London Heritage Trust, Preserving the past for the future

Nicola Stacey, talks to us about the important work of the Heritage of London Trust and tells us about some of its latest projects and the heritage buildings on the risk register, which it hopes to save.  

Q What is the Heritage of London Trust?

A: We are London’s independent heritage charity. We give grants for the restoration of buildings and monuments of historic or architectural significance, which can be listed or unlisted, but they have to be in public or community use of some kind. Many of the capital’s best loved landmarks as well as unusual and characterful parts of historic London – its old Victorian fountains and music halls – have been restored by the Trust over the years.

Q: Can you tell us about some of your current projects?

A: We have 46 projects on the go at the moment – a huge range of sites, from a beautiful carved pulpit in a Pimlico church, to Ruskin Park portico in Camberwell, a theatre façade, a street clock in Islington and Brixton’s traditional market barrows. One of the most interesting is a 17th century spring-fed well in Barnet once used by Samuel Pepys – its mineral water was so delicious it was sold in pubs on the Strand.

Q: What do you see as the biggest threats to heritage buildings now and in the future?

A: The biggest threat will always be neglect – as a society we’re good at understanding that historic buildings are major assets to our built environment and they enhance people’s lives. So heritage sites that are prominent enough will be well cared for. But smaller sites often don’t have a local champion. For one reason or another they can be abandoned to the elements and damaged by vandalism. Instead of being an attractive part of our streets, they become an eyesore. Then demolition becomes an option. London has particular pressures on space so that option can raise its head quite quickly.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you face on restoration projects?

A: There are always challenges relating to the management of change in a historic building – keeping the vitality and interest of the building, enabling it to continue to tell its story, while also ensuring its best possible future. With historic monuments, there might also be challenges in their modern settings. An old water fountain once on a leafy common can today be next to a busy arterial road. Sometimes research is needed to find the original design to restore to. But often raising the money needed to save a building or monument is the biggest challenge.

Q: What building are you particularly proud of restoring?

A: Some like the Albert Memorial are of course well known, and very beautiful, but perhaps London’s cabmen shelters – wonderful reminders of our Victorian philanthropist ancestors.

Q: What single thing can people do to show their support for heritage buildings?

A: Maybe simply looking out for them as you walk around London, taking an interest when they seem neglected or run down and pointing out curiosities to children. It’s ultimately for future generations that we are saving them.

About Nicola

Dr Nicola Stacey, Director of the Heritage of London Trust since 2015, has a DPhil from Oxford University in Archaeology, an MA in Archaeology and BA in Ancient and Modern History. She has published and lectured on history and archaeology in the UK and abroad. After a career as an archaeologist, she worked for the Museum of London and then for nine years at English Heritage, researching and presenting historic sites to the public. In 2012 she was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.