The Grade II listed building at 28 Leigh Hill is an evocative survival of the craft-based occupations and simple vernacular accommodation typical of coastal communities and Leigh on Sea before 20th century. The building has no historical associations of national merit or local significance, but rather its heritage significance resides in the simplicity of its construction and legibility of its plan-form. The simple range of accommodation originally comprised a two-up-two-down cottage with associated workshop(s) and loft. Latterly, in the early 1950s, the loft space was assimilated into the cottage.
The building’s previously prominent and visible location from the sea shore has been significantly affected by the recent development of “Bell Sands” to the south and west. The setting of the building and its heritage significance in this part of the Leigh Conservation Area has arguably been compromised by this recent development through its further visible separation from Leigh Creek, with which it was originally directly connected.
Nevertheless, as a structure of modest scale, simplicity of form and detailing, such buildings have frequently been lost due to their relatively lightweight construction and constrained accommodation. This makes No.28 an interesting vernacular survivor, elegant in its simplicity.
Research has concluded that the building is not as old as the statutory heritage designations suggest. This does not necessarily diminish the building’s significance but preservation on account of its age alone would not be justified. Many such vernacular buildings exist around the Thames Estuary coast. The building helped support the social and economic fabric of the growing village of Leigh in the early 19th century, just before the coming of the railway. The building has had a long association with a family of blacksmiths but was originally constructed for Thomas Bundock, a local boatbuilder.
The relative poverty that saved this building from redevelopment or significant change, however, has also been the likely cause of insufficient maintenance and past ill-advised alterations. This lack of previous maintenance and the building’s elevation and exposure to weather, mean that the frame now requires an overhaul and strengthening with treatment for beetle infestation, wet rot and structural repairs.
Recent significant subsidence arising from neighbouring development and past historic ground movement has clearly placed strain upon the frame and the interior fabric. The building’s frame joints and bracing are to be exposed and will be repaired. This will necessitate removal of the external weatherboarding. The interior plaster-work is in a poor condition. The sash windows are twisted and terminally rotten. Few of the interior or exterior doors now fit their openings.
Ill-advised changes that are continuing to harm the building include re-roofing with inappropriate heavy concrete tiles rather than the lighter original slate roofing. Artex plaster work and the extensive use of plaster board ceilings and wall repairs detract from the building’s interior.
The problems of condition are undoubtedly exacerbated by the challenging marine climate and the building’s previously exposed location prior to the development of Bell Sands. The weather boarding applied directly to the frames provided limited protection from the weather. It is vital that the decay of the building is halted by timely appropriate repair and sustainable upgrading to a reasonable standard for continued occupation.
In order that the building might be assured a sustainable future as a residence, it is therefore crucial that modern services, including heating and beneficial ventilation are introduced together with the inclusion of appropriate hydroscopic vapour permeable insulation. Following the receipt of the necessary statutory approvals the opportunity is now being taken to achieve all this together with the structural stabilisation and repair of the building in a sympathetically planned scope of works.