Hartlebury Castle, Worcestershire

Scoping a new brief to secure a listed building’s future

The Grade I listed Hartlebury Castle shows our skills in identifying new uses for historic buildings that work with the existing assets. Our work here has helped develop a robust business plan to sustain these assets for future generations.

The Bishop of Worcester’s Palace had been scheduled for disposal by the Church Commissioners on the open market, with one wing being occupied by a siting tenant. The County Museum and parts of the grounds leased separately.

We were commissioned in 2010 by the Hartlebury Castle Trust, comprising of local stakeholders interested in securing a public future for Hartlebury Castle. The Trust wished to secure funding to purchase the castle, its grounds and out-buildings. They wished to conserve it against commercial development and open it to the public as a heritage attraction.

When we were first appointed, the brief from the Trustees was a typical narrow architectural based brief: to advise them on issues of fabric, conservation, alteration and re-use. It quickly became apparent that the pattern of re-use the Trustees had in mind would not attract the funding required to support the purchase and running costs of the property.

We earlier identified the problem of securing a robust income stream because – although the house was in remarkably fine condition – sections of the interior had been compromised whilst it functioned as the Bishop’s Palace. It also lacked the level of detail expected of a typical heritage ‘tourist’ attraction and would take decades (plus considerable research and funds) to put together the furniture collection required to re-construct  historic interiors.

Real significance and focus is given by the Hurd Library, a uniquely intact book collection of an 18th century gentleman installed by a previous incumbent. Although of great interest to scholars, the library contains not only much of the castle’s historic papers, but also volumes of such rarity and historic significance that it places severe constraints on how the building is used and cannot be available for open access.

We showed how the library could be used as the focus of a research and specialist education offer and how the building facilities could be of value to the County Council too as educational providers. We also demonstrated how these assets, both internal and external, could be used as a focus for regional, cultural and craft workshops. This would also give the building status across as many lives and organisations as possible – the Church, business organisations, the County Council, English Heritage and other consultees. Via engagement, we helped the Trustees draw out and identify who those future stakeholder organisations could be, and how an adaptable business plan could be formed, making it less reliant on any one income stream. All this work has enabled the Trustees to prepare and submit applications to the Heritage Lottery Fund (H:F) and other services around a much more visionary and joined up role.

The County Council Rural Museum that had long existed at Hartlebury had also had its future thrown into doubt. We showed how the museum’s public profile and offer could be used and enhanced to secure their future on the site. We also showed how using it as a core part of any business plan could improve the castle’s wider offer to the public, in turn raising the museum’s profile.

Through research into the existing assets and the castle’s social and cultural history, we scoped a different brief. This was able to show the Trustees how the castle’s social and cultural capital and its estate of c.35 acres could be used to appeal to the much broader agendas of potential partner organisations. We identified several strands around which the castle’s future business plan could be prepared, each benefiting from and building on the strength and proximity of other offers.

Workspace for emergent business was particularly under-provided for in the surrounding areas. On the strength of our analysis, the Hereford and Worcester Chamber of Commerce agreed to run an Enterprise Centre at Hartlebury Castle. Again, for them, the attraction was to have somewhere to bring overseas and national Worcestershire business customers where they could showcase both the strengths and skills of the county’s manufacturers and universities. For this aim, establishing a high quality, off-ticket restaurant in one of the building’s primary spaces was paramount.

Following a fire within out-buildings and using our multi-stranded business development strategy, the Trust was able to successfully obtain HLF funding to support the purchase of the castle from the Church Commissioners, with the county museum looking to construct a new building within in the grounds to ensure its continuity on the site.