England’s episcopal palaces up for sale
Church Commissioners deem two residences “not suitable”, and others are expected to follow
By Emily Sharpe. Conservation, Issue 220, January 2011
Published online: 26 January 2011
LONDON. At least two bishops’ palaces, the foundations of which date to the medieval period, have been deemed “no longer suitable” to house the senior members of the clergy according to a review by the Church Commissioners (the body that manages the Church of England’s historic property assets). The commissioners are planning to sell Hartlebury Castle in Worcestershire and Rose Castle in Cumbria—the home to the Bishops of Worcester and Carlisle for centuries—and reinvest the profits to support the Church’s ministerial activities. According to Church spokesman, Steve Jenkins, palaces at Rochester and Bradford have also been deemed unsuitable, but “will remain as See houses [for] the immediate future”. Other bishops’ palaces up for review include properties in Chichester, Derby, Hereford, Liverpool and Wakefield. However, residences in London and Gloucester were recently reviewed and found to be suitable.
Jenkins stressed that Rose Castle and Hartlebury Castle are currently not on the market. The commissioners have agreed to delay the sale of Hartlebury until April 2012 to give the Hartlebury Castle Preservation Trust time to raise the estimated £2.25m needed to purchase the property. When asked if the trust would be given the right of first refusal, Jenkins said “that would depend on the success of the [trust]”.
The chair of the trust, Alison Brimelow, called the £2.25m target “challenging, but not impossible”, adding that grant-giving bodies are likely to be more willing to step in once the castle has been purchased. She said that the trust’s plans for the castle are still taking shape, but that they “envisage a partnership with the County Museum [which currently occupies the north wing] and income generation from a variety of uses of the site, consistent with its heritage”. The trust also plans to reintegrate the castle and grounds. Although the trust’s plans for the castle are still being developed, it is adamant that it should not be sold to a private buyer. According to Brimelow, the trust’s greatest fear is that Hartlebury’s library will be moved. The Hurd Library was amassed in the 18th-century by the Bishop of Worcester, Richard Hurd, and remains one of the few complete collections of its kind.
Rose Castle in Cumbria is also earmarked for sale, although the Church Commissioners declined to say when. “Rose Castle should not be sold,” said Jane Hasell-McCosh, a member of the castle’s steering committee, who called it a “linchpin”, connecting the history of the Church in the region with the evolution of Cumberland and the Borders. “It’s unique because the whole of our Border history is reflected in the number of times the castle has burnt down and been rebuilt over the centuries,” she said. She added that the committee would like to keep the castle for the diocese, run it as a trust and open up the State and Drawing Rooms to the public. Hasell-McCosh also said that the committee is in negotiations with the commissioners to see if they can strike a similar deal to Hartlebury and delay the impending sale.
The commissioners are responsible for assets worth approximately £4.8bn. In 2008, £7.3m was spent to maintain all of the bishops’ palaces and in 2009 that figure dropped to £5.9m. Jenkins defended the commissioners’ decision to sell the properties despite the fact that maintenance costs are a small proportion of the Church’s assets: “The income [from the assets] pays pensions of clergy who have devoted their lives to serving God, the Church and the people, pays the costs of the ministry of bishops and cathedral clergy, and supports mission projects and poorer dioceses.”
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