Wessex Archaeology provided advice and expertise in the development of plans for the conversion of the Grade II* Listed Litten Chapel in Newbury, a building originally associated with the medieval hospital of St Bartholomew. The services provided included Heritage Assessment, Historic Building Recording and Listed Building Advice.
Litten Chapel is a unique building, the historic fabric at its core dating to the 15th century. Additions and alterations in the 19th and 20th centuries resulted in some loss of the original chapel structure, and the building was later turned into a school. Of particular importance are a set of carved timber roof trusses within the chapel, which were revealed in the 1980s, having been covered up for many years. They are a fascinating and attractive example of late medieval/early post-medieval craftsmanship and their importance is reflected in the protected status of the building. In addition to the building fabric, the story of the c. 400-year occupation of the site by the hospital of St Bartholomew, and then by a grammar school for a further c. 400 years, is of considerable local interest.
The proposed scheme was for the conversion of the chapel (which had been most recently used for storage) to a residential apartment, with further apartments developed in an adjacent 19th-century Grade II Listed Building. The project also included plans to clean and restore stonework and brick work on the exterior elevations of the chapel. The residential conversion of such buildings does not come without its challenges, particularly when they are Grade II and Grade II* Listed, a Scheduled Monument and situated within a Conservation Area. The legislation and planning policy relating to listed buildings is often seen as onerous.
At Wessex Archaeology, we recognise that the ability to sustainably adapt historic buildings is vital to protect their historic value. To ensure the conversion of the chapel was achieved without compromising its considerable historic value, first it was important to establish ‘what’ was important about it, and ‘why’. The initial Heritage Assessment, carried out by our Built Heritage team, established the historic development of the chapel. It also demonstrated how its physical fabric and surroundings contribute to its significance, and could be sensitively accommodated within the proposed changes.
The Heritage Assessment provided sufficient information to inform a positive planning outcome for the client, subject to conditions. Then, working with a detailed schedule of works provided by the client, the Built Heritage team identified opportunities to conserve and enhance the significance of the building by protecting original fabric, and revealing and conserving historic features where appropriate. Our buildings archaeologists were well placed to carry out the required building recording (Historic England Level 1–2), undertaking a photographic survey with written and drawn elements.
Working with our team of Built Heritage experts, the owner of Litten Chapel successfully progressed plans for residential conversion of this important historic property, demonstrating to planners that the proposed development would have very little impact on the chapel’s architectural or historic value. In fact, its conversion from a storage space to a residential property would ensure its future conservation through a more appropriate use for the building.
Wessex Archaeology has extensive experience of working with property developers, home owners and architects on the residential conversion of listed buildings. The benefits of the continuity of expertise through the assessment and recording process helped to deliver a quick turnaround for this project, with the mitigation work being completed within a month of the planning permission and listed building consent being granted.