By Samuel Hooper
A seventeenth century Clapton building is facing demolition after a charity put it up for sale, claiming that renovations would be too expensive.
The Grade II listed Bishops Wood almhouses, which have housed poor elderly people for more than three centuries, are being put up for sale by owners the Dr Spurstowe and Bishop Wood Almshouse Charity which plans to use the proceeds to build a larger facility on a new site in Hackney.
However, the sale has raised fears that a private developer will purchase the building and demolish it to make room for the creation of more profitable luxury flats. Demolition would also mean the loss of the chapel, which forms part of the structure and is notable for being the smallest of its type in the country.
The charity says that while the sale is regrettable, refurbishment would cost as much as £750,000 for only four flats while selling the building would enable them to build significantly more homes for the elderly.
Fr Rob Wickham, rector of nearby St. John at Hackney church and member of the charity’s board of trustees, defended the decision. He said: “As a charity for housing elderly people … they cannot justify spending that kind of money to provide only four modern flats. The trustees have tried to get help from heritage organisations but without success. They are therefore considering their options, one of which is to sell the precious old building.”
The news of the sale and potential risk to the historic building came as little surprise to some locals. Construction worker John Doyle, who fears what may happen at the hands of developers, said: “That’s Hackney for you. They’re all after making money and they just don’t care about the history or the heritage.”
Others were more pragmatic, such as local shopkeeper Marcus Solak, who said: “Better it be used for something than lying empty. Anything is better than empty buildings.”
Despite the concerns, any buyer wishing to demolish the almhouses will require permission from the council, because of its listed status. In considering the request, the council would take expert guidance from English Heritage before making a decision.
Councillor Ian Rathbone, chair of the Clapton Pond Neighbourhood Action Group, hopes to take advantage of this fact by including the threatened building on an upcoming tour of the borough by English Heritage. Cllr Rathbone said: “We’re trying to involve them to keep pressure on the trustees to sell to a responsible buyer.”