From Spence House to Heritage Trust for the North West

Spence House and St. Mark’s Church, Natland

Spence House is a beautiful Arts & Crafts house in Natland nr. Kendal. It has a special significance to the present day which I outline below.

The house lies close to St. Mark’s Church which was built in 1909-10 by the Lancaster architects, Austin & Paley. St. Mark’s is one of  Hubert Austin’s last designs and is listed Grade II*, i.e. it is an outstanding listed building.

St. Mark’s Church, Natland, Mr. Kendal, Cumbria – Photo: Alexander P. Kapp

Rev’d Canon Edward Miller

A young Rev’d Edward Miller commissioned the church in 1908. He subsequently spent the rest of his ministry there, an incredible 44 years altogether.

He built Spence House in 1948 as his retirement home. It was designed by Michael Bottomley, then working for Donald Haigh Architects. As the house was being built, Edward Miller invited his young grandson, John, to see it going up. The child was entranced by the wonder of the building.

Spence House – Google Street View

John MIller

This was the beginning of John Miller’s love of buildings, which was shaped by the Gothic of the church and the vernacular of the house. As John got older, Michael Bottomley taught him the fundamentals of architecture and John was to become one of the first building conservationists.

Two decades on from that childhood visit, Michael Bottomley and John worked together on John’s first conservation scheme. This involved restoring three vernacular structures at Twisleton’s Yard in Settle, North Yorkshire, something almost unheard of at the time. Twisleton’s Yard was one of the first conservation schemes in the country and all three buildings are now listed Grade II.

After Twisleton’s Yard, John threw himself full time into saving historic buildings. This was the time of the Civic Amenities Act 1967, which created conservation areas, and the public’s increasing rejection of wholesale redevelopment. From the 1970s to the present day, John set up a series of building preservation trusts and heritage centres across the North West. He established charitable trusts in Cumbria, Lancashire and Greater Manchester, as well as another in North Yorkshire. He was awarded the MBE for this pioneering work.

Saving the derelict Bank Hall, now completed, is John Miller’s most recent restoration project

Fifty years later, and with well over fifty buildings saved, John Miller continues to lead Heritage Trust for the North West, the amalgamation of his earlier trusts. It has been a privilege to volunteer alongside him and to learn something of how he operates. With Covid-19 severely hitting the Trust’s finances, John has raised over £1 million this year to address the fallout of the pandemic.

John Miller (centre) advising on the restoration of Bank Hall walled garden

Over the years, John has guided and defended the Trust as it’s leader and patron. He recently donated the Twisletons Yard properties to the Trust to mark the beginning of his life’s work. However, as this post reveals, the story goes back much further to when a small child visited his grandfather in Cumbria.

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