What do we do with our (empty) historic buildings?

This is the former County Fruit Stores in Mill Street, Stafford. As you can see it was built in 1610 – during the reign of James I – and was a home up until 1900, when it was converted to a shop.

It closed a few years ago and was a community venture for a while but I hope this beautiful shop can find another use.

My hometown of Stafford isn’t as celebrated as the neighbouring county towns of Chester and Shrewsbury, but has some wonderful buildings, such as the Ancient High House, almshouses and Shire Hall. We can’t afford to let our historical buildings fall into disuse and disrepair, but we must find uses for them.

Similarly, Stafford’s Shire Hall (above) remains unused, or has for most of the last few years.

Work began on the hall in 1795, replacing an earlier structure. It was designed by John Harvey and built in a classical style from stone quarried a few miles away at Tixall. Inside there are numerous rooms, a gallery space and the old courtrooms. Sadly, the building ceased to be used as an excellent gallery space for art, with a great coffee shop alongside. It also had access into the former library, now moved to Staffordshire Place.

There is a real atmosphere inside and important history. Men were sent in chains from this building to penal colonies in New South Wales and Tasmania for stealing a chicken or loaf of bread.

Seemingly without a purpose the Hall has largely been disused, which is extremely sad. It forms a focal point for the town and I’d love to see it occupied again. Buildings need to be loved and enjoyed, and not just by pigeons.

So, what can be done?

Wen I worked in Carlisle a former mill was used as a safe space for young people to play music, try out poems and comedy, and chat. There was no alcohol, and minimum supervision. I’d love it if the council, perhaps backed by businesses, would consider using the Shire Hall in this way, even for one or two evenings a week. A business case can’t be evidenced, but we might produce future artists, musicians and comedians and we’d bring laughter and music back to this wonderful building.

5 thoughts on “What do we do with our (empty) historic buildings?

  1. I remember shaking my head once at the modern use of an old building. I was on a bus going through Holborn, and saw that one of the iconic Elizabethan shops along High Holborn was now a mobile phone shop…
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I think it’s privately owned but it needs some love. An independent would be great as there are others nearby but I guess it needs the right business….oldest house I’ve lived in was 1876 so 1610 is incredible….

  2. It is a false economy to let such buildings decline and it would be far better to convert to affordable accommodation. Yes, I know it requires investment but the status quo for our high streets and town centres can no longer be maintained. The pattern of shopping has changed and will not return to what it was. It is time that we all accepted that and a new and informed plan is created to become a new and modern Town and Country Planning Act, and that must be done now, tomorrow is too late!

    1. Agreed. Things have changed and if we don’t find uses we will lose a lot of our heritage. Stoke has some wonderful buildings from the Edwardian era but so many are becoming unsafe

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