Blackborough House mansion that became a hostel for the homeless on Top Ten Endangered Buildings list 2023

Blackborough House in Kentisbeare in Devon is on The Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings list 2023. The house is one of Devon’s finest architectural gems set in the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Photo credit: NJ Cole

Despite its significance and beauty the Italianate country house and its walled garden, designed by James Thomas Knowles (senior), are in a semi-derelict state having been used as everything from a training centre for the unemployed in the 1930s and a WWII Quaker conscientious objector refuge to a breakers yard for scrap cars. The Grade II listed 1838 house is for sale and needs a new owner willing to finish its restoration.

Griff Rhys Jones, President of the The Victorian Society, said: “Blackborough House is a survivor. It has served the community in so many guises. Please get this beautiful house a new use and a new life for another hundred years. Work has begun to restore it as two grand homes, but it now needs someone who has the tenacity to see the restoration through to its completion. It would be terrible if having begun a journey the house again slips back into decay. It is a fabulous setting and an intriguing history. It deserves to once again become a jewel in Devon’s heritage crown.”

The house was built for the recently ennobled George Wyndham, 4th Earl of Egremont who wanted to reflect his new social standing and match his cousin Baron Leconfield who had inherited Petworth House in Sussex. Blackborough extends over 22,000 ft sq across four floors and its features include an arched loggia around three sides of the house. The glory didn’t last long. Blackborough was split in two in 1840, one part used by a relative who was minister of the estate church, the other by the Earl when he visited the Estate. The Earl died in 1845, indebted from a spate of country house construction.

The house was subsequently used as a hunting lodge, a home for a spinster, a boys’ school, then left empty in 1913. The House survived an attempt to demolish it in 1917 although it was stripped of many of its fine features. In 1930 it was used by the Church of England as a training home for unemployed men. In 1940 the Quakers used the house as a place of refuge for pacifists providing an alternative to military service. It was a Youth Hostel for a year before becoming a garage and car scrapyard with vehicles stored inside and outside the decaying house.

Plans to turn the house into a boutique hotel were refused planning permission but permission was granted to return the house into two homes. Recent owners have begun repairs but the house is again on the market and needs someone with deep pockets and a passion for heritage to restore it. There must be someone willing to bring this sleeping beauty back to life.

The full list for 2023 which can be read here includes a church where the congregation can’t hold services, two engineering marvels that saved lives by ensuring water free of sewage, and a club where newly enfranchised voters could meet. Details of each of the Grade II listed buildings, and the threats they face,

The list is based on public nominations from across England and Wales, and the buildings selected represent industrial, religious, domestic, and civic architecture from across the nation with unique historical and community significance and value. Nominated buildings must be dated between 1837 and 1914. The Victorian Society has announced its Top Ten Endangered buildings list thirteen times.

Photo credit: NJ Cole

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