Our Fight to Save the Foster Complex, Bodmin

27 July 2013
Should English Heritage have absolute rule in the designation of historic assets?The Foster Complex, near Bodmin, is a complete early 19th century hospital complex, built in the Edwardian Baroque style and the last work of Cornwall’s greatest architect Silvanus Trevail. It is also very close to demolition.

In the House of Lords last week Baroness Northover called the building a ‘unique hospital’. Nicholas Trench, Earl of Clancarty, added that its demolition was pure ‘vandalism’ and went onto describe the ‘chaos’ left by an inadequate planning system where important heritage assets can be lost without planning permission or public consultation.

The Cornish Buildings Group has applied three times to English Heritage to get Foster designated. In support of listing are the Ancient Monuments Society, Cornwall Council, SAVE Britain’s Heritage and local groups such as the Silvanus Trevail and Old Cornwall Societies. Yet, despite such heavyweight support English Heritage refuse to give any statutory protection to the buildings which would save it, or parts of it, from the bulldozers.

Paul Holden, Chairman of the Cornish Buildings Group, said ‘The hospital is a local landmark, a very fine piece of architecture and key to the town’s social identity. It is a great tragedy that in this age of ‘localism’ the voice of local communities is ignored and when ‘sustainability’ is at the forefront of social and economic debate that good quality architecture cannot be reused for residential or commercial purposes.’ Dr James Whetter, Chairman of the Silvanus Trevail Society, added ‘It seems to us that they are an important part of Cornwall’s heritage and should be valued in the way that the Duchy Palace buildings are at Lostwithiel and which have been recently restored by the Princes Regeneration Trust and Cornwall Buildings Preservation Trust’.

Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage has written to the Group to commend  their efforts ‘…to secure what is undoubtedly a building of considerable local significance and resonance’ but goes onto say ‘English Heritage are always mindful of the opinions of others, and carefully consider these in formulating our advice’. Despite these words English Heritage has not met or entered into any meaningful dialogue with interested parties, nor have they considered the unique qualities of the architecture in the context of the locality.

 The demolition of the Foster Complex was determined through a screening opinion process, the result of which saw Cornwall Council permit its demolition without any planning permission, environmental impact assessment or public consultation. Although the hospital does not sit in a conservation area it is on a local list which, in hindsight, gives it no protection at all. 

Piloti, in Private Eye magazine, suggested that English Heritage has got it wrong, a sentiment shared by Mathew Saunders of the Ancient Monuments Society who said ‘The refusal to list in this case galls because equally good Trevail buildings have been awarded listing. Even now, we urge that at least the fore building and the Foster Hall be added to the statutory lists. Mr Holden added ‘It is shameful that so many learned and relevant opinions have been ignored, surely a more transparent and engaging designation system should be looked into where localism and unique architectural quality stands for something’.

The owners Community 1st Cornwall have refused offers for local groups to take responsibility for the buildings in the hope that they can play a community use in the future. Once gone there are no plans afoot to develop the site.

Mr Holden concluded ‘This is a great loss to the architectural make-up of Cornwall, a great social loss for Bodmin and the needless obliteration of a rare building type. English Heritage, in this case, has shown an appalling ignorance of provincial architectural style and the concept of localism in general’.

 PRESS RELEASE CORNISH BUILDINGS GROUP 26 July 2013The fight to save the Foster Complex went all the way to the House of Lords this week. Prompted by prominent coverage in Country Life and Private Eye magazines, Nick Trench, the Earl of Clancarty used the Foster Complex as an example of the ‘vandalism’ of needless demolition and the ‘chaos’ left by an inadequate planning system where important heritage assets can be lost without planning permission or public consultation. He concluded that ‘the arts will be the loser in all of this’.

The Cornish Buildings Group, who have led the fight to save the Edwardian hospital near Bodmin, have been unable to get the buildings listed despite support from Cornwall Council, the Ancient Monuments Society and SAVE Britain’s Heritage. Paul Holden, Chairman of the group said ‘His Lordship has raised this as a national disgrace and one English Heritage should be ashamed of. It does seem crazy that in this age of sustainability that buildings of this quality cannot be reused for residential or commercial purposes’.

Efforts to save elements of the Foster site are still ongoing by the Cornish Buildings Group and Foster Hall Revival Trust’. A booklet on the architectural and social history of Foster can be found on the Revival Trust’s website.

‘Mr Holden added ‘Although it is late in the day we are still hoping for a satisfactory solution, a situation not helped by Community 1st Cornwall who have twice refused requests to retain elements of the structure for future community use’.

Read the debate in the House of Lords here

Letter from Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, to the Cornish Buildings Group reference the listing the the Foster Complex.

Dear Mr Holden

Re: Foster Complex, Bodmin

Thank you for your recent emails posing questions about the listing process, and highlighting the Cornish Buildings Group’s campaign to save the Foster Complex.  The efforts of the Group to secure what is undoubtedly a building of considerable local significance and resonance is to be commended.  It might, however, be helpful to respond to the points raised in your email of 13 July 2013 about the role of local groups in determining buildings for listing. English Heritage act as statutory advisers to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and undertakes the administration of the listing process.  In making our assessment we are bound by the criteria for listing which are enshrined in the Planning (ListedBuildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.  In making a decision, the Secretary of State is only allowed to take into account a building’s special architectural or historic interest.  English Heritage are always mindful of the opinions of others, and carefully consider these in formulating our advice.  It is the case though that our advice must necessarily be impartial and must be considered in the wider national context.  The National Planning Policy Framework sets a clear agenda for local authorities who are enjoined to consider the significance of all historic assets before taking decisions which affect their future.  It is in this context that the considerable local significance which attaches to the Foster Complex should be considered, and Local Lists have a part to play too in celebrating this local value.  In this instance, having looked at the case for the listing of the Foster Complex twice, it has been our conclusion that the building did not meet the criteria for listing.I appreciate that this will be disappointing to the Group, but wish you well in your efforts to secure a local solution for the building.

Yours sincerely
Simon Thurley

Last Hope for Iconic Bodmin Landmark

 The Cornish Buildings Group has asked the owners of the Foster Complex near Bodmin to consider saving elements of the building from demolition for future community use. Paul Holden, Chairman of the Cornish Buildings Group said ‘We have tried our very best to save the whole complex as we feel it is an important part of Bodmin’s social and architectural history. However, we how have to accept that the building is being stripped out and its future hangs in the balance. We very much hope that the owners, Community First Cornwall, will consider retaining the front block and the Foster Hall which, we feel, will add historic quality to any future development on that site’.

The potential demolition of this landmark building on the hospital site near Bodmin has been controversial from the start. The Cornish Buildings Group have tried unsuccessfully to get the site listed by English Heritage on three separate occasions, attempted to get the conservation area taken up to the site during the recent appraisal and challenged Cornwall Council’s ‘screening opinion’ process which determined that the Foster Complex could be demolished without any planning permission, environmental impact assessment or public consultation’.

 A spokesman from the Ancient Monuments Society said ‘This is all so sad – as a really interesting building by one of the county’s great architectural sons, and one surrounded by local goodwill faces needless oblivion’ a sentiment shared by SAVE Britain’s Heritage.  Mr Holden added ‘Despite our active campaigning with support of the Foster Hall Revival Trust and several independent parties, we have not at present been able to reverse the decision to demolish. It was a great shame that public consultation was not part of the legal process, who knows public pressure may gone some way in saving the buildings. The Cornish Buildings Group feel that our best chance now is to speak with the developers direct in the hope that goodwill will prevail. Failing that we are asking that a full building record be carried so that future historians will understand the building and have a photographic record’.

The Foster Complex belongs to Community First Cornwall but is leased by Cornwall NHS Trust. The site has become increasingly derelict over the last decade through neglect, and it consequently has become a cash drain on the National Health Service. Community First Cornwall and Foster Hall Revival Trust have tried to find a future use for the buildings but to date no-one has come forward with any plausible business case. Despite this there is a strong feeling amongst statutory consultees, Cornwall Council and local groups that these buildings could, once again, return to a community use, indeed, works carried out at Duchy Palace in Lostwithiel by the Princes Regeneration Trust and Cornwall Building Preservation Trust prove that it can work.

Mr Holden summed up the situation ‘It seems quite ridiculous that buildings of this quality can be demolished with no future plans to develop the site. What happened to sustainable buildings? The need for low-cost housing ─ surely re-using historic assets is environmentally friendly and cost-effective? I wonder if all solutions have been explored such as speaking to developers, engaging fully with Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service and statutory consultees, local building Trusts and interest groups? It is so sad that such iconic buildings will be lost and that the site will remain empty and undeveloped for many years to come. We feel this complex is of huge regional significance. It is architecturally important and is the last work of one of the county’s most famous sons, Silvanus Trevail. It ties together the hospital site linking other listed buildings in the locality such as the radial block and Governor’s House. All in all it is a building well worth saving even if it is only part of the overall scheme. We are asking Community First Cornwall to live up to their company title, to put Bodmin communities first and retain two elements of a structure that has defined the town for over a century’.

The Cornish Buildings Group would very much like to hear your memories of the Foster Complex or see any photographs that you may have in order to create an oral and pictorial record of the site and its history. Please make contact at cornishbuildingsgroup@gmail.com or visit our website  https://sites.google.com/site/cornishbuildingsgroup/home

 Support for our campaign to save Foster

Can we urge Community First Cornwall to keep the frontage block at St Lawrence’s. 
Whatever the decision of EH on its listability, its quality in terms of craftsmanship and design is clear. It is the considered work of the county’s great architectural son, Silvanus Trevail and is clearly a building that means a great deal to many local people.
The front building and the hall behind are also eminently re-useable. It is sheer waste to destroy them. Provided any proposal were underpinned by a clear-headed Business Plan, retention and conversion could well be attractive to funders, including those administering the proceeds of the National Lottery – Big and HLF.
Even now, we urge that these buildings be retained in community use and be not destroyed.
Can I also express our appreciation of your willingness to listen to the arguments against demolition and to give them careful consideration ; that is handsome of you.
Matthew Saunders MBE
Ancient Monuments Society

We are concerned about the future of the Foster Complex at Bodmin, an iconic group of buildings that are under threat. It seems to us that they are an important part of Cornwall’s heritage and should be valued in the way that the DuchyPalace buildings are at Lostwithiel and which are currently being restored. Obviously a use has to be found for them now that they are redundant as far as the Health Authorities are concerned. Having regard to their attractive and central situation, the lay out of the buildings, with space in front and between them, perhaps an educational or academic role could be found for them. We are thinking in particular of the buildings using red brick and terra cotta in the front area. These materials were made at Henry Dennis’s Ruabon works in north Wales. A partner for the complex is Laninval house on the road west of Bodmin which use the same materials and was designed by Silvanus Trevail as a retirement home for Dennis who originated from Bodmin. It is a care home now and perhaps that is perhaps another possible use for the complex. We believe something that is of benefit and long term value for the people of Cornwall should be made of these historic buildings which should at all costs be preserved. If we can be of any help with any plans, please let us know.

Yours sincerely, 

Dr. James Whetter (Chairman, Silvanus Trevail Society)

Has Foster Hall had its Day?

In the wake of the screening opinion notification for the demolition of the undesignated Foster Hall, near Bodmin, the Cornish Buildings Group are making every effort save the heritage asset. 

 Our letter to Cornwall Council in full.

Dear Mr Wigley 

Ref. Foster Complex, St Lawrence’s Hospital, Bodmin, Cornwall. Screening Opinion PA13/02287 

On behalf of the Council and members of the Cornish Buildings Group and with full support from the Foster Hall Revival Trust I am writing to formally request that a full Environmental Impact Assessment be completed prior to any consideration towards demolition of the Foster Complex, St Lawrence’s Hospital, Bodmin, Cornwall.

In 2004 Cornwall Council tried to get this building listed (ref. G/46/BOD, dated 22 March 2004) but was rejected based on the assumption that the Cornish architect Silvanus Trevail could not have been fully responsible for the whole design based on the fact that he died in 1903, a year before the construction of the hospital. I also understand that a further application supported by, amongst others, the Ancient Monuments Society, Cornwall Heritage Trust and the Cornwall Association of Local Historians was rejected later the same year. The CBG re-applied for listing status in 2011 but again it was rejected based on the fact that the criteria for listing had not changed significantly. We will make further representations to English Heritage, the Victorian Society and SAVE to push a future listing.

In addition, we recently fed back into the Bodmin Conservation Area Assessment Consultation that the conservation area could be extended to Foster Hall in order to give it some statutory protection. I trust that through this consultation that Foster Hall will find/ or has found a place on Cornwall Council’s Local List. 

To support our request for listing we drew on two significant factors that have come into play over the last few years. First, was the recent publication of Ronald Perry and Hazel Harradence, book Silvanus Trevail: Cornish Architect and Entrepreneur, (Francis Boutle, 2008). This book, for the first time, created a full catalogue of Trevail’s work. This work has confirmed beyond doubt that the buildings were built as per Trevail’s plans now held at the Cornwall Record Office in Truro (140 sheets AD396/172, AD396/284). Furthermore as £22,000 had been spent on the buildings before Trevail’s death it is clear that work was progressing well and that Trevail was in charge, as shown in the Cornish Guardian 22 July 1897 which records his resignation from the County Council to focus on his role as hospital architect. 

Second, a couple of years ago part of this complex, the Bodmin Hospital Isolation ward, was demolished without prior warning. Without an Environmental Impact Assessment we are concerned that the remaining parts of the Foster Block, rest around the buildings not being listed or the area will be lost in a similar way. The CBG believe that the Foster Complex remains a good example of Trevail’s work and one that, at this present time, appears to be at risk from demolition. Trevail, a President of the Society of Architects, remains Cornwall’s most prolific and significant architect of the period with some 28 buildings already being listed apart from church restorations. It is of great concern to the CBG Council that several buildings by this much admired Cornishman have been demolished in recent years. We feel that the Foster Complex has buildings of both architectural merit and great social interest. Indeed, Foster Hall defines the old hospital site which also envelopes other listed buildings by George Wightwick, a pupil of John Foulston who was the architect of the radial asylum block that was severely damaged by fire in 2005 and has since been demolished. 

We hope that Trevail’s buildings can be spared from demolition in order to safeguard the integrity of the whole site. It is difficult to determine how this ‘screening opinion’ process actually works so we feel that it would be a tragic loss if we did not mount a challenge to Cornwall Council to pursue this matter further and create full dialogue prior to any commencement of works. We also hope that despite the building’s non-designation status that it will find an element of protection through the National Planning Policy Framework where buildings as this are defined as ‘heritage assets’. 

The CBG followed the Court of Appeal case regarding Mitchells Brewery with some interest and hopefully, in the case of Foster Hall, has set some precedent in preventing its immediate demolition.

Based on the above the Cornish Buildings Group respectfully request that you will keep us in the loop regarding further developments in the case of Foster Hall. 

Yours sincerely 

Paul Holden, FSA 

Chairman Cornish Buildings Group

The Silvanus Trevail Society have commented

‘Silvanus Trevail is one of Cornwall’s greatest architechtural sons. He was a titanic figure in the political and architectural affairs of the county and the Silvanus Trevail Society would say that this major commission which survives largely unaltered should enjoy the benefit of protection. We feel strongly that the Foster is an evocative part of the complex of buildings on this site. Why should the buildings of 1818, 1838 and 1845 deserve protection whereas those of 1903 do not. 1903 is now considered three generations away – and more than 100 years. Why should an iconic building of this age be treated more harshly that its late Georgian/early Victorian predecessors?

Comparing the Foster complex with the Headland Hotel, Newquay which is listed, it is hard to see why the former is denied protection. Both share the use of Plymouth limestone for the shell and rich red terracotta for the dressings. The Asylum as a whole featured as a large part of the lives of all those within Cornwall for over 100 years, not only as a place of incarceration, but of refuge, recovery and work. Many people today have fond memories of working in such a magnificent building and consider it to be an important landmark in Mid-Cornwall.

Maybe time should be taken by those ‘in control’ to stand back and look at the building, just to see and take in the heritage they are so hell-bent on destroying’.

Dear Mr Holden,
Bodmin Hospital, Boundary Road, Bodmin, Bodmin
Thank you for your application of 11 May 2012 to add the above building to the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.
The Foster Complex at St Lawrence Hospital, Bodmin, Cornwall was assessed for designation in 2004 and the decision was made that it did not meet the criteria for listing. I have attached a copy of the advice report which was written for this assessment for your records. As the building has already been assessed for listing we would not be able to re-assess it unless substantial new information was provided about its architectural or historic interest. The information you have supplied in this application does not constitute substantial new information and so at this time we are unable to validate your application.
    You mention in your application that the influence of Silvanus Trevail was not properly assigned in the original assessment. However, the advice report supplied demonstrates that his authorship of the complex was clearly acknowledged in the original assessment.
     If you have any questions, or have substantial new information to supply please contact my colleague, Ms Rachel Williams, on 0117 975 0675 or at
rachel.williams@english-heritage.org.uk , quoting our reference 473340. Further information can also be found on our website at www.english-heritage.org.uk.
     If we do not hear from you within 28 days, we will close the case. We look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely
Heather Gordon
Assistant Designation Adviser- West
 English Heritage
Designation Team West
29 Queen Square

May 2012

Concerns raised over demolition of Bodmin Isolation Hospital, St Lawrence’s Hospital, Bodmin. Letter passed to English Heritage to ask for consideration to spot list the Foster Complex.

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