Heritage

HERITAGE

“The St Michael’s Trading Estate is perceived to be the most dramatic illustration characterising the 19th century expansion of Bridport’s cordage industry.” Mike Williams, author Bridport and West Bay

Net making in the Edwards Building around 1910, St Michael’s Trading Estate, now Bridport Upholstery. Copyright; Bridport Museum Trust.

Net making in the Edwards Building around 1910, St Michael’s Trading Estate, now Bridport Upholstery. Copyright; Bridport Museum Trust.

History

Flax and hemp were produced extensively around Bridport from the early middle ages and the town grew to dominate rope production, and later nets, world-wide. Bridport has always held an independent outlook and in 937 was one of 4 towns in Dorset to issue its own coinage.

As early as 1213 Bridport was a leading producer of rope and sail cloth, receiving an order from King John to provide for the naval fleet; ‘Night and day, as many ropes for ships, as many cables as you can and twisted yarn for cordage for ballistae.’ By the 16th century Bridport was providing virtually all Naval requirements.

“From the mid 18th to the mid 19th centuries, new open ‘rope walks’ were set out on the outskirts of Bridport. Good examples from this period can still be seen to the west of St Michael’s Lane.”

“This represents one of the earliest industrial suburbs in the country.” Mike Williams ‘Bridport and West Bay’

Stover Works

Stover Works

The Stover Works, built with local ‘Bothenhampton’ brick, is surrounded by rare ‘covered rope walks’, and was used mainly for net making from 1890’s up until the mid 1960’s. It now houses the Trick Factory, BMX arena, but a third of the building presently remains unused.

English Heritage’s response to its proposed demolition in 2012 is; “Site meetings involving our own engineer have concluded that there is no structural basis for the proposed loss of The Stover or to preclude its retention and conversion.”

Enterprise St Michael’s would seek funding to restore the Stover and develop the building for contemporary and efficient use, including extension of the existing youth indoor sports and leisure facility.

The ‘Conservation Area Appraisal’, St Michael’s; “Units 37, 60 and 67 represent what was the area’s largest early 20th century net and cordage expansion in the form of The Stover Works.”

St Michael’s (north side), showing the distinctive east-west grain of long rope walks, spinning walks, and twine houses, The Stover Works at the centre. Photo courtesy of Chris Hornby.

St Michael’s (north side), showing the distinctive east-west grain of long rope walks, spinning walks, and twine houses,
The Stover Works at the centre. Photo courtesy of Chris Hornby.

Around 1860 with the introduction of machinery, rope and net production increased dramatically, particularly due to the development of St Michael’s covered line walks, factories and warehouses. Net making at St Michael’s wound down from the 1950’s and after a merger of Gundry’s and Bridport Industries, the estate was sold to Hayward & Co in 1968.

Due to this rich heritage, its setting and location, St Michael’s is now an attractive location for a diverse range of businesses and for visitors. Enterprise St Michael’s aims to help secure the trading estate and attain investment for the benefit of the local community.

The Edwards Building (with clock tower) was built in the 1890’s producing fishing and sports nets, later becoming the ‘Bridort Industries Building’ in 1947. The Cattle Market (foreground) was originally known as the ‘Market Field’.

The Edwards Building (with clock tower) was built in the 1890’s producing fishing and sports nets, later becoming the ‘Bridort Industries Building’ in 1947. The Cattle Market (foreground) was originally known as the ‘Market Field’.

The Conservation Area Appraisal stated; “The former Cattle Market represents a rare form of open space and provides a setting to the main front of the Bridport Industries building.”

The extensive Biddlecombe Tannery, adjacent to St Michael’s, was demolished to make way for the Bus and Coach Terminal and many 18th century cottages were lost to provide a car park East of St Michael’s Lane.

“The survival of so much of Bridport’s industrial townscape into the 21st century is both rare and extremely fortunate.” (English Heritage)

Enterprise St Michael’s believes these are powerful reasons to preserve these heritage assets, and demolishing any of these buildings, even for a housing estate, would be a disaster for Bridport, and for generations to come. Here is a great opportunity to enhance the historic area and extend its commercial and community use.

CONSERVATION

The Economic Development Strategy, Bridport SW Quadrant (St Michael’s)

St Michael’s was identified by English Heritage to benefit from funding; assistance with building repairs and enhancement. This included ‘structural repairs, re-roofing, brickwork, street lighting, removal of clutter and fees from professional advisors.’ West Dorset District Council agreed to share in the cost of the regeneration.

However, in 2003 the scheme and grants were not taken up due to ‘lack of interest from landowners.’

An 18th century cottage, opposite the Stover Works.

An 18th century cottage, opposite the Stover Works.

In 2006, a report by the Heritage and Economic Regeneration Scheme (HERS) identified the aims for St Michael’s (SWQ):-

  • To conserve and revitalise the historic area
  • To reinforce and revitalise the economic base of the area
  • To rescue vulnerable and ‘at risk’ buildings
  • To foster re-occupation of under-used buildings
  • To raise awareness of its historic importance

The Regional Development Agency (SW) also selected Bridport’s SW Quadrant, including St Michael’s, offering grants to renovate buildings as a pilot scheme for a ‘Market and Coastal Towns Initiative’.

However, the report stated reasons why the scheme may have failed – “It is alleged that in a number of cases, landowners indicated that, if a tenant did embark on an improvement scheme using their own capital, the rent in future years could nonetheless increase considerably.”

Enterprise St Michael’s believes that affordable rents must be maintained, even where renovation and modernisation takes place.

St Michael’s Trading Estate remains eligible for Heritage Lottery Funds and other grants. Historically Dorset has had a low rate of these applications. Any community orientated project such as Enterprise St Michael’s is likely to increase the opportunities for enhancing these valuable heritage assets.

Planning History

Local Authorities have the duty to designate as ‘Conservation Areas’, any area of ‘special architectural or historical interest’ whose character or appearance is worth preserving or enhancing. . The designation gives “broader protection than listing individual buildings.” (LP. 3.6.18)

St Michael’s was included in an extended ‘Conservation Area’ with buildings of ‘historic importance’ in 2000.

The Edwards building, from the West.

The Edwards building, from the West.

Some of the reasons why previous applications for urban housing have failed.

The Local plan 2006 West Dorset District Council

The District Council will seek to protect Conservation Areas from development which would not preserve or enhance their character or appearance.”

“Development will not be allowed in gaps where these allow important public views into, within or out of the settlement.” 5.4.3

“The scale, nature and design of the development will need to be in character with the settlement and its surroundings, and the amenities of the surrounding areas must be safeguarded.” 5.4.4

“The development should not lead to the loss of employment.” 5.4.5

“Government guidance encourages Local Planning Authorities to protect existing Industrial Sites that are in accessible locations.” 7.1.1

“The District Council will seek to safeguard its existing stock of employment sites and premises” 7.3.2

“Suitable existing employment sites may be difficult or impossible to replace.” 7.4.1

 

English Heritage response to the most recent application at St Michael’s (Feb 2012)

“Its loss of historic fabric and contextually inappropriate new build, will generate substantial harm to the significance of the site and fails to preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.”

“Four of the buildings set for demolition are identified as of historic significance and a presumption in favour of retention should prevail.”

These include; The Stover Works, The old Lilliput building, part of the Red Brick Café and The Rope Walk (North side)

The characteristic roofs of net making factories with northern light panels, in what was once known as the Lilliput Stores.

The characteristic roofs of net making factories with northern light panels, in what was once known as the Lilliput Stores.

The SWQ Regeneration Framework in 2002 involved a survey, which identified 3 key objectives;

  1. Retaining and increasing employment opportunities for new and existing businesses.
  2. Sustainable development.
  3. Retaining and enhancing historic buildings and reflecting the character and diversity of Bridport in new designs.

An appraisal of the Conservation Area in 2004 highlighted an underlying problem; “The lack of employment opportunities, with only 29% of people satisfied with the availability of jobs.” (15.3.4)

Public consultation in 1998 identified “a lack of business units and small workshops.”

Based on national policy, professional consultation, surveys and public consultation, these represent many of the issues of which Enterprise St Michael’s wishes to fully respect in any future developments.

Housing

The problems associated with proposals to construct residential dwellings on the estate are numerous.

  1. A serious and increasing threat from flooding.
  2. The expense of providing obligatory initiatives for flood defence, decontamination, drainage, pile-driving, traffic flow and access etc means the quantity of housing units have to be high to make the scheme viable.
  3. High density housing, (including 4 storey blocks of flats) is not appropriate in a Conservation Area.
  4. It would inevitably lead to the loss of employment facilities and opportunities.
  5. It would further diminish employment and trade in Bridport, where adjoining businesses producing noise, fumes or requiring HGV deliveries and collections would by law be forced to close.
  6. Congestion, conflict and overcrowding.
  7. There are no alternative premises, or even less ideal sites available for local trade
  8. The number of visitors to Bridport would diminish.
  9. It would be detrimental to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.
  10. If the population of Bridport is to be increased, employment opportunities must be protected, if not increased in suitable existing areas.

Although there is demand for new housing all over the UK, Enterprise St Michael’s believes this site is not a good place to provide it, particularly as the government wishes to encourage development in town centres to give preference to commerce, keeping market towns active.