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.

Park Hill, Barrowford, Lancashire

This year I have had an enjoyable time working with Ruth Darling, and Laurie Cooper on a number of Lancashire and Greater Manchester projects.

This afternoon we met up at the Pendle Heritage Centre which is remarkable for its diverse scenery and vernacular beauty. The Centre is a preserved riverside farmstead called Park Hill comprising houses, barns, stables, woodland and gardens.

These photos were all taken a few yards from each other before our meeting.

Victorian Society Visits Accrington

Yesterday, Gillian Berry, of Haworth Art Gallery, and I hosted the annual tour of the Victorian Society Northern Building Committee, which this year came to Accrington.

At Haworth Art Gallery

On the morning, Gillian showed our visitors around the Haworth Art Gallery which is located at Hollins Hill, a large Walter Brierley designed Arts & Crafts house. It has a super collection of nineteenth century paintings and the finest museum of Tiffany glassware in Europe.


One of the Tiffany vases on show

On the afternoon, we toured Accrington town centre which has a wonderfully coherent townscape and some great Regency, Victorian, Edwardian and Modern era architecture. Highlights were the Red Lion Coaching Inn, Accrington Market House, Riley’s Arcade, Peel Institute, now the Town Hall, and Accrington Carnegie Library.

H. G. Hillier designed Arts & Crafts stair window, J. & M. Wade designed art nouveau tiles and staircase ironwork at Accrington Carnegie Library.

We then looked around the just completed projects of the Accrington THI, where architects Dominic Roberts and Dino Kotlar showed off their wonderful restoration of The Exchange, with its extravagant two-storey shop front.

Francis Roberts Architects’ drawing of the restored Exchange

Everyone had a wonderful time!