Bringing Historic Buildings Back to Life

Britain’s architectural heritage is second to none and deserves to be preserved. We look at a variety of historic buildings that have been carefully restored and given a new purpose, so future generations can enjoy them.

Bringing historic buildings back to their former glory means conserving precious fragments of British heritage and architectural assets that would otherwise be lost forever. 

But a building only comes alive when it has real purpose. And for more than 30 years, Berkeley Group has been transforming former hospitals, military buildings, factories, hotels, colleges and historic properties, while carefully preserving the fabric and façade of the buildings. 

Restoration of these buildings is not a quick fix. Many have been Grade II listed because they are considered to be of special architectural or historic interest. Making any changes means applying for listed building consent, as well as meeting the usual planning controls, and often involves months of planning and expert input. Berkeley’s conservation work then has to maintain and manage any changes in a way that sustains and enhances the building’s significance. Some of these buildings were only listed in the last 50 years, so unsympathetic alterations often have to be put right, too. 

Long-Term Vision

When developed well, historic buildings can act as a focal point for inspiring regeneration schemes that, in turn, create new homes and more jobs. Royal Arsenal Riverside in Woolwich, was made up of a collection of vastly different buildings dating back to 1671, which Berkeley has carefully restored over a long period of time. But the end result will be magnificent: an 88-acre neighbourhood – with 5,000 homes, retail/commercial spaces and a four-acre park – which seamlessly blends bold, modern architecture with beautiful heritage buildings. 

For example, the Grade II listed Chemical Laboratory, built in 1864 with some later extensions, has been converted to residential units, retaining the double height laboratory space. And the bulk timber frame and post trusses of the main blocks of the Grade II listed Grand Store, 1806-13, have been retained during its conversion to residential use. 

The Dial Arch Block on the site was the only surviving fragment from a group of buildings constructed between 1717 and 1720, and it originally housed the turning, washing and engraving workshops that were connected to the 18th-century gun factory. Berkeley has converted and extended it to become a Young’s public house and also enhanced the sense of place on Dial Arch Square for the community.

The Grade II listed Grand Store at Royal Arsenal Riverside has been converted into apartments | Berkeley Inspiration

The Grade II listed Grand Store at Royal Arsenal Riverside has been converted into apartments

Dial Arch Square at Royal Arsenal Riverside

Dial Arch Square at Royal Arsenal Riverside

Community Matters

A key driver behind every Berkeley development is a commitment to ‘placemaking’, with people’s needs in mind. So it’s important that restored heritage buildings should also contribute to this ethos. One exciting example is the forthcoming Horlicks Quarter in Slough, which will put the Horlicks Factory, with the 47-metre high factory chimney and the famous crenelated Clock Tower, at the heart of a new community. 

The Horlicks Factory, with the luminous red Horlicks sign on its roof, has been a local landmark for over a century. The restored site will feature up to 1,300 apartments and houses, with a range of residents’ facilities located in the Factory, including a café, nursery, gym and residents’ lounge with games room, as well as a rooftop garden and a co-working hub in the Clock Tower. And the famous Horlicks sign will be refurbished to keep the memory of its role in manufacturing the famous malted milk drink.

Horlicks Factory with sign in Slough

The Horlicks Factory in Slough will become the centrepiece of the Horlicks Quarter

Preserving Local History

The history of Trent Park in Enfield will be commemorated too. Currently being restored by Berkeley, the Grade II listed building will eventually include a public museum dedicated to the Sassoon family, who developed much of the current house, as well as the building’s role in the Second World War. With its red bricks, white windows and Bath stone quoins, the mansion house can be described as a “first cousin to Hampton Court”.  

The house has an intriguing past. Some parts date back from around 1777 but it was largely rebuilt in 1923 for its ebullient owner, Philip Sassoon. His parties were attended by Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill, and murals by the artist Rex Whistler still adorn some walls. Then, during the Second World War, the house became a camp for prisoners of war and home to the ‘Secret Listeners’ who gathered vital military intelligence.

But, in the interim, wartime life and decades as a university meant that Trent Park had “extra partitions in the wrong places and fire doors everywhere,” explains David Holford, Technical Manager at Berkeley Homes, who is working on its restoration. “The external façade has survived well, and almost all of the window glass in the building is original.” Conservation tasks have included testing if the building can bear the weight of the partitions required to create new apartments, and radar surveys to check stability of the masonry. 

Trent Park and the Daffodil Lawn

Trent Park and the restored Daffodil Lawn

“The impressive 20m long timber ceiling joists require some repair,” says David. But he’s optimistic that the end result will be pretty spectacular. “The wall paintings by Whistler are being restored by craftsmen. The very well-made 1920s windows will remain and we’ll have new flooring throughout.

“The terrace will also be rather marvellous: it has amazing views across the lake and there will be a café on the east side. There will be a gym in the Orangery and the original 1920s swimming pool has been restored.” The historic landscaping is being revived too including its famous Daffodil Lawn.

Trent Park gym and swimming pool

The gym at Trent Park will be in the Orangery with a view to the restored 1920s swimming pool 

Another piece of history in north London has been preserved for future generations. On the site of Beaufort Park in Hendon, the Grade II listed Watchtower, built in 1915,  was once the centrepiece of aviation pioneer Claude Grahame-White’s aircraft factory. The Watchtower has been meticulously dismantled, relocated and painstakingly rebuilt so it can now stand by the RAF Museum. The has meant the RAF Museum has been able to extend their exhibition space and bring back to life Grahame-White’s office, which was rebuilt solely from historic photos.

The Watchtower at Beaufort Park

The Watchtower at Beaufort Park was moved to the RAF Museum and refurbished.

Blending Old and New

Of course, there’s little point in restoring and conserving old buildings unless they are truly fit for purpose. One of Berkeley Group’s skills is adapting the existing fabric and structure of a heritage building into one that is reassuringly future-proof. Sympathetic extensions and additional storeys are cleverly designed to be virtually invisible from street level. Stylish mezzanine floors provide duplex facilities, without diluting the drama of double-height spaces. Key features and fittings – cornices, architraves, timber and stone floors – are retained, while period façades set the tone for whole developments.  

At 9 Millbank in Westminster, the beautiful 1930s granite-and-stone façade of Imperial Chemical House, originally designed by Sir Frank Baines, has become the hero piece of a superb collection of luxury apartments being developed. The dramatic doorway to this neoclassical Grade II listed building is one of the building’s most important architectural features. Immense in scale, the entrance is befitting of the history and stature of the building. Many of the interior details that have been preserved reflect the grandeur of the period. 

Front door of 9 Millbank

The decorative carved front door to 9 Millbank 

At Taplow Riverside in Buckinghamshire, the buff brick stone detailing, bay windows and red roof tiles of Glen Island House have been carefully restored to ensure that its Victorian elegance remains very much intact. (This even involved handwashing the bricks to preserve them.) 

This Grade II listed manor house was built in 1869 for Lieutenant-General Sir Roger William Henry Palmer, best known for his participation in the Charge of the Light Brigade. Now converted to four separate dwellings, the interior retains original features such as staircases and fireplaces.

Glen Island House at Taplow Riverside

The brick stone detailing, bay windows and red roof tiles of Glen Island House have been carefully restored

A fireplace at Glen Island House at Taplow Riverside

A fireplace at Glen Island House at Taplow Riverside

At Wimbledon Hill Park, a collection of townhouses and apartments has evolved from a single centrepiece building, which was previously the Atkinson Morley Hospital – opened in 1869 and the first place brain surgery was conducted. Before that it was the site of the ancestral home of the 2nd Duke of Wellington. Wellington Row, the apartments in the original hospital building, will have carefully crafted interiors to complement the original façade and tall sash windows and generous ceiling heights. 

Wellington Row, Wimbledon Hill Park

Wellington Row at Wimbledon Hill Park was once a hospital 

All these historic buildings may have their roots in a bygone age, but they are now ready for the future to be enjoyed again.