The Joy of Life as a Conservation Officer

Given the many knowledgeable references to the carpenters' and masons' crafts, the Chairman's description of "a round peg in a round hole" was an apt compliment to Mr. David Burton Pye, who gave a talk to the Civic Society on Thursday 23rd March. Getting paid for what he enjoys most must be very satisfying and additionally receiving the MBE for it too in 2002. Following an unrewarding stint as an articled clerk to an Estate Agent, David has worked for 32 years with South Staffordshire Council, and is now a Principal Conservation Officer with responsibility for 856 listed buildings. David began with a survey of the most notable of his 27 parish churches:

  • All Saints, Lapley (Grade 1) with its unusual central tower, formerly a cruciform structure dating from the 13th century.
  • St. James, Acton Trussel, with an uncharacteristically small spire. (The Victorians usually preferred more grandiose examples.)
  • St. Peter's, Kinver (Grade 1) has an unexplained buttress reaching to the top of the tower. To the north of the church a local architect, sadly deceased, John Greaves Smith, has replaced a northerly buttress with a contemporary but sympathetic solution, and not resorting to pastiche.
  • St. Mary's, Enville, has a mini Gloucester cathedral tower of 120ft. by Gilbert Scott, now repaired by Linfords, who were given high praise by David. Over 300 unique faces adorn this church.

After churches came favourite houses, beginning with a fantastic timber framed example built circa 1350 in Dean Street, Brewood. The quality of workmanship and materials suggested church carpenters. No recycled ships timbers here! Kinver Royal Hunting Forest provided much of the timber. Alone this building used 50 to 60 trees, or five acres of forest, the house's `jetty' being an expression of wealth. The unexpected featured in the old Grammar School, Kinver, where subsequent owners had used bizarre materials to stop water ingress - cement, ladies tights, old copies of the `Express and Star' and Polyfilla - to no avail.

We saw a series of slides showing the remarkable skill of carpenters in their `patching' of old timbers, the skill enhanced by their training as furniture makers. David briefly mentioned regret at the lack of Listing afforded to some fine pumping stations.

Moving to another area of his work, parklands, he began with Hilton Hall's Portobello Tower (commemorating Lord Vernon's naval victory). A prospect tower from which to admire the estate, with spiral stairs and window seating. Stables too provided challenges equal to those in the main house. Here, to avoid the cost of scaffolding, a haystack was used to reach a roof repair! With much on-going work here - twelve years to date, David prefers to work sympathetically with owners, rather than presenting a confrontational 'Repairs Notice'.

He is adamant that buildings should be used, citing a former derelict Swiss Cottage at Weston Park, now a permanent holiday let (bitter aloes was used here to prevent squirrels eating the lead)!

Chillington, one of David's favourites, has been occupied since 1183 by one family - Gifford de Longeville to today's Sir Peter Giffard. It is remarkable for its mile long avenue of oaks, many Follies of the Grand Tour, a monument to William Lowper and a panther, bolt in mouth, the victim of a Gifford hunter, but rendered immortal in their Arms. This was a survey of wonderful buildings, not too far away to visit, informative, humorous and accompanied by some fine photography.

Lorna Bushell
March 2006