but I feel very sad about it and very disappointed.

“The way forward is that we must try to get Doncaster noticed, to get more investment and get more people interested.”

Mr Holmes said he accept the needs for towns to change. He said that there would have been great problems in Doncaster if the town had remained as it was at the end of World War Two, a time when the route of the A1 came through Doncaster town centre.

Changes to the town centre’s roads were responsible for the demolition of many buildings in the 50s and 60s.

“Towns are living and breathing systems. Some buildings come and go, but some of them are worth saving,” he said.

A spokesman for the Frenchgate Centre declined to comment on the future of the Grand.

The Doncaster Council cabinet member in charge of regenerating the borough said the authority was aware of the importance of its architectural heritage. The council still owns the former girls school site, which is one of the buildings on the Civic Society list.

Coun Joe Blackham, cabinet member for regeneration, said: “We know that for many people the former Girls’ School is a valuable local landmark. The Council will continue to progress options for the site and we hope the original entrance features can be incorporated into any future development.”

“We certainly recognise the importance of Doncaster’s rich and proud heritage. Where possible the Council will invest in historic buildings and aim to secure sustainable futures for them, a recent example being our project to restore Doncaster’s wonderful Mansion House on the High Street.

“Most historic buildings need economically viable long term uses to ensure they can be effectively maintained and we will do what we can to support the owners of important buildings across the borough who obviously must ensure they have the appropriate consents for any works if their building has Listed status.”

Restoration Hopes

They may have faded from their heyday - but many of the buildings on the Civic Trust’s at risk list could be restored in the future.

The former Brookes store at 50-51 Market Place is still owned by the family which ran the clothes shop therefor 120 years before it closed last year.

Tom Goodman, a member of the family, said the cost of restoration was high, but it is the intention to do it. A tenant is now renting the building, and that would contribute to the cost.

A lot of the building is still original.

He said: “The building is wattle and daub and limestone plaster. Then it needs special paint that allows it to breathe, so it is not as simple as just restoring and decorating it.

“The plan is to restore the building in the future, but there is not date set to do that yet.”

The building was listed many years ago after a fight to stop it from being dmolished to make way for a new shopping centre.

Plans are in place to redevelop 15 South Parade, also known as Denison House, by turning it into high end flats.

Doncaster firm Mark Jenkinson confirmed they were in the process of selling. The firm passed on a message to the building owner, but the owner had not contacted the Doncaster Free Press as it went to press.

But the firm described the building as a stunning grade two listed building with planing permission in place for for eleven luxury apartments, with secure gated parking.

The Free Press contacted owners Lazarus Properties over 40, 41 and 41A Hallgate. No comment was available as we went to press, but it is understood that there are plans to improve the condition of the building.

Doncaster Chamber chief executive Dan Fell said Doncaster has some great historic architecture that adds to character and feel of the borough including the town centre, but heritage buildings were not always suitable for businesses to use.

He said: “Businesses will, of course, make decisions about where to locate based on what is right for their company. This clearly includes making decisions on what represents good value and makes commercial sense for the firm in question; in many cases it is an unfortunate reality that historic buildings that are currently in a high state of dilapidation will fall foul of this commercial assessment.

“In such cases, the Chamber would encourage owners, developers and local partners to think creatively about how historic buildings can be brought back into use.”

The Top Five

Doncaster Civic Society’s Top five buildings at risk which the group would like to see restored:

1. Grand Theatre: “The setting of this building was ruined when the nicely curved street on which it stood, Station Road, disappeared and was built over to extend the Arndale/Frenchgate Centre. It seems that the enthusiasm of the Friends of the Grand Theatre, who have campaigned for its restoration, greatly outweighs that of the building’s owners, who appear to have no plans other than to leave the listed theatre to fall into further disrepair.”

2. The Hall, 15 South Parade: “This listed building was the 19th century home of Edmund Denison, MP and Chairman of the Great Northern Railway. In the 20th century it was the home of the Borough Architect’s Department for 40 years. It passed to other Council Departments before becoming vacant. It is now in a sorry state, but a good scheme for its conversion to apartments has received planning permission and listed building consent. It just needs to be implemented. It is due to be auctioned next week.”

3. 40, 41 and 41A Hallgate (opposite Prince’s Street): “The designs of the four shop fronts occupying the ground floor of this 3-storey building have always been at odds with the unity of the late 18th century grand town house. Its condition has been poor for at least 40 years, and the upper floors appear dilapidated and only partly used. It really needs to be brought into beneficial use, with a decorative make-over and a scheme to bring the shopfronts into some kind of order, as befits a listed Georgian building.”

4. “Former High School for Girls, Waterdale: Although the Civic Trust applied to have the building listed almost 10 years ago, it was not successful. Demolition has been extensive, and now only the important corner façade which contains the main entrance survives. The original plan was for a “boutique hotel” which could have incorporated significant elements of the former school into the new building. The hotel plan seems to have been abandoned, so we now need a developer with vision and design skill to rescue what remains of the school and give it life as part of a new building. “

5. Former Brooke’s store, 50-51Market Place: “This listed building dates from the early 18th and 19th centuries, and displays quite a lot of architectural features for so small a building. Like many Doncaster buildings, it is faced in stucco, a smooth render, which is painted. Unfortunately, these buildings need regular repair and re-painting if they are to look good. Sadly, upper levels are often neglected, resulting in a dilapidated appearance, to the detriment of the historic areas like the Market Place.”

Landmarks Restored

Doncaster has seen some fine examples of high profile old buildings being saved.

Doncaster Civic Trust cites as an example the Rockingham Arms, a former pub building on Bennetthorpe dating back to the 1920s

After its closure as a pub, it was bought and converted into flats.

Another example which has been cited is the former Doncaster Fire Station building on Leger Way.

After it was closed down, it was taken over and restored as a fish and chip restaurant.

Civic Society secretary Archie Sinclair said: “The situation for heritage buildings gets more and more difficult, as shops less and less gravitate towards the town centre.

“But we are pleased with the way the Rockingham Arms has been converted into flats. It became empty and the developer went in quite quickly.

“And the former fire station has been kept intact. I think a lot of money was spent on the fabric of the building, in the way companies do when they are in a building for the long term.

“I’m pleased that they kept that. It is a landmark and has great size and presence.”

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