Impressive West Country villa among UK's most endangered buildings

St Martins (formerly Roslyn Hoe), Ilfracombe
-Credit: (Image: Victorian Society press release)


A grand villa in the West Country has been listed among the UK's most 'at risk' Victorian buildings by a charity committed to their preservation. The annual top 10 list of endangered buildings and structures, compiled by The Victorian Society, has been labelled as "terrifying" by its president, comedian Griff Rhys Jones.

The list features the Grade II listed a Devon property, St Martins in Ilfracombe, originally known as Roslyn Hoe. Mr Rhys Jones urged the owners to restore the building to its former glory, reports Devon Live.

According to The Victorian Society, the Gothic coastal villa, designed by a local architect, is one of Ilfracombe's most impressive houses, particularly noted for its exquisite decorative detail.

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Roslyn Hoe was built speculatively on land purchased by a local builder, reflecting the growing popularity of new seaside resorts following the expansion of railway connections, the society explained. As early as 1885, it began functioning as a small girls' school, with Mrs Walcott Harris, formerly of Brighton, advertising in the Western Morning News for eight young ladies.

She mentioned that "delicate girls" could "be received for change of air by special arrangement". By the 1930s, St Martins had transformed into a small hotel.

St Martins, often hailed as an "exercise in symmetry" by the esteemed local architect Alan Hussell, stands as one of the finest residences in the most sought-after part of this delightful town. The Wesleyan owners in the 1930s, who were related to Mr Hussell, were known to have a keen appreciation for its exquisite design, according to The Victorian Society.

Since the demise of the last owner, the building's deteriorating condition has raised alarms among local heritage groups.

St Martins (formerly Roslyn Hoe), Ilfracombe - archive pic
St Martins (formerly Roslyn Hoe), Ilfracombe - archive pic Victorian Society press release -Credit:Victorian Society press release

James Hughes, the director of the Victorian Society, said: "The poor condition of this splendid High Victorian house is a cause for profound concern. Examples of domestic architecture of this date and particular quality are rare and of national importance."

The list of endangered buildings also features the Kursaal in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, which holds the distinction of being the world's first purpose-built amusement park. It boasted a circus, ballroom, arcade, dining hall, billiard room, zoo, and ice rink.

Designed by the architect George Sherrin and inaugurated in 1901, today, only a solitary Tesco Express occupies the Grade II-listed site. The Kursaal had to shut its doors in 1986 after a failed attempt to rescue the beloved attraction.

A 19th-century banquet hall in Newcastle, constructed for the workers of affluent industrialist William Armstrong, is also included on the list. The Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall was erected by John Dobson in 1860 and later expanded with a gatehouse, reception hall and display room by Norman Shaw in the subsequent decade.

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The charity has expressed concern over its "in a state of increasing decay", warning that it may soon be unfit to house the artists who currently utilise it as a studio. Each site identified as requiring rescue and repair holds a Grade II-listing or higher, indicating their historical and architectural significance.

However, the charity fears that this protection may not be sufficient in some cases. The list also features one of the world's earliest tennis pavilions and a commandeered school where author Vera Brittain served as a nurse during the First World War.

Mr Rhys Jones described the list as "a testament to the excitement, variety and invention of the Victorian Age". He further added: "Their restoration and reuse make huge commercial sense. They are attractions in themselves," and "They are already destinations. They should be part of local pride."

This marks the 14th list of endangered buildings released by the Victorian Society, established in 1958.