You will be aware of the renewed interest in the future of the Landgate Tower and the need for its restoration. Rye Conservation Society (RCS) has been in communication with Rother District Council and with the Rye Town Council since 2011 over a sustainable future for this unique Grade I listed Ancient Monument. Rother owns Landgate and, as freeholder, it is under a statutory obligation to maintain the building. It has been under this obligation since the early 1970s, when the monument came into its ownership.
Since a review of its heritage assets in 2011, Rother has identified Landgate as its one heritage asset that could be disposed of to another body which, it was hoped, would be able to take on the building in perpetuity and be responsible for its maintenance and upkeep.
In 2015 a survey of Landgate was carried out on behalf of Rother. This found that the fabric was basically sound but various elements of repair and restoration would be required to maintain the building.
For those who are only aware of Landgate from the outside, it consists of two stone drums with an internal diameter of approximately 4.5m (15ft) linked by a small room over the arch. Both drums are open to the sky and have no internal floors. The room over the arch is also open to the sky and the only windows are those narrow arrow slots that can be seen from the road. Although it looks big from the outside, there is not much accommodation within the structure. Access to the drums is by narrow steps directly off the roadway and internally by rotten wooden steps and a partially-collapsed stone stair. It is a ruin just as it has been for over 200 years.
Following an analysis of the fabric report and of the building and its context, RCS came to the conclusion in 2015 that the only way forward was for Landgate to be conserved as a “consolidated ruin”. That means a structure where the effects of time are minimised, not just by repair of the existing fabric, but by suitable interventions such as a lightweight roof, to control water ingress and pigeon infestation. We are still of this view and believe that the ownership should remain with Rother. This approach does not preclude an alternative use being found in the future but the Society is concerned that the search for such a use will delay the necessary works identified in the fabric survey.
The main reasons for adopting this approach are:
• Currently no safe access is possible because the doors open directly on to the road. Alternative access would only be possible by the purchase of adjoining properties and consent to form new openings into Landgate itself.
• There is a limitation on possible future accommodation because of access, size and daylight – the narrow slits were not designed to let in lots of cheerful light – all of which preclude likely viable future use.
• The potential cost of providing usable accommodation within the existing ruin would be prohibitive given the resulting space created.
• Any alternative owner would be responsible in perpetuity not only for the repair but also for the insurance obligations. These could be considerable given that Landgate is the main access to the High Street and the citadel. There is also the question of the interface between East Sussex County Council, which is responsible for the highway, and any new owner.
We understand that Rother requested funding from Historic England during 2017 but this was refused. The particular problems of access, safety and the lack of a viable future use may well make it difficult to raise funds from bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, not only for Rother but also for any other potential owner.
RCS believes that, unless Rother can identify another body – presumably with very deep pockets – willing to take on the responsibility and financial obligations in perpetuity, it should accept that the only way forward is to adopt the Society’s approach of a “consolidated ruin” as an initial approach and accept that the structure will remain its responsibility. Given its location and problems of access and scaffolding, piecemeal repairs are likely to be prohibitively expensive and we would advocate a single programme of works to stabilise the structure with a view to minimising future maintenance.
The sooner Rother accepts that this is the most viable way forward, the sooner all interested parties, including RCS, can come together to assist in achieving the result that all residents of Rye want, which is to preserve our Landgate not just for now but into the future.
Image Credits: Rye News library.