At present, the modest, interwar building shown above — Two Oaks, in the village of Kelling, Norfolk — is threatened with demolition. The planning application requesting demolition is here, on the website of North Norfolk District Council.
North Norfolk District Council has form for allowing the demolition of interwar buildings, including my own village’s New Rectory, an important early work from 1924 by local architect John Page.
I have, needless to say, sent a letter of objection to the NNDC’s Planning Committee, for their consideration, but in the interest of making the relevant case more widely, I reproduce my letter of objection below. (In the version below, I have also provided web links absent from the original document, as not all the enterprises mentioned, while presumably familiar to council members, will be known to the general public.)
15 January 2020
To the Planning Committee of North Norfolk District Council
I write to object to PF/19/2071 — Demolition of detached dwelling and change of use of site to agricultural land.
Two Oaks, Kelling is an extremely attractive house, compact and pleasing in its simple symmetry. It is also richly evocative of the interwar period in which it was constructed, and of the wartime period which it survived intact. As such it should be preserved, renovated and cherished as an important part of the North Norfolk Coast’s built heritage.
North Norfolk sometimes makes much of its links with the Second World War. The Muckleburg Collection, established in 1988, is now visited by thousands each year. Langham Dome has received awards as a successful educational enterprise and tourist attraction. Private initiatives such as the successful Control Tower B&B in North Creake trade on nostalgia for interwar design as much as the desire to experience a site of wartime interest. North Norfolk Railway’s 1940s weekend goes from strength to strength — drawing thousands to the Holt/Sheringham area, offering everything from 1940s jazz to vintage vehicles, it is now one of the largest such events in the UK. At the other end of the spectrum, people from all over the world make private pilgrimages to visit the places where loved ones served, and sometimes died, amongst our Norfolk airfields and along our coast.
Yet those in charge of North Norfolk’s heritage can be casual to the point of negligence when it comes to preserving precious reminders of ‘the greatest generation’ and the world they inhabited. Astonishingly, seriously important 1920s and 1930s buildings — in good condition, often with their internal fixtures and fittings intact, sited prominently in their villages — are still demolished without question or comment.
This is not only grotesque on environmental grounds (the embodied carbon in these buildings means that their demolition is invariably far less ‘green’ than preservation and retrofitting would be) but also on historical ones. A building from the 1920s or 30s is clearly not ‘old’ in the sense that a building from the 1820s or 30s is — but if the younger building isn’t cherished and protected, then it will never have the chance to become old. In a century’s time, our descendants will scratch their heads and wonder why our generation did not fight harder to protect this part of their historical birthright.
Two Oaks may not be ‘remarkable’, in the sense that it is recognisably a normal interwar house, but it is certainly part of Kelling’s history. For some of its time it was apparently the village police house. And for many long decades, it has occupied a prominent position along the busy coast road. Its handsome silhouette is clearly visible, for instance, from Kelling’s War Memorial. And there is something poignant about this. How many troop carriers passed by this house? How many wartime aircraft overflew it? Did Churchill himself drive by on one of his various visits to the area? To anyone who knows or cares about 20th century buildings and happens to drive past Two Oaks today, all these questions are very pertinent. And they may matter even more to those passing by in 100 years, or in 500 years’ time.
There is, after all, a great deal more to North Norfolk’s history than the lazy cliché of flint-built, pantile-roofed fishermen’s cottages. At some level, local government takes account of this. The parish summary for Kelling on the ‘North Norfolk Heritage Explorer’ website expends two long paragraphs on still-extant wartime defensive structures and other built legacies of the Second World War including pillboxes, gun emplacements and anti-aircraft batteries. Increasingly, however, the public understands the history of that war not only through its explicitly military heritage, but also through reminders of the Home Front, civilian experience that underpinned and enabled it.
Two Oaks is very much a part of that Home Front history. In its modest way, it is a monument to Kelling’s wartime experience, and a reminder of that pivotal moment in our region’s history. To demolish Two Oaks is to show contempt, yet again, for the vanishing past, no less significant for being relatively recent.
Please insist on the preservation of Two Oaks, and please reject this planning application.