Concern for future of 'important' Chesterfield building

Heritage bosses are urging Chesterfield Borough Council not to allow the possible future demolition of an 'important' building.

Wednesday, 19th July 2017, 10:55 am
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 1:03 pm
Stock picture.

Thornfield is part of the former offices of the East Midlands Chamber on Canal Wharf, Chesterfield.

The chamber is marketing the site for housing development.

Chesterfield Civic Society insists it is favour of new homes being built at the location but would like to see Thornfield retained.

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Thornfield house, which is near Chesterfield College.

The society has now written to the borough council calling for the building not to be demolished.

Philip Riden, the society's chairman, said that Thornfield was built by Joseph Gratton, who was the Chesterfield Canal Company's 'agent' – a general manager in modern terms – between 1802 and 1839, when he was presented with a silver tea service by the firm on his retirement.

Mr Gratton also designed the town's original gas and waterworks on Foljambe Road and had a draper's shop on High Street.

He was a keen amateur scientist and made fireworks for public shows which he put on in the Market Place.

Thornfield house, which is near Chesterfield College.

Mr Riden said: "Mr Gratton was clearly a remarkable man and his home at Thornfield is important as the last surviving building in Chesterfield connected with the canal.

"This brought prosperity to the town 200 years ago and will do so again once it is fully restored."

However, the chamber says it does not believe the house to be original.

Scott Knowles, chief executive of East Midlands Chamber, said: "Before we moved out of the Canal Wharf offices we had a full and frank discussion with former civic society chair, Bryan Thompson, who told us that the house 'wasn't suitable for listing' as it had been 'hammered too much over the years'. He appeared to confirm our understanding that none of the existing property was original.

"At his suggestion, we invited a borough council conservation officer to visit the house, specifically to look at a relatively simple stained glass window which we thought might have some historic value.

"It was the officer's first visit to the property and his initial reaction was that the house was not original, that the window lintels were wrong, the stonework was wrong, the mortar was wrong and the portico was definitely not on the original house. He expressed interest in the window and asked us to board it up to protect it. We have since removed it for safe keeping. The window was not part of the original house.

"He was clearly of the opinion that the existing property may have been built on the footprint of the original house but was not the original house which, by the way, was clad, not stone. The officer said there appeared to be no evidence on the existing building that it was ever clad.

"It is possible that the borough council itself was responsible for rebuilding the original house as, according to the civic society's history of the building – or more accurately a history of past occupants – it was the borough council that converted it to two dwellings in the 1930s when it owned the site.

"The chamber is marketing the site for housing development and is quite properly seeking to get the maximum value possible for it, having invested a seven-figure sum on new offices in Chesterfield and keeping over 70 jobs in the town. We applied for outline planning consent for housing but withdrew the initial application because it didn't maximise the potential of the site. Our discussions with the borough council continue.

"Ultimately, it will be up to the developer to determine what can be done with what's there, but the value of the site could be significantly reduced if the development is constrained by planning regulations requiring what we believe to be a relatively modern facsimile of an historic building to be retained just because the original house was built by someone of some local interest. It is unlikely to be practicable, as suggested by the civic society, that the 'old' house might be kept as offices in the centre of a small, modern housing development.

"We have had a heritage and planning statement prepared for the site. The authors concluded that the building was 'of low heritage significance' and that 'the level of protection seeking to be afforded to the existing building is disproportionate to its heritage value and status'.

"We would be happy to accommodate a joint site visit by the civic society and planning and conservation officers from the borough council to determine the true historical value, if any, of the existing building."

The chamber's Chesterfield offices are now based on Dunston Road.

Councillor Terry Gilby, the borough council's cabinet member for economic growth, said: "We have received the comments from the Chesterfield Civic Society regarding Thornfield.

"We will consider these comments as part of the planning process."