Large parts of the estate have been uninhabited for many years due to the very poor condition of the buildings. For approaching one hundred years there has been an under-investment in essential repairs to ensure that these ancient and fragile buildings do not reach or indeed pass the point where their decline is so rapid that it results in their complete collapse. Unfortunately many of these lovely buildings have already reached that point with the remainder fast approaching the same fate. A number of the buildings are Scheduled Ancient Monuments which is an archaeological based designation that affords the buildings immense protection from change, for instance you cannot dig the ground or even carry out maintenance works without getting permission from English Heritage. Thus there is no obligation on the owner to maintain a Scheduled Ancient Monument meaning that buildings such as the Abbotts Tower or the great monastic Tithe Barn could be allowed to collapse and then they would be lost forever. However, as custodians of these important historic buildings the Sargeant family believe that they have found a solution to secure their survival.
The rate of decline is now quite overwhelming, for instance structural scaffolds have had to be erected around the magnificent Abbotts Tower and also two chimneys on the Great Gatehouse to ensure that they do not collapse. Later this year a scaffold will probably have to be put over the main Darcy House Wing before the next winter as the roof is now in such a poor state of repair. After three years of negotiation, works of repair to the Tower finally started in 2009, with the aid of a generous grant from English Heritage, but unfortunately the contractor that had been selected has now gone into liquidation and work has halted. The Sargeant Family are currently agreeing with English Heritage how best to ensure that these works are completed.
The Heras fencing that is around the Great Gatehouse and the leaning old archway that fronts onto The Bury has been erected to protect the public from falling masonry. The thirteenth century Bailiff’s Cottage roof has had to have all tiles removed and a lightweight temporary roof covering put in place, as the timbers had decayed to such an extent that it too was about to collapse.
The monies that could ordinarily have been used to carry out more repairs have had to be invested into studies by a team of expert consultants to find a long term solution to the extensive problems created by decades of under investment in The Priory. These studies have formed the basis of the applications that seek to restore and preserve The Priory Estate.
Repairs to historic structures are always expensive but due to the Grade I status, their fragile state, the cost of the natural materials used and the requirement of English Heritage to closely monitor the standards of craftsmanship, the repairs needed for The Priory buildings are even more expensive. For instance the sum that, between English Heritage and the Sargeant Family, has already been committed to the Abbotts Tower structural repair works alone is in excess of £575,000 and unfortunately due to government cutbacks English Heritage has informed us that they have no further monies available.
The team of consultants has been working exceptionally hard over the last ten years in order to find a long term, sustainable solution. They have now finished all their extensive studies and reports necessary for the planning applications, which consist of in excess of 550 full scale plans and approximately 3,500 pages of text. For instance, the report that just schedules and photographs the essential repairs runs to hundreds of pages. In addition to these works to the buildings are the extensive works of repair that are needed to the registered park and garden that have been neglected and severely damaged by mineral extraction.
All the conservation works necessary have been costed by experts so that the deficit that exists between the cost of the works and the value of the Estate once repaired can be quantified. English Heritage calls this deficit, the conservation deficit. This Deficit is estimated by our consultants to be in excess of £50,000,000 if the entire Estate was restored. The Family would expect to be able to find acceptable compromises and efficiencies that reduce this figure through using their own expertise and working with English Heritage, Tendring District Council and other key stakeholders. A collaborative approach is essential as the enabling development applications that have been submitted could not fund this scale of deficit.