Saviours of the past – 50 years of the Hertfordshire Building Preservation Trust

PUBLISHED: 15:07 16 October 2013 | UPDATED: 15:07 16 October 2013

Cromer Windmill today

Cromer Windmill today


This year, the Hertfordshire Building Preservation Trust marks its 50th anniversary. Trust chairman Dorothy Abel Smith looks back at half a century of saving our threatened historic buildings from being lost forever

One hundred years ago, the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act was passed – a landmark act that meant government had a legal duty to protect the country’s heritage. However, everyone knows the terrible destruction to buildings in towns and countryside that wars, neglect and taxation have imposed since. 
Fifty years on from the ancient monuments act, there were few people to speak up to oppose this destruction and the Grade Listing system was in its infancy. The need arose for urgent action and Hertfordshire was in the forefront of the movement to form building preservation trusts.

In June 1962, the County Buildings Trust working committee met and the idea of a trust was raised. An influential steering committee was set up and the Hertfordshire Building Preservation Trust was formed and the company incorporated on December 3 1963. Editorials in The Hertfordshire Mercury and Hertfordshire Countryside added their concerns for the county’s historic buildings, which produced wide publicity and a nucleus of subscribers to the trust.

The first chairman Mr A.E Williams OBE, said everyone involved had to work hard to make the trust succeed or it would fail. How right he was, and thanks to that hard work we have a great deal to celebrate in 2013. Past trust minutes reveal the immense amount of time and talent that directors, their staff and the local authorities have dedicated over the years. I believe those early enthusiasts would be proud that their vision has stood the test of time and we, in 2013 are determined to continue their work.

Many of the buildings the trust focussed on were rescued from demolition, repaired and sold on. The first to be rescued was a cottage in Westmill near Buntingford. Other early successes included the Town House Cottages in Barley, 2 High Street in Barkway, Foresters’ Cottages, in Ashwell and Maltings Yard in Kelshall. More recently the Dovecote at Great Amwell and Bourne Cottage, Widford, were sensitively restored and sold as part of the trust’s revolving fund.


Management for the future
Other buildings, acquired through legacies and conveyances, the trust has retained. These include Cromer Windmill, the last remaining post mill in the county, restored to full working order and open to visitors; the 1640 Old Dewhurst St.Mary’s School in Cheshunt – now apartments and a dining hall for the adjacent new school; the historic working forge at Much Hadham, including a museum with its unique Tudor wall paintings depicting the judgement of Solomon, and two cottages – the attractive Castle Cottages in Hertford within the castle grounds; the 19th century terraced house at 66 Queen Street, Hitchin, and our Grade I listed medieval Place House, Ware, which is available for hire. All are treasures, but require high maintenance and insurance – remaining a liability on the trust’s slender resources.

The trust has also assisted or advised on restoration projects as well as new uses for dozens of buildings throughout Hertfordshire and beyond. Working with local authorities and private owners, it has enabled places to survive which were considered wrecks to be demolished. However, the Buildings At Risk Register still reveals far too many long-term issues.

In 1993, BEAMS – Built Environment Advisory and Management Services was launched by the trust to act as a trading company and advisory body. Its small team works with local authorities and individuals on a wide range of planning, conservation matters and quality design that has been highly effective chiefly in Hertfordshire but other places too, in helping to preserve our common heritage from being lost forever.


To find out how to support the work of the trust, go to or email

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