Our Region's Religious History Is Being Lost; Large Historic Buildings Are Being Lost across the Midlands as a Growing Number of Religious Retreats Are Put Up for Sale, as Sarah Probert Discovered

The Birmingham Post (England), April 17, 2006 | Go to article overview

Our Region's Religious History Is Being Lost; Large Historic Buildings Are Being Lost across the Midlands as a Growing Number of Religious Retreats Are Put Up for Sale, as Sarah Probert Discovered


Byline: Sarah Probert

With its spectacular chapel, the dramatic gothic building nestling in the Malvern Hills has been part of Worcestershire's history since the 19th century.

Stanbrook Abbey, with its vaulted church built in 1871 by EW Pugin, has been home to a group of Benedictine nuns since they fled war-ravaged France in 1838.

But now the fabric of the building, with its glorious cloisters reminiscent of their medieval predecessors and wonderful moulded cross arches and period floor tiling, could be lost forever.

Since it was put up for sale for pounds 6 million a few months ago, English Heritage has received numerous requests from opportunist developers looking for ways to alter the building.

While English Heritage had hoped another religious order would take the building on and therefore retain its current use, others are looking at more dramatic plans, including turning the abbey into flats.

Alan Taylor, of English Heritage in Birmingham, said: "We are losing a bit of history, if these communes or religious orders cease or move on.

"The buildings were designed with a particular reason in mind, such as the cloisters. These were individual rooms for members of the religious order to live in. There is often a spectacular chapel to worship in and it is very difficult to find another use for these. The best use for historic buildings is that they are used for the same purpose they were first built and in some cases it has been possible. If one religious order moves out, sometimes it is possible to find another religious order to move in.

"In some cases we have suggested the religious order look at sharing the building with another order.

"We would see residential conversion on any site as being a last ditch option after all other options have been explored. Sometimes conversion to offices or a hotel can involve chopping up the building and putting floors in, which would change it dramatically."

Stanbrook Abbey is one of several religious retreats across the region to be put up for sale in recent years.

Olton Friary in Solihull is about to be put on the market with the group of Capuchin Franciscan friars who live their looking for a smaller home.

The 30-bedroom property is likely to fetch about pounds 4 million when it goes up for sale. …

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