Draft Local List Meeting

I would like to welcome everyone on behalf of Colchester Borough Council, who have sponsored today's meeting.

Can I firstly apologise that Lynn Barton, the responsible portfolio holder, who was present at the launch meeting at the Town Hall, is away on holiday so cannot be here today. Lynn, though, thought that in my role as "Heritage Champion" it was perhaps more appropriate for me to welcome you.

Can I say how grateful the council is to the Colchester Historic Buildings Forum for undertaking this extensive, demanding and time-consuming task of formulating the draft local list of significant buildings voluntarily – not for any personal gain, but for the love of the town of Colchester.

And this is just what brought me to Colchester from industrial Warwickshire some 43 years ago, to what was then still a smallish, but still charming, market town.

In the past visitors to Colchester were, perhaps, more engaged with the historical archaeology of the place.

Did Philip Morant set the ball rolling in this respect in 1748, with his book "The History and Antiquities of the Most Ancient Town of Colchester"?

He wrote in the preface to the book, "It being my lot to be fixed in the town of Colchester, and finding that it abounds with many curious materials which, if digested, might be of use to present and future generations, I thought I could not better employ my leisure hours than compiling this book, which I now offer the reader."

This was of course not only a complete history, but also a comprehensive description of the town’s monuments, memorials and churches, but did not cover domestic architecture.

It was probably not until the advent of mass tourism, which developed a new emphasis on the atmosphere and the sense of 'place' as being important to the attraction of a town. The 19th ventury had brought the railways and Bradshaw's Guide, the 20th century brought the motor car, the AA guides and the famous Shell guides. Arthur Mee's "England", published in 1940, said of Colchester "we walk about its streets and it seems time goes back 1800 years."

And then, of course, the Pevsner Guide to Essex followed in 1954, including not just historical monuments and public buildings, but appreciation of the architecture of the town – both commercial and domestic.

In my role as Heritage Champion I recently attended a meeting in Cambridge and with some time to waste I wandered into the second-hand bookshops off King's Parade, and by chance looked through a book of photographs of Cambridge from 50 years ago – when I was a student.

But where were the buildings I remembered so well? How it had all changed! Almost the whole of the city centre north of the market square, the old streets, the historic Lion Hotel, had all gone, to be replaced firstly by the Lion Yard Mall and lately by an enormous Royal Mall with a new John Lewis et al.

No doubt the citizens of Cambridge love their new shopping facilities and ambience, but what has been lost and what has been lost for ever?

Colchester is expanding rapidly, you could say almost exponentially, population 1801 – 11,500; 1901 – 38,000; 2001 census made it 158,900; the projected total for 2008 is 181,000 and for 2021 – 223,500.

How are we going to cope and what will be lost by the inevitable changes and pressures on the town centre buildings and environment of our historic borough?

So it is most important we are meeting today to hear about this ambitious project.

If I can just return to my Midlands roots and quote a verse from a local poet – it could have been John Betjeman from his emotional play with words, but it is in fact Philip Larkin, who must have witnessed the destruction done in the name of progress in the 1960s and 1970s to cities like Coventry and Birmingham.

1972 Going…..Going
And that will be England gone
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes
The guildhalls, the carved choirs
There will be books: it will linger on
In galleries: but all that remains for us
Will be concrete and tyres

Let's hope such things will never happen in Colchester.

On the borough's part, can I say a big thank you again to the Colchester Historic Buildings Forum for their commitment to this imaginative project which I hope will give extra power in the planning process to protect for future generations Colchester’s rich and diverse heritage of its built environment.

I look forward to this afternoon’s stimulating programme.

Chris Hall
Heritage Champion
Colchester Council
16 Jan 2010