Brent Council is proposing to demolish one of Brent's few remaining historic buildings, Altamira (1 Morland Gardens, Stonebridge) and replace it with a high-rise block of flats and education centre. Willesden Local History Society is leading a campaign to save it for future generations.
The Case for Altamira
The attractive Victorian villa on the corner where Hillside Stonebridge meets Brentfield Road, has been part of the local scene since 1876. It was built as part of the new suburb of Stonebridge Park, which was laid out to attract wealthy business people to the area.
The house itself and its next-door neighbour Hurworth were described by historian Nikolaus Pevsner in his 1951 guide Buildings of England, London N.W. They are “much-altered, but once very handsome, capacious, rustic Italianate villas with belvedere towers.”
The style of Altamira reflects a phase when the “Italianate” style of Osborne House, Isle of Wight, (designed by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria) was the inspiration for grand buildings, and also more domestic ones, throughout Britain and abroad. This fashion for the Italianate lasted for about 40 years, and other examples can be found in Finchley (Avenue House, now the Stephen’s Museum) Stanmore (Bentley Priory), Bushey, Herts (Haydon Hill House, now flats) and Feltham, Hounslow (Hanworth Park House). Altamira is not on a grand scale, but nevertheless reflects an interesting period in building design.
Kelly’s Directory of 1885 records Mr.Hillier in residence at Altamira, while next door lived the prolific local historian Frederick A .Wood, commemorated in Fawood Avenue, just around the corner. The owner of the house would have chosen the name; probably based on the famous Altamira Caves in Spain, site of prehistoric cave-paintings.
Value of Altamira To The Local Community
Altamira is locally-listed, which means that it has at some point been deemed as worthy of consideration for preservation. The Brent Local Plan of November 2018 states that Brent wishes to “strengthen local identity and character by conserving and enhancing heritage assets and their setting.” Local opinion agrees with this aim, regarding Altamira as a heritage asset of importance. The Stonebridge area has undergone dramatic changes in the last 60 years, with numerous developments having taken place in the area.
In consideration of this information we ask that Brent Council give an assurance that the building identified as Altamira, 1 Morland Gardens, be preserved for the Borough, by use of sympathetic planning, aimed at incorporating the existing design elements into any new development. In addition, to preserve the heritage value of the area, by ensuring that some commemorative information, display, or suitable exhibit is located in or around any such development.
The Brent Council proposes to demolish the current building and replace it with a high rise building, with flats on top and the education centre on the ground floor.
More thoughts are needed to providing infrastructure to accessing the education centre, - without parking facilities, with extra 200 people on top of it, you are either looking to a small local centre only for people who live nearby, and not serving the wider population in Brent. The loss of green space, and the burden of an extra influx of people in the area on the existing green spaces is to be considered.
By building high density social housing, has Brent learnt the lessons of the recent past, when large scale social housing developments in Kilburn, and Stonebridge itself were plagued by problems and had to be demolished after a relatively short and unhappy period of time?
More importantly, the demolition of the beautiful Victorian villa will be a great loss to the area. It is one of the few remaining historic buildings in Brent, and it gives a very special character to that part of Stonebridge. They sympathetic development of neighbouring No. 2 Morland Gardens (former Hurworth) is an example of how an old building can be put to a new use and still benefit the historic content of the local area. The caring character of this effort will be completely lost and dwarfed by a large complex of modern buildings.
Willesden Local History Society believes that our historic heritage is an important tool for forming and preserving the sense of community in the local area, which has a large segment of population not native to Stonebridge. It is important to provide the community with a grounding in the history of where they live, which will enable people to form ties to their neighbourhood and foster better relationships with each other. The building which currently proudly stands on the corner of a busy crossroads has a big visual impact. This can be capitalised on by the future education centre to run a programme on local history and community in the area.
The demotion of the building cannot be made up for by permanent or temporary art installations, visual projections or displays, - nothing works better as a powerful symbol as bricks and mortar! Once a historic landmark is lost, it cannot be replicated again to the same effect.
The architects provided alternative plans, which will ensure the preservation of the old building. While it is understandable that extra money will need to be spent on restoring the building itself, it came clear in the meeting we had with the representatives of Brent Council that the main priority of the council was to provide as many council flats as possible. We think it is a mistake to put that aim over the well being of the local community and safeguarding historic heritage, which will benefit this community in the years to come.
Altamira, with Hurworth in the distance
While we do not doubt the thought that has gone in ensuring that the new design has the best safety and environmental standards, there's no reason why this cannot be the case for the development which will preserve the old building. The only difference is the number of flats this will result in, which seems to us not a wise alternative to the loss of a beautiful historic building.
We therefore call on the Brent’s planning authorities to offer a wider consultation on the plans for No. 1 Moorland Gardens with a view to preserve the historic building for future generations.
Please help us save this lovely building!
50 signatures on the petition will enable us to talk to Brent Council's Planning Meeting.
200 signatures and more - we will be able to speak to the full council.
The deadline for the petition is 1st April 2020.