THE CONSERVATION AREA IN WIVENHOE: OR ONCE MORE UNTO THE DUSTY TOMES!
When the Queens Road Residents Association was established in 2006 we realised that much of our catchment area was in the Wivenhoe Conservation Area and set out to discover more about it. We thought that finding this information would be straightforward but it proved to be completely the opposite. We first approached the Town Council Office but they said that they were unable to help us. We then went to the Head of Conservation at Colchester Borough Council (CBC), but they had no details of when and why the area had been designated and the Planning Department could only offer electronic maps. CBC said that any early records must be held by Essex County Council (ECC). ECC said that the information should be held by CBC. Essex Records Office (ERO) were unable to help us, as were the many local organisations and contacts we approached. Eventually we spoke to Austin Baines, who said that the Town Council definitely had some records in the office, and if they wouldn’t let us see them we should quote the ‘Freedom of Information’ Act. We had a more forceful exchange with the Town Council Office, and this time they produced a dusty file entitled Civic Amenities Act 1967, which contained an exchange of letters between Wivenhoe Urban District Council (as it then was) and Essex County Council, confirming that the Conservation Area in Wivenhoe was designated on 17 June 1969. There was also a copy of the original map.
Now that we had a date, ERO was able to produce ECC minutes confirming that the reason for the designation was that ‘Wivenhoe was one of a number of Essex Towns which were noted as being ‘outstanding’ in the Council for British Archaeology’s (CBA) ‘List of Towns of Architectural and Historic Importance’. They commented that ‘The Conservation Area proposed includes the compact sequence of spaces leading down from the High Street and St Mary’s to the quay and waterfront; also some of the better Victorian development (including some good terraces as in Alma Street) on the rising ground behind the Parish Church, around the railway’.
We still felt that there should be an actual report accompanying the designation but this continued to be elusive. We spoke to Michael Munt from English Heritage who suggested that in 1969 there had not been a requirement for Conservation Area Statements and therefore there might have been no accompanying document assessing the importance of the area as there would be today. He suggested that Wivenhoe was originally designated because of the high quality buildings and early street pattern within the central core, including the mediaeval church, the Quay and various surrounding buildings dating from the sixteenth century onwards. Later nineteenth century areas such as Queens Road would have been included partly because of the townscape value of the intact groups of Victorian housing, even if they are not all listed, and also because of the contribution they make to the setting of the town as a whole.
We continued looking just to make sure and in the process unearthed the ‘Wivenhoe, Historic Towns Project Assessment Report (1998), produced by Maria Medlycott on behalf of the ECC Planning Department (Archaeology Section), as part of the Essex Historic Towns Survey, funded by English Heritage. This contained summaries of the history and importance of the town, with a list of documentary and archaeological evidence, a schedule of listed buildings, and some very useful historical maps, including one on planning constraints. Spurred on by finding this document we returned to the ERO to see if they could track down the CBA’s 1965 ‘List’ again. At first they said no, but five minutes later an email came through saying they thought they had found it after all, under the title Historic Towns, although it had been filed under the wrong date. A few days later we had at last a copy of the eight page list with the brief annotated reference to Wivenhoe with its well-preserved ‘ancient’ town-plan, its waterfront and the fact that it was characterised by a number of buildings worthy of preservation, both Georgian and Regency, and Victorian.
Having done all we could to unearth the designation of the Conservation Area in the sixties we moved on to try and track down the later amendments. We were given some dates by the Conservation and Design Officer at CBC but there was no information available about the actual details. Eventually we contacted the Democratic Services Officer who discovered some useful Council minutes. The 1980 minutes contained references to the approval of revised new Conservation Areas and the review of the Schedule for Listed Buildings in the former Lexden and Winstree, Wivenhoe and West Mersea districts. The February 1994 minutes referred to an agreed extension to the Conservation Area to include the Wivenhoe Station site, and it was also resolved that British Rail should be served with a Listed Buildings urgent repair notice to repair the buildings at risk. Finally he found a reference in Spring 1987 to a report on the status of Cook’s Shipyard and a resolution that steps should be taken to extend the Conservation Area to include the whole of this site, although frustratingly the actual report was missing.
Shortly after these investigations CBC commissioned the ‘Wivenhoe Conservation Area Appraisal’ by the consultancy firm QuBe which was published in March 2007. This recommended an extension of the existing Conservation Area but is still awaiting adoption. The report can be viewed at:
This is an edited version of the article which was first published in Wivenhoe News in late 2006.