Rescuers bid to protect heritage

Morpeth town councillor David Clark at The Willows.
Morpeth town councillor David Clark at The Willows.

A rescue bid is under way to save two historic Morpeth buildings from the bulldozer.

Residents are joining forces to try to safeguard The Willows and Beechfield House, which occupy a prime riverside spot in Low Stanners.

The buildings, which are owned by Northumberland County Council, have been vacant for many years and suffered flooding in 2008.

Campaigners fear they may soon be pulled down to make way for development, but they say they are a rare example of early Victorian architecture in the town and should be preserved.

Now work is under way to try to secure listed status for the pair to give them greater protection.

Building surveyor Garry Featherstone, who is helping to lead the campaign, said: “It is a crying shame to see what is happening to those buildings. I look at buildings each and every day, but I don’t see many like this. They are nearly 150 years old and their structure is still sound, but they are being left to go to rack and ruin.

“Morpeth is great for historic buildings, but these are from the early Victorian period and we don’t have many of this type in the town. The skills and crafts that the men and women who built them had was lost in the war and you don’t see them any more.

“We are trying to get all the information together about their history to apply to get them listed. Even if it is just a stay of execution, it would give them more protection.”

The Willows was build as a home by Major George Brumell, head of the law firm Brumell and Sample, sometime around 1870. It is thought his friend, a timber merchant, built Beechfield next door.

The property had extensive gardens stretching down to the river, including exotic shrubs and plants, while a coach house was situated behind and a gardener’s cottage was along the road. All properties still exist.

Major Brumell was quite a character, serving as Clerk to the Morpeth Board of Guardians, Superintendent Registrar, Governor of Morpeth Grammar School and Vice-President of Morpeth Dispensary.

Mr Featherstone hopes that if the age of the buildings alone does not make them worthy of a listing, their association with such a prominent local man may tip the balance.

Solicitor John Best who works at Brumell and Sample today, has been helping to search through records.

He said: “These are impressive buildings and it would be a shame if they were demolished for some modern building.

“We need to research the construction date to get them listed. If a building was built before 1840 it could be listed however significant it is. The next age group up is likely to get listed and we think these properties fall into that.”

Morpeth town councillor David Clark is also involved in the project.

He said: “I think there is a lot of affection in the town for these buildings, but they are the wrong way round in that their most impressive side is the one the public don’t see, facing the river.

“This would be an ideal site for a Morpeth heritage centre and museum. There are beautiful lawns, open-air performance space, space for arts, crafts and heritage work, children could play on the lawns, families could picnic and it is close to the town centre. It could be a great asset if the funding was found, but only if it is protected.

“We need to stop destroying buildings like this. It is as if history is just being erased.

“We think it is going to be quite a major battle to get these buildings listed, but the first fight is to bring it the public’s attention, and hopefully people who are more expert in these things could offer their assistance.”