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Historic Ilfracombe villa among UK’s top endangered buildings

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A Grade II listed Gothic villa in Ilfracombe has been named one of the Top Ten Endangered Buildings of 2024 by The Victorian Society.

The announcement was made by the Society’s President, Griff Rhys Jones.

ABOVE: The house in its former glory

The structure, renowned for its exquisite decorative details, urgently requires restoration to preserve its historical significance.

Griff Rhys Jones emphasised the building’s potential to serve as a home once again. 

He said: “In a desperate housing environment, this house deserves to be a dwelling for a new family or families. I hope that the owners see sense here. Don’t let one of the pages of the story of Ilfracombe be wiped through indifference and neglect.”

Originally known as Roslyn Hoe, the villa was built by a local builder on a speculative plot. Designed by a local architect, it stands as one of Ilfracombe’s finest houses and reflects the late Victorian era’s interest in coastal resorts spurred by railway expansion. 

The house has served various purposes over the years, including a girls’ school in 1885 and a hotel by the 1930s.

The villa, later renamed St Martins, was lauded as an “exercise in symmetry” by local architect Alan Hussell, whose family had ties to the Wesleyan owners in the 1930s. 

Despite its grandeur, the villa’s condition has deteriorated since the last owner’s passing, raising concerns among local civic groups about its future.

James Hughes, Director of the Victorian Society, expressed deep concern about the villa’s state. 

He said: “The poor condition of this splendid High Victorian house is a cause for profound concern. Examples of domestic architecture of this date and particular quality are rare and of national importance.”

The Victorian Society plays a crucial role in the planning process, being consulted on demolition applications for listed Victorian and Edwardian buildings. 

The Society’s expert caseworkers highlight the importance of regular maintenance for heritage buildings, particularly those by the sea, which require special care to withstand salty air and weather conditions.

The villa’s lack of central heating and encroaching massive oak trees in the garden further complicate its preservation. 

The society has urged the current owners to consider selling the property if they cannot maintain it. 

The society has said “Given the building’s enormous charm, a sale seems perfectly conceivable.”

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