Ashdon Halt, Audley End pillbox and Hatfield Heath prisoner of war camp up for inclusion on Uttlesford Heritage List
A host of architectural gems have been nominated for inclusion in the revised Uttlesford Heritage List.
An abandoned 19th-century railway carriage and overgrown platform at Ashdon Halt, where the conductors on the first and last trains of the day would light and extinguish the oil lamps; a fine example of a 1920s modernist building with Crittal-style windows described as a "rare survivor" in the heart of Saffron Walden; an elegant stable block formerly owned by the Countess of Warwick at Little Easton; Second World War fortifications that would have formed a second line of defence along the Cam Valley had Germany invaded; and a derelict Italian/German prisoner of war camp in Hatfield Heath are just some of the treasures nominated.
The heritage list was first compiled in 2018 by Uttlesford District Council as a way of recording properties and structures that were considered noteworthy in historical terms but which were not listed by Historic England. Work on producing an updated draft began during lockdown last year and the revised version has now gone out to consultation.
For Bruce Tice, local heritage lead officer at Uttlesford, it is a labour of love, alongside his other roles as head of digital services and helping to compile the census.
With many villages in Uttlesford lying within conservation areas, identifying structures of particular historical importance was the next logical step.
Bruce said: "A conservation area is a piece of planning guidance that looks at the quality of the whole environment, a village or town, and brings that all together and says 'What are the buildings, open spaces like and are they of historical quality?'
"As part of that we identified buildings that weren't listed but which we thought were important and made a particular contribution to the area. The list was the next stage, to go back and look at all these structures and bring all of them together in a document."
The initial list consisted of 405 buildings, structures or monuments, but being a rolling document it is ever evolving and there are around 60 additions to the latest draft.
"It is designed this way because things are always coming to light and there are changes in appreciation of what's important in terms of local heritage. It will grow over the years to form a comprehensive list," said Bruce.
"It's about people's perception of the buildings and architecture around them and how that changes – things that in the past didn't seem important suddenly are. And it's part of the historical story of how our towns and villages have developed."
So how are the buildings identified? Well, most of the suggestions come from the community – parish councils, neighbourhood plan groups and local history recorders as well as members of the public and Uttlesford council's own officers.
"It's much more community involved and as part of the consultation it has flushed out a few more nominations," said Bruce.
What has been particularly interesting this time around is the identification of old Second World War fortifications that formed a vital line of defence along the Cam Valley.
"They are there, often hidden within the landscape and very often unnoticed," said Bruce. "But people have highlighted these as something that is worth preserving and they are quite important in that the whole area was part of the GHQ (General Headquarters) Line along the Cam Valley as a second line of defence if we had been invaded by the Germans. It was there to protect London if they had got inland.
"All along the line you will see a lot of pillboxes, old fortification posts, gun spigot mortars – if you look closely you can see them in the hedgerows and fields."
One of the more curious discoveries is the old branch railway line station at Ashdon Halt. If you entered 'abandoned buildings' into an internet search, this is the type of image that would probably pop up – a rather creepy, overgrown-looking structure that has seen better days. Along the old line which ran from Audley End to Bartlow were a number of small stations, or halts.
"It's a curious little place," said Bruce. "It's a 19th-century carriage with this little platform, lit by oil lamps which the conductor on the first train through would light and then they were extinguished by the last train through. This is all that remains of this halt and there's a great deal of community interest around it."
The list describes it as a "banked earth platform with railway sleepers forming a retaining wall to the line frontage. A 19th-century timber-bodied former GER carriage body is located on the platform; from 1916 this was used as the waiting room with its internal fittings removed and wooden benches placed around the sides. The carriage was identified as being of note but in a poor state of repair by the Ashdon Conservation Area Appraisal of 2013. A plan of renovation would be desirable.
"The Ashdon Halt was opened in 1911 at Church End, some distance from the main village, and formed part of the branch line linking Bartlow to Saffron Walden. The line closed in December 1964 and thereafter was quickly dismantled."
Bruce stressed that the list is "not a call to go out and repair" these aged structures – it is more a case of flagging them up as being of interest and part of the history of the district.
"We do write to all owners to tell them that there is a consultation going on and they are able to respond if they wish," he added.
A former prisoner of war camp at Hatfield Heath which sits on private land is a virtually complete example. The huts are constructed in a variety of materials, ranging from timber or concrete framing with hollow clay block, to brick, concrete block and timber weatherboarding.
The list says: "The site housed units with a variety of uses, including dormitories, ablution and lavatory blocks, canteens, kitchen and hospital. There is also a prominent water tower, surviving in good condition. It is a key landmark within the site and is little altered.
"Despite the level of dilapidation, some original features do survive, including fixtures and fittings including doors, shower cubicles and graffiti understood to have been the work of the Italian prisoners."
The site was surveyed by Historic England in 2003 and was recorded as being 'Condition 2 – near complete'. This places it in a significant grouping of only 17% of the 'standard' camps that survive.
An impressive 19th-century red-brick stable block built as part of the Countess of Warwick's estate at Little Easton also stands beautifully preserved. Originally built as a racing stud by the 4th Earl of Rosslyn, the stepfather of the Countess of Warwick, the stables formed part of the estate owned by the Maynard family until they were sold in 2004.
Public consultation on the document runs until Monday (Feb 15). Anyone can respond by emailing email@example.com.
Once the consultation closes, all comments will be assessed and a final draft prepared for council approval.