High Time to Save Larkbeare: Our Successful Campaign and How it Develops Further – 2nd round of consultation till 17 April

Exeter Civic Society welcomes Historic England’s consultation on listing Larkbeare House on Topsham Road, Exeter under the national scheme. Consultation ended on 18 March and quite some institutions and private people have sent in their comments - thank you all for your support. We ask people to continue to support our joint campaign with Devon Gardens Trust. Things you still can do: 1) Send us your comments. 2) Contact Devon County Council as the current owner. 3) Watch out for media and social media coverage and provide positive reactions to it. 4) Contact Exeter City Council (Heritage Officer, Tree Manager) with your comments. 5) Lobby your Local Councillors. Scroll down on the campaign page for listings of latest news and comments. A new round of consultation is open and the deadline for responses now is 17 April (see update below). We submitted our response on 15 April.

Latest Comments and News (will be updated regularly as our campaign progresses, with the newest entry a the top)

If you want to support our work, become a member: You can join us via our website, annual membership is £15 per person.

 

BBC South West (5 April, updated 16 April)

We have been contacted by the local BBC which is looking into doing something on Larkbeare. Filming in the grounds took place on 12 April, we had Keith Lewis, Stephen Mariner and Gert Vonhoff there talking to Richard Green from BBC South West. He interviewed Keith and Gert and took a copy of our notes with him. We were told clips of the interview aired on BBC Radio Devon on Monday, 15 April.

 

Historic England widens its consultation: new deadline 17 April (28 March, updated 16 April)

Update: ECS submitted their response to the second round of the HE consultation. You can read our letter here: https://exetercivicsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2024/04/ECS-Response-to-3-Larkbeare-consultations.pdf

Following points made in consultation about listing the house, particularly by Devon Gardens Trust and the Civic Society, Historic England are now consulting separately on listing the grounds, the eighteenth century summerhouse (also known as a gazebo)  and the steps in the garden.  We are currently studying the consultation documents to see how we can further bolster the case for listing; one of our arguments is that this is one of the rare settings where you have a house and grounds from the 19th century in its original settings left in Exeter. The Royal Horticultural Society Librarian and Archivist  thinks this may be the only extant Veitch designed garden and will try to substantiate this.

We will be working closely with Devon Gardens Trust and others. You can also send emails in support to want to send in an email in support to listing.enquiries@historicengland.org.uk  quoting the relevant case numbers. Historic England also looks into adding the park and gardens to the National Heritage List for England. If a park or garden is added to the register, it becomes a material consideration in the determination of a planning application that concerns the site.

The links for the reports are:

Larkbeare House, case file number 1490091: http://services.historicengland.org.uk/webfiles/GetFiles.aspx?av=2E27B1E2-56CB-4B7D-B6FA-FF61A3E2F62F&cn=E1E0F2D3-B632-4B8E-9FB3-905408D98B64

The C18-Summer House, case file number 1490092: http://services.historicengland.org.uk/webfiles/GetFiles.aspx?av=52303423-69A6-4C5F-9D7C-AEC60E360C0B&cn=E1E0F2D3-B632-4B8E-9FB3-905408D98B64

The Garden Steps, case file number 1490204: http://services.historicengland.org.uk/webfiles/GetFiles.aspx?av=5884EEC6-DD19-4727-97CD-F7EE134B7FEE&cn=E1E0F2D3-B632-4B8E-9FB3-905408D98B64

 

Gardens of Larkbeare House and ‘Folly’ considered for inclusion by Historic England (18 March)

The Assistant Listing Advisor for the South West informed us that Historic England will be setting up cases to consider the gardens of Larkbeare House for inclusion on the Register of Parks and Gardens and the ‘folly’ (Gazebo / Summer House) for inclusion in the List in order to consider them separately for designation in their own right. Our society will be added as a consultee.

 

Exeter City Council supports listing of Larkbeare House ( 16 March)

We were informed that the Heritage Officer of Exeter City Council has now written to Historic England in support of the listing.

 

Devon Gardens Trust submits their substantial Response to Historic England’s consultation (15 March)

We were informed of Devon Gardens Trust substantial response to the consultation, highlighting shortcomings in the listing report and asking for inclusion of the grounds and its features. Our collaborations has worked extremely well, as DGT put all their expertise into getting this as effective as possible.

 

A local resident wrote to ‘Historic England’:

I would like to strongly add my voice to the case for nationally listing Larkbeare House and its grounds and trees.

I am relieved to read that Exeter Civic Society is working on a tree survey with the aim of protecting the wonderful variety of trees in the grounds of this property, with its history of strong botanic links to Robert Veitch and John Charles Bowring.

I was surprised to learn that neither property, grounds or trees are protected from potential development or even demolition.

Within a short distance this area of Exeter is already impacted by the redevelopment of the old Deaf School site. The loss of trees and green space has reduced habitat for local wildlife. The trees within Larkbeare House are now of even more importance to wildlife, and also to residents, helping to clean the air of pollution from the main road. Their historic links are of huge importance to Exeter and its history.

I would like to ensure that my voice is heard about my objection to this property and its grounds and trees being lost for good, as a money raising venture. The sale of this property must be handled with care, any prospective owner must be sensitive to its historic significance.

 

12 March 2024 Press Release

Keith Lewis, Chair of Exeter Civic Society said:  “We have been concerned about the future of Larkbeare House and its grounds following Devon County Council’s decision to put it up for sale, most likely for development. Other than being in a conservation area, the house and grounds have no protection. The house may well be demolished or significantly altered and much of the grounds, including its magnificent trees may be lost. We are therefore pleased that Historic England are consulting on its possible listing.”

The house and gardens form a largely intact grouping of a mid-nineteenth century suburban villa built in Elizabethan style of largely local materials, originally with views across the River Exe and canal towards the Haldon Hills and the Haldon Belvedere. House and grounds are much as they were originally designed with many original features intact. They were envisaged as a single entity with the grounds laid out by Robert Veitch, a noted Exeter garden designer, nurseryman and plant expert. There is also an eighteenth century gazebo in the grounds which is itself worthy of listing. The original owner and commissioner of the house, John Charles Bowring (1821-1890) is of national importance. He was a China merchant and resident (one of the earliest) and noted botanist and entomologist, many species having been named after him. He gave his extensive collection to the British Museum. He cultivated and hybridised orchids, and was a regular customer of Veitch. He also brought back orchids from Ceylon, giving Royal Botanic Gardens Kew four or five species not in
their collection.

Keith Lewis added: “We think it is important that a significant part of Exeter’s heritage isn’t lost. We have been surveying the trees in Larkbeare in order to argue for their protection and an initial report is on our website. We are also working with other interested groups to respond positively to Historic England’s consultation. The river wall of the grounds is Grade II listed so it would seem perverse for the house not to be similarly listed. Time is short but members of the public and other concerned groups can respond to the consultation and add their voice to the case for nationally listing Larkbeare House and grounds.”

Historic England’s consultation report can be found here: https://exetercivicsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/Larkbeare-Consultation-report.pdf

Responses should be sent to listing.enquiries@historicengland.org.uk quoting case number 1489043 by 18 March

Exeter Civic Society’s initial report on the trees at Larkbeare House can be found here: https://exetercivicsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/Larkbeare-House-Trees-V2.pdf

Contacts
Keith Lewis, Chair Exeter Civic Society: Mobile 07964 219143, Email keithatecs@gmail.com

Article in Devon Live, 14 March 2024

First Responses

Exeter Civic Society is very pleased that several groups and individuals have come forward to respond to Historic England’s consultation on the possible listing of  Larkbeare House under the national scheme.

Andy McKeon, Secretary of Exeter Civic Society said:

“It is fantastic that groups and individuals have come forward to write to Historic England to support the application originally made by Devon Buildings Group for the listing of Larkbeare House and grounds.  They include local councillors and the Devon Gardens Trust as well as the Civic Society and many individuals who are interested in Exeter and its heritage.

“We have all been concerned about the future of Larkbeare House and its grounds following Devon County Council’s decision to put it up for sale, most likely for development. Other than being in a conservation area, the house and grounds have no protection. The house may well be demolished or significantly altered and much of the grounds, including its magnificent trees may be lost. It is important that this doesn’t happen.

“We have all made a strong case. And everybody has their fingers crossed for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport’s decision.”

Our Initial Report on the Trees prepared by our 'Tree Preservation Taskforce'

There are many magnificent older trees around the site including some large Cedars and Giant Redwoods. Some, such as the very large Oak on the roadside boundary and the Small-leaved Lime on the riverside boundary, appear to be even older than the house, dating back to when the site was agricultural land outside the city. The lowest part of the garden has some lovely Italian Alders. There are a number of Cork Oak trees which appear to have been planted at the time of the 1953 Coronation, and we found a good number of trees which look to be 25-30 years old. (Trees planted for the millennium would have been about 5 years old at planting.)

Exeter Civic Society’s initial report on the trees at Larkbeare House can be found here: https://exetercivicsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/Larkbeare-House-Trees-V2.pdf

Our Response to Historic England Consultation (15 March)

Some basic points from our response:

Exeter Civic Society supports the listing of Larkbeare House and grounds. Some aspects of the consultation report do not fully and accurately describe the house and grounds.

  • Larkbeare House is the last remaining substantial and significant nineteenth century house standing in its own walled garden in Exeter. Very few other houses of a similar size and style remain and none are complete within their own separate grounds as originally intended. The house and grounds are therefore unique.
  • The house, gardens with the gazebo and listed boundary wall, form a largely intact ensemble of a mid-nineteenth century suburban villa built in Elizabethan style of largely local materials, designed with views across the River Exe and canal towards the Haldon Hills and the Haldon Belvedere.
  • The house and grounds are much as they were originally envisaged and designed. The consultation report does not properly reflect this. It makes more of what has been lost in the grounds, which is a small part, rather than what remains, which is much larger and would have formed the main aesthetic impact for house and grounds together.
  • The house and grounds are being sold, most likely for development. If there is development, housing will encroach on the grounds and the house may well be demolished or subject to major alteration. If this were to be the case a significant part of Exeter’s architectural heritage from the Victorian era would be lost. So too would an important aspect of the views to the city from south of the river.

To read our full response, please look here: https://exetercivicsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/ECS-Larkbeare-listing-response-final.pdf 

 

Some Impressions from the Grounds and House