Exclusive report on how one man tried in vain to save historic cottage near March from being flattened

ONE of Fenland’s oldest and most historically important cottages has been bulldozed to the ground.

The demolition in a conservation area went ahead despite last minute pleas to English Heritage to halt work.

Angry residents spent hours on their phones calling the Government body set up to “promote and protect Britain’s spectacular historic environment”.

Residents of Coates watched in horror as the demolition of 22 South Green went ahead even after a half-thatched clay lump cottage dating from the 1700s or earlier emerged from behind the more modern outer shell.

They want these questions answered:

1: Why did English Heritage refuse to list the cottage after carrying out just a kerbside inspection?

2: Why did English Heritage miss tell-tale signs of its historic importance?

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3: Why didn’t English Heritage halt demolition once the cottage’s obvious significance was discovered?

Nearby resident Ian Walker, who has worked professionally on many historic buildings said: “I would like to see heads on a stick over this but you are not going to see that happen.”

He had already told English Heritage: “The property is one of the few remaining period cottages in the village.

“It reflects our local vernacular architectural history and is therefore of high historical value and should enjoy the full protection of the listing process.

“This building is too precious to be lost and far too valuable to give away as a building plot.”

His wife, Tina, who along with other residents phoned English Heritage as demolition got underway said: “They effectively knocked down the oldest ‘green’ building in the village. We could have lost the last remaining fully intact cottage of its kind: there were all four walls, the roof and chimney.

If they had just come out and looked at it when we called it could have been saved. It is such a small building plot in any case and they should ask themselves if it was worth losing the cottage for it.”

The couple believe the cottage could have been carefully dismantled and reconstructed in an open-air museum.

They say the village has been labelled by heritage experts as being “an unpleasant place which is not at all pleasing to the eye”.

Mr Walker said: “As a result of failures by English Heritage all that remains now of a truly unique one and half thatched clay lump house is the footprint.

“I am a joiner by trade specialising in oak frames and fine joinery. In nearly 30 years of being party to restoration of listed buildings covering all grades, I have never witnessed such unnecessary vandalism, the responsibility for which can only be laid firmly at the door of English Heritage.”

However, English Heritage said that after a visit in 2008 both Fenland District Council and the applicants were advised that “the building was likely to have 18th century origins, but it had been substantially altered”.

As there were very few internal features remaining, English Heritage concluded that the building was too altered to be listed against national criteria.

A spokesman for English Heritage said: “Although the building was not considered to have national importance, it was deemed to have local interest and was also located in a conservation a area, and therefore proposals to demolish the building and redevelop the site would have been considered by the local planning authority.

“English Heritage was informed that the building was being demolished in August 2010 but at no stage after February 2008 did English Heritage receive an application to re-consider our earlier advice in the light of additional information.”

Philip Branston, who submitted the application on behalf of a client, said: “I didn’t know there was any problem, the cottage was in pretty poor condition and my job was to get planning permission for new property – and we went through old hoops”

He said the building was in a “shocking state” and was damp and cracked.

Asked about missing the thatch, he said “we don’t go digging holes in the building. There was nothing to show it was originally thatched- thatch is normally 300-400mm thick. All we observed were old pan tiles and in poor condition at that.”

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