âThe St Michaelâs Trading Estate is perceived to be the most dramatic illustration characterising the 19th century expansion of Bridportâs cordage industry.â Mike Williams, author Bridport and West Bay
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; âNight and day, as many ropes for ships, as many cables as you can and twisted yarn for cordage for ballistae.â By the 16th century Bridport was providing virtually all Naval requirements.
âFrom the mid 18th to the mid 19th centuries, new open ârope walksâ were set out on the outskirts of Bridport. Good examples from this period can still be seen to the west of St Michaelâs Lane.â
âThis represents one of the earliest industrial suburbs in the country.â Mike Williams âBridport and West Bayâ
The Stover Works, built with local âBothenhamptonâ brick, is surrounded by rare âcovered rope walksâ, and was used mainly for net making from 1890âs up until the mid 1960âs. It now houses the Trick Factory, BMX arena, but a third of the building presently remains unused.
English Heritageâs response to its proposed demolition in 2012 is; âSite 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.â
Enterprise St Michaelâs 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 âConservation Area Appraisalâ, St Michaelâs; âUnits 37, 60 and 67 represent what was the areaâs largest early 20th century net and cordage expansion in the form of The Stover Works.â
Around 1860 with the introduction of machinery, rope and net production increased dramatically, particularly due to the development of St Michaelâs covered line walks, factories and warehouses. Net making at St Michaelâs wound down from the 1950âs and after a merger of Gundryâs and Bridport Industries, the estate was sold to Hayward & Co in 1968.
Due to this rich heritage, its setting and location, St Michaelâs is now an attractive location for a diverse range of businesses and for visitors. Enterprise St Michaelâs aims to help secure the trading estate and attain investment for the benefit of the local community.
The Conservation Area Appraisal stated; âThe former Cattle Market represents a rare form of open space and provides a setting to the main front of the Bridport Industries building.â
The extensive Biddlecombe Tannery, adjacent to St Michaelâs, 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 Michaelâs Lane.
âThe survival of so much of Bridportâs industrial townscape into the 21st century is both rare and extremely fortunate.â (English Heritage)
Enterprise St Michaelâs 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.
The Economic Development Strategy, Bridport SW Quadrant (St Michaelâs)
St Michaelâs was identified by English Heritage to benefit from funding; assistance with building repairs and enhancement. This included âstructural repairs, re-roofing, brickwork, street lighting, removal of clutter and fees from professional advisors.â 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 âlack of interest from landowners.â
In 2006, a report by the Heritage and Economic Regeneration Scheme (HERS) identified the aims for St Michaelâs (SWQ):-
- To conserve and revitalise the historic area
- To reinforce and revitalise the economic base of the area
- To rescue vulnerable and âat riskâ buildings
- To foster re-occupation of under-used buildings
- To raise awareness of its historic importance
The Regional Development Agency (SW) also selected Bridportâs SW Quadrant, including St Michaelâs, offering grants to renovate buildings as a pilot scheme for a âMarket and Coastal Towns Initiativeâ.
However, the report stated reasons why the scheme may have failed – âIt 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.â
Enterprise St Michaelâs believes that affordable rents must be maintained, even where renovation and modernisation takes place.
St Michaelâs 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 Michaelâs is likely to increase the opportunities for enhancing these valuable heritage assets.
Local Authorities have the duty to designate as âConservation Areasâ, any area of âspecial architectural or historical interestâ whose character or appearance is worth preserving or enhancing. . The designation gives âbroader protection than listing individual buildings.â (LP. 3.6.18)
St Michaelâs was included in an extended âConservation Areaâ with buildings of âhistoric importanceâ in 2000.
Some of the reasons why previous applications for urban housing have failed.
The Local plan 2006 West Dorset District Council
âThe District Council will seek to protect Conservation Areas from development which would not preserve or enhance their character or appearance.â
âDevelopment will not be allowed in gaps where these allow important public views into, within or out of the settlement.â 5.4.3
âThe 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.â 5.4.4
âThe development should not lead to the loss of employment.â 5.4.5
âGovernment guidance encourages Local Planning Authorities to protect existing Industrial Sites that are in accessible locations.â 7.1.1
âThe District Council will seek to safeguard its existing stock of employment sites and premisesâ 7.3.2
âSuitable existing employment sites may be difficult or impossible to replace.â 7.4.1
English Heritage response to the most recent application at St Michaelâs (Feb 2012)
âIts 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.â
âFour of the buildings set for demolition are identified as of historic significance and a presumption in favour of retention should prevail.â
These include; The Stover Works, The old Lilliput building, part of the Red Brick CafĂ© and The Rope Walk (North side)
The SWQ Regeneration Framework in 2002 involved a survey, which identified 3 key objectives;
- Retaining and increasing employment opportunities for new and existing businesses.
- Sustainable development.
- 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; âThe lack of employment opportunities, with only 29% of people satisfied with the availability of jobs.â (15.3.4)
Public consultation in 1998 identified âa lack of business units and small workshops.â
Based on national policy, professional consultation, surveys and public consultation, these represent many of the issues of which Enterprise St Michaelâs wishes to fully respect in any future developments.
The problems associated with proposals to construct residential dwellings on the estate are numerous.
- A serious and increasing threat from flooding.
- 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.
- High density housing, (including 4 storey blocks of flats) is not appropriate in a Conservation Area.
- It would inevitably lead to the loss of employment facilities and opportunities.
- 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.
- Congestion, conflict and overcrowding.
- There are no alternative premises, or even less ideal sites available for local trade
- The number of visitors to Bridport would diminish.
- It would be detrimental to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.
- 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 Michaelâs 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.