English Heritage Saves Rare Merchant's House

The future of 810 Tottenham High Road, one of the longest-running and most intractable Buildings at Risk cases in London, has been secured today (Thursday 17 August) with an English Heritage repair grant of £325,000.

The grade II* listed building in Haringey, North London is one of a symmetrical pair of red brick houses built around 1715 to appeal to a growing market of rich and aspiring City businessmen who wanted to move out to the fashionable village of Tottenham on the outskirts of the capital.

From its days as a sought-after country retreat, 810 has gradually declined to become a derelict eyesore stranded on the Tottenham High Road. The English Heritage grant will allow the Haringey Buildings Preservation Trust to start repair work after 20 years of failed attempts to save it. The restoration of 810 is also another important piece of the jigsaw in the ongoing regeneration of the Tottenham High Road. Since 1995 English Heritage has injected more than £3.5 million into the High Road to regenerate the many historic buildings along it, to help restore confidence in the area and so kick-start an economic turnaround. This is the most money English Heritage has ever given to a single area of the country.

David Lammy, Minister for Culture and MP for Tottenham, said: "This is great news. Thanks to the English Heritage grant, a fascinating part of Haringey's past looks set to be restored to its former glory. The built heritage of an area can very often be a springboard for future regeneration - that's what's happening here, and I can't wait to see the results."

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “I have visited this building many times and until now it has always been to highlight the frustrating series of setbacks that have plagued attempts to restore and find a new use for it. Today I am delighted that the first major step has been taken to return it from a sad, neglected shell into a living building once again.

“Number 810, like its restored pair, 808, is a rare, beautiful and important piece of London’s heritage. The house tells the story of Tottenham’s past – a country village where well-off merchants made their homes in the 18th century, a rapidly growing urban community gripped by industrialisation in the 19th century followed by post-war economic depression and decline in the 20th. Importantly though, this building will now have a role in Tottenham’s future and is something of which local people can feel justifiably proud.”

Remarkably, a number of fine merchant’s houses from the 18th century survive today in Tottenham but 810 and 808, are undoubtedly the gems with many of their original features still intact. Their arched side wings, designed to look like coach houses, and their fine architectural detailing, such as the triple keystones and brick ”aprons” above and below the windows, point to an owner with very clear social ambitions.

The Tottenham High Road did not remain as desirable into the 19th and 20th centuries, however, and as it became more populated the rich merchants left for country retreats elsewhere. 810’s fortunes changed too and it became a home to a succession of shops after 1850 when a draper called Edward Thompson and his three apprentices moved in. A shop front was added to the building where the garden had once been, spoiling its handsome Queen Anne façade and breaking the symmetry with its pair. By the late 20th century the building had become marooned on one of London’s most economically depressed roads and in 1976 the sweet shop that occupied the building finally closed.

The future of 810 seemed doomed to be one of slow but steady decay and dilapidation – a far cry from its heyday in the Georgian period. Unfortunately the Trust which was responsible for the building from the mid-1980s did little to secure its future, its original fireplaces were stripped out and vandals started a fire which damaged the basement. It was put onto English Heritage’s first Buildings at Risk Register for London in 1991.

In 1993 810’s problems seemed to be over when an imaginative architect tried to buy the building and convert it into a live/work space. He was given consent to do this and English Heritage offered him a grant of £76,000 towards repairs. At the last minute all hopes were dashed when it transpired that the building was no longer the Trust’s to sell. In yet another twist, the Trust had been struck off as a company and all assets, including 810, had passed into Crown ownership. It took another ten years of complex legal wrangles to unlock the problem while 810 stood decaying – its only occupants a colony of pigeons. Finally, in 2004, the new Haringey Buildings Preservation Trust was created by the Council, with many councillors acting as trustees. 810 was once again back in the hands of local people who cared about its fate.

English Heritage advised the new Trust to enlist Heritage of London Trust Operations (HOLTOPs), an organisation with an impressive track-record of restoring Buildings at Risk, to act as agent and appoint an architect. The architects Butler Hegarty were taken on and have carried out extensive investigations of the building. Careful detective work has revealed the original layout of the house and the full extent of the surviving fabric which includes much of the original panelling, the entire staircase and stone flagging, terracotta tiles and an original copper in the basement. The roof timbers are also a rare surviving example of early 18th century carpentry.

The English Heritage grant will fund 75% of the costs of the first phase of the restoration which will involve the removal of the ugly 19th and 20th century extensions at the front and back of the house, timber and structural repairs and the reinstatement of windows on the front of the building. Once the exterior of 810 is repaired the Trust will decide on a future use for the building which will both generate revenue to keep it maintained and allow some public access. Feasibility studies by Butler Hegarty suggest that the best options are either to return 810 to a single dwelling, to convert it into two residential units or to create a mixture of residential and commercial space. The Trust has already had initial discussions with the local Citizens Advice Bureau who have expressed an interest in using the building.

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