The Restoration of Clifton Hall

On Tuesday 20th April Lichfield architect, Peter Brownhill, joined fellow members of the Civic Society at the Swan Hotel to talk about the restoration of Clifton Hall.

This little known property, situated between Clifton Campville and No Man's Heath, was at the end of a muddy farm track and in a state of near terminal dereliction before the process of restoration began. Peter introduced us to the historic background of what was originally intended to be an imposing house flanked by two elegant pavilions. But the house was never built; for the builder, Sir Charles Pye, apparently ran out of funds when only the two Pavilions were complete. His family had to be content with these dignified structures; which were to be occupied for nearly two centuries.

In 1905 the estate was sold in a number of lots and has since had a chequered history; being subjected to unsuccessful applications for demolition and a variety of ideas for rebuilding. By 1995 the 18th century pavilions had become "buildings at risk". They were protected by a Grade II* listing and had survived despite repeated intrusion by vandals, thieves and weather. The thieves had removed fireplaces, flooring, a staircase and lead; while vandals and the weather combined their attacks on what was left. The resulting deterioration threatened total destruction and real danger.

The process of restoration was to follow a philosophy agreed between the funding agencies; English Heritage, the Local Authorities and the Architect. This was to include an acknowledgement of the alterations made to the buildings during their long history; retention of as much as the original timber as was practicable and replication of detail wherever a residual example of the design and style could be identified.

Peter's photographs of the sad structures in their vandalised and weathered dereliction will have caused some of those present to wonder at the wisdom of attempting restoration from such an unpromising base. However such doubts were readily dispelled when slides taken after the external and internal work had been completed were shown at the end of Peter's fascinating talk.

The vote of thanks moved by Alan Thompson recognised the scholarship which Peter Brownhill had demonstrated in researching this project and was warmly supported by all those present.

Ivor Mitchell
April 1999