Our crumbling heritage

THE partial collapse of one of Leeds's most historic buildings – Temple Mill – has thrown the spotlight on the city's architectural heritage.

Many buildings across the city have benefited from renovation and preservation but, according to director of Leeds Civic Trust Dr Kevin Grady, there are yet many more which languish in a state of disrepair, weather-worn and ravaged by age and lack of maintenance.

He even fears that the most important building in Leeds – the White Cloth Hall on Kirkgate – could collapse within months.

Temple Mill on Marshall Street, which has suffered the collapse of one of its stone pillars, is described by English Heritage as "the most important symbol of the linen industry in West Yorkshire" .

Its problem brings into focus the dilemma facing the owners of listed buildings: restoration or conversion can be exhaustively expensive as only certain materials can be used and high standards of craftsmanship must be met.

In the case of this building , English Heritage is already in talks with its owners, SJS Property Management of London, and has said it will consider stepping in to repair the building.

Dr Grady said: "There are a number of buildings around the city we have kept hoping would be developed and in some cases we have seen ambitious plans to rejuvenate these old buildings, bringing them back into use, but the credit crunch has stopped most of them in their tracks."

The buildings Dr Grady believes are most at risk

White Cloth Hall (Grade II), Kirkgate

The building opened in 1711 and was a direct response to the building of a similar cloth hall in Wakefield.

Dr Grady said: "White Cloth Hall secured the future prosperity of Leeds and I would say it's the most important building in Leeds. Ralph Thoresby, the great Leeds historian wrote about it. It helped make Leeds the centre of the cloth trade.

"At the moment, it is covered in scaffolding. We have had a number of meetings over the last three or four years with English Heritage, the council and the owners to bring forward a scheme which would help regenerate the south side of Kirkgate but those discussions have foundered. It's a shame because unless something is done in the next six to nine months, it might well collapse."

Tower Works (Grade II), Water Lane.

This iconic building is derelict and in need of repair. It comprises three distinctive chimneys, built by Col Thomas Harding, the first in 1860. Each is modelled on an Italian tower – the largest being the Giotto campanile, Florence, the smaller tower the Lamberti Tower, Verona, the third represents a Tuscan tower house.

Dr Grady said: "This is another building where we were on the brink of getting something done with it, but then the plans were shelved because of the credit crunch."

Hunslet Mills (Grade II), between Goodman street and the river Aire in South Leeds.

This sprawling building also lies derelict. It was built as a flax mill by William Fairburn in 1838 and is one of the first ever 'fire proof' building in Leeds.

Dr Grady said: "About 20 years ago it was drilled for demolition. They had the dynamite holes all ready and then it was listed. It is a very early example of fire proof construction."

Temple Mill (Grade I) in Marshall Street, Holbeck.

This is is perhaps one of the oddest buildings in Leeds, modelled on the Temple of Edfu, Egypt. It was built by James G Marshall from 1838-1843. Marshall was heavily involved with Leeds Philosophical Society, which had just recovered an Egyptian mummy Nesyamun, which is on display at Leeds Museum. There's nothing written down but there's no doubt he was enthused by Egyptology and built the mill in that style as a result.

According to urban myth, the mill roof used to be covered in tar, soil and grass (to insulate it) and even had sheep grazing upon it.

Mount St Mary's Church (Grade II), at the top of Richmond Hill, Leeds. This was built in 1853 by Irish immigrants and is another iconic building which has fallen into disrepair. It closed in 1989 but plans to convert – and partially demolish – the building to create a complex of modern flats has met with a mixed reaction.

Stank Hall Barn (Ancient Monument), Beeston

Standing 500 yards from the White Rose Centre, this a scheduled ancient monument said to date from 1420 and allegedly rebuilt in 1492 using some of the timber left over from the construction of the Christopher Columbus's ships, the Santa Maria, Nia and Pinta. It is owned by Leeds Council, who are in talks with English Heritage over a restoration scheme.

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