The First Conservation Area

This month marks 50 years of conservation areas in England, and the biggest birthday party of all is in Stamford.

The Lincolnshire town was designated as an area of special architectural and historical interest in 1967, just two months after the Civic Amenities Act was passed.

Here we reveal the unsung heritage hero who made it happen.

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High Street St. Martin’s © Historic England Archive DP217283

In the ninth century, Stamford was one of the original five boroughs of the Danelaw – an area of Anglo Saxon Britain presided over by the Danish. It is well placed where Ermine Street – a Roman road that ran from London, through Lincoln and to York – crosses the river Welland. The town prospered in medieval times, but its heyday was to come in the 18th century when it became a fashionable staging post on the Great North Road – linking London and Edinburgh.

In the 1960s John Betjeman called Stamford quite simply ‘England’s most attractive town’. The sentiment was clearly shared by local planner Dr Kenneth Fennell of Kesteven County Council.

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Stamford High School, High Street © Historic England Archive bb73_06491

Fennell was aware of the growing pressures on historic towns from traffic and development. He feared that the protection of listed buildings alone would do little to safeguard the integrity and character of Stamford’s townscape.

Fennell and his team undertook what today we would recognise as a ‘townscape character assessment’. He asked his Councillors to establish a policy to protect the character of the five distinct areas of the town.

Fennell’s groundwork was not only timely, but also useful in Whitehall. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government was planning to undertake four pilot studies, in Bath, York, Chichester and King’s Lynn. However, thanks to Fennell’s preparatory work, it was Stamford that became the first Conservation Area in England.

Stamford then and now

This set of images show Stamford at the time of its designation in 1967, and now. There are more cars in the streets, more signage and street furniture; trees have been allowed to grow. But overall you’ll see more continuity than change. There is a degree of stability which is unusual even in Conservation Areas – a regime which allows change, and encourages change for the better.

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And what of the future?  A new draft local plan published this year envisages the town growing by a fifth over the next 20 years. Concerns about development and traffic are rising once again, but thanks to Fennell and his successors, Stamford is well placed to handle such pressures.

As part of Stamford 50 celebrations, Stamford Civic Society is holding an exhibition at Stamford Arts Centre 20 – 28 Sept. The exhibition brings together images and stories exploring the history of the area and why conservation is still important today. More info here.

 

Further Reading

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