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Battlefield Registration – what is it trying to protect?
Of all the heritage designations which give protection to the historic environment, Registered Battlefields are surely the most esoteric and probably the least understood.  Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas are familiar to most; scheduled monuments cover archaeology and antiquities; Registered Parks and Gardens cover swathes of artfully arranged landscape, and Designated Wrecks add a dash of underwater allure.  But what does a Registered Battlefield actually protect? Contrary to some assumptions, it doesn’t really aim to protect archaeology.  According to research funded by English Heritage (now Historic England)[1], no battlefield in England from before 1400 has turned up any confirmed archaeological material and yet almost a quarter of the English registered battlefields date from this period.  So, if a battlefield does not have to have archaeological remains what makes it special and a candidate for designation?  Why are 47 sites across England given the same protection in the Revised National Planning Policy Framework (paragraph  194) as Grade I listed buildings and World Heritage Sites?  Historic England’s guidance for choosing battlefields for protection contains just two essential criteria[2]: was the battle important enough and do we know where it was fought?  The guidance goes on to suggest other factors (association with historical figures, archaeological survival, topographical integrity et al.) which might be nice to have but, essentially, battlefield registration is about linking an historical event to a location.  Unlike other designations, battlefield registration does not seek to protect something specifically created (e.g. a building, a garden, a ship) but rather focuses on an historical event and its association with a specific place.  There is though no uniform way in which this link is manifested. At the Battle of Lansdown near Bath, the landscape is almost unchanged; the fields, hedgerows and field walls which the Royalists and Roundheads fought across and sheltered behind on 5th July 1643 survive and make it very easy to trace the events unfolding around you.  However, the Battle of Lansdown is exceptional in this regard.  A more typical example of a medieval battlefield might be Shrewsbury where the old open fields of 1403 have been enclosed and a remarkable commemorative church now stands near the heart of the fighting.  There is no obvious trace of the great clash which Shakespeare embellishes in Henry IV Part 1 and nothing other than the general landform which relates to the landscape of the time. And yet… both have been considered to preserve the link between place and event; both allow the romantic imagination to people these places with massed armies risking (and losing) their lives for a cause.  In both instances through careful examination of the battlefield and historical sources, it is possible to understand how the battle played out across the landscape; to make a connection (both intellectual and imaginative) between the site and the events of a particular day.  With this in mind, it is not immediately obvious what this might mean for managing battlefields, or making decisions regarding development on or in the vicinity of the battlefield.  How do you measure the impact of a proposal on the imaginative response to an event which has left little trace?  What are you trying to protect when making decisions about these sites?  Given that the sites have often changed considerably over the centuries, they can surely cope with a range of further changes without losing their ability to relate back to the events of the battle, the qualities for which they were Registered. Recently, Lichfields achieved planning permission for a new water-treatment facility within the Registered area of the Battle of Otterburn, Northumberland.  The battle was fought on the evening of 19th August 1388 between an English army led by Harry “Hotspur” Percy and a Scottish army led by James, 2nd Earl of Douglas.  They had clashed outside Newcastle a few days earlier and Douglas had managed to seize Hotspur’s pennant, a great indignity according to the chivalric code of Medieval knights.  At Otterburn, Hotspur attacked in order to restore his honour with intense fighting which resulted in the death of Douglas but the defeat of the English army and Hotspur’s capture.  The new water-treatment facility involves replacing an existing building with a larger but lower facility.  As a pre-1400 battle, archaeology on the site was not considered to be a significant issue but understanding how the current landscape related to what we know of the fourteenth-century landscape and the events of that August evening was essential to be able to gauge any impact.  The site in question sits on the north side of the road which both the Scottish and English armies had been following from Newcastle and is believed to be close to the location in which the English army drew up.  The core of the fighting took place further west while an English flanking manoeuvre followed an arc far to the North, taking the Scots by surprise to the North-West.  The site of the water treatment facility, while close to the English lines, is in a location which, due to the local topography, is not prominent in key views across the battlefield landscape.  In our assessment the existing buildings were not considered to interfere with the open landscape which makes an important contribution to the appreciation of the course of the battle.  Working with Northumbrian Water, we evaluated the degree of visual impact arising from the replacement buildings and incorporated a planting scheme which worked with the existing landscape character to soften any remaining visual impact.  We concluded that the development, while larger but lower than the existing buildings, would not interfere with the intellectual or imaginative appreciation of events that happened 630 years ago; therefore the scheme would not harm the significance of the battlefield. The end result was a set of proposals which were considered to be an acceptable development even though it is well within the boundary of the battlefield.  It is only fair to say that Historic England and Northumberland County Council’s archaeology service both felt that that the new building represented ‘less than substantial harm’ to the battlefield which could be justified by other public benefits. This appears to have been based on the building being larger than the existing building, but they did not specify their reasoning in terms of an understanding of the specifics of the battlefield. To conclude, a final thought on archaeology.  While Historic England’s research has indicated that finding any archaeological material related to a fourteenth-century battle is highly unlikely, the planning permission for Otterburn includes a condition for an archaeological metal-detector survey of the site.  On a precautionary basis this is perhaps not unreasonable, but it may respond more to a desire to find a tangible connection to this remarkable event than a realistic assessment of archaeological potential.  Of course, if anything from the battle is found, this will be the earliest securely identified battlefield artefact in England! Nick Bridgland is a Heritage Director at Lichfields with 25 years’ experience in the sector.  For 10 years he led Historic England’s listing team for the North of England and held national responsibility for Battlefields, including writing the Battlefields Selection Guide and coordinating Historic England’s Battlefields Advisory Panel of external experts.  [1] Foard, G & Morris, R “Archaeology of English Battlefields: Conflict in the Pre-Industrial Landscape”, CBA Research Report 168, 2014.[2] Battlefields Selection Guide  


Released for regeneration: what lies ahead for Reading Prison?
This Monday, Reading Council will decide whether to support proposals to utilise Reading Prison for the development of a new theatre and a range of complementary uses (including enabling development) in accordance with the vision set out by Theatre and Arts Reading (TAR). There are a number of possible outcomes for the site but the final scheme will need to respond to a range of policy aspirations within a viable commercial model. In this blog, Lichfields considers how the preferred masterplan might deliver a suitable mix of uses for the site, and the scale and range of economic benefits that might arise from different development scenarios.   The heritage-led re-use of historic sites can offer an unrivalled richness of regeneration outcomes. Historic England’s recent Risky Business? report (researched and written by Lichfields) illustrates the considerable potential that such sites can have to deliver environmental, social and economic benefits alongside conservation. The study, which focused on successful Heritage at Risk! projects in London, drew on available metrics from project evaluations, planning applications and interviews, and was supplemented with estimates of economic impact using our ‘Evaluate’ tool. The research demonstrates that historic sites can deliver tangible regeneration impacts at the local level, revitalising local landmarks, investing in local services, creating cultural destinations and optimising the use of land. Reading Prison is not ‘at risk’, but it is an incredibly important and sensitive historic site in the town, which has been awaiting a new use since 2014 when the Ministry of Justice announced its closure. It occupies the site of the former Reading Abbey, founded in 1121 and once one of the most important pilgrimage centres in England. The entirety of the prison site is scheduled and of high archaeological potential (Henry I was buried in the Abbey and his remains may still lie within the prison site), and the standing remains of the Abbey which lie adjacent are listed Grade I. The prison building itself was constructed in 1844; it is listed Grade II as an important example of the ‘separate’ system which was established at Pentonville just two years earlier. The gothic design, by Sir George Gilbert Scott and William Moffat, features an attractive central octagon and crenelated north front, and the prison has particular historic value for its association with erstwhile inmate Oscar Wilde. He served two years at the prison between 1895 and 1897, describing his grim experiences afterwards in his poem, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’. The prison is a key part of the Abbey Quarter, a conservation and interpretation initiative focused on the Abbey remains and neighbouring Forbury Gardens (Grade II registered), and the Town Hall and Museum, which aim to deliver a clustered leisure, learning and visitor centre. This part of Reading is experiencing a tourist renaissance, following the reopening of the Abbey last month. The recent meanwhile use of the Prison for the Art Angel installation has been a big splash nationally and shows the site’s potential as a cultural destination. The prison is also a key regeneration opportunity at the heart of Reading. It is allocated within the 2009 Reading Central Area Action Plan as part of the East Side Major Opportunity Area which, amongst other objectives, seeks to provide ‘a more defined urban area than currently exists, of medium to high density’. Policy R3b envisages the site’s regeneration for residential, commercial officers or a hotel. The Council’s 2015 Outline Development Framework for the site, adopted in 2015 as a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), expands on its heritage and archaeological opportunities and sensitivities, including recognising the scope to remove or replace the unsightly 20th century buildings which surround the listed cruciform building. Drawing on our experience in producing the Risky Business? report for Historic England, and in securing conversion and reuse of historic prisons at Gloucester and Portsmouth, we thought it would be interesting to consider how the site might come forward in accordance with the SPD, and to establish the type and broad scale of economic benefits that different masterplan scenarios could deliver. Whilst these scenarios have not yet been viability-tested or subject to a detailed consideration of archaeological and other constraints of the site, we established three options to test different intensities of development all three scenarios aimed at delivering the following objectives: A masterplan (massing and layout) which ensures that Scott’s prison remains the architectural centrepiece of the scheme Preservation of key views to the octagon and north front; building heights broadly following that established by the existing prison walls (approximately 3 storeys) Removal or redevelopment of unsightly C20th buildings which detract from the prison’s setting Improved permeability into the site, which is currently encircled by prison walls Activation along the River Kennet to the south and creation of new public space   Scenario 1. Mixed use This scheme seeks to optimise the mix of uses within the site, with the prison itself becoming a hotel (38 bedrooms based on the precedent established at Oxford, albeit this may be a conservative estimate as Reading is larger), and the surrounding blocks redeveloped for a total of 7100sqm commercial floorspace, 500sqm community space and 93 dwellings. The scheme envisages 2850sqm office space in two 3 storey blocks framing views into the north and east of the site, with taller blocks to the south (3-5 storeys) containing 6500sqm residential and 3367sqm commercial (restaurants and bars) opening out onto the banks of the river. We calculate that this option, on occupation, could generate £3.6m of resident expenditure per annum, 578 FTE jobs, and £45.7m direct GVA per annum. See larger version Scenario 1: masterplan layout and associated economic impact [N.B. all figures are indicative, based on an illustrative scheme mix]   Scenario 2. Scaled-back office/hotel This scheme proposes 4,800sqm of commercial floorspace alongside the 38 bedroom hotel, with development located in the eastern part of the site, allowing generous public space to be provided across the western part of the site where it engages with the abbey ruins. A three-storey northern block would comprise 2100sqm office space, with office and commercial uses accommodated at the south-eastern part of the site, supporting vibrancy along the river and events within the public space adjacent. Our economic analysis indicates that, on occupation, this could deliver 414 direct FTE jobs during operation, and £36.3m direct GVA per annum. See larger version Scenario 2: scaled back office space, hotel and more generous public space, together with economic impact [N.B. all figures are indicative, based on an illustrative scheme mix] Scenario 3. Arts/commercial The third scenario envisages the prison in use as a c1,800sqm gallery or arts venue, supported commercially by a 2,400sqm 50 bedroom hotel in the south-eastern corner of the site, with a ground floor bar/restaurant space. The northern part of the site would provide a large green space associated with the gallery. This scenario could generate 80 direct FTE jobs during operation and £2.8m direct GVA per annum. See larger version Scenario 3: Arts and commercial scheme, together with estimate economic impact [N.B. all figures are indicative, based on an illustrative scheme mix] These three options show how much the site has to offer – both as a potential cultural anchor to the Abbey Quarter, but also as a vibrant commercial and mixed use hub. The site and its heritage present a huge opportunity to create a unique destination in the heart of Reading, with new uses having the potential to provide a striking new life and setting for an iconic, if infamous Victorian prison. Get in touch with the authors Daniel Lampard, Senior Director and Head of Thames Valley office Ciaran Gunne-Jones, Senior Director and Head of Economics Nick Bishop, Senior Heritage Consultant Colin Pullan, Urban Design Director Layla Vidal-Martin, Planner