Charmydown Barn, Charmydown Lane, Swainswick
Charmydown Barn forms part of a historic farm complex centred on Charmydown Farm House, a Grade II late 17th detached farmhouse with later 18th & 19th century alterations. The site also incorporates Charmydown Lodge, formerly a pair of worker’s cottages later converted to a three-bed detached dwelling (see 12/05579/FUL & 12/05580/LBA). The site is located within the Green Belt and Cotswolds AONB, as well as the indicative extent of the World Heritage Site setting and the indicative landscape setting of the Upper Swainswick conservation area. The original farmhouse is indicated to have been initially constructed around 1667, with a farm by the name of ‘Nicholas Farm’ in the area by 1742. The renaming of the farm site can be attributed to the early 19th century at the latest; Greenwood’s Map of Somerset indicates the presence of buildings including the Farmhouse, Lodge, and an earlier iteration of the Barn of a reduced size by 1822. The existing site footprint is more clearly depicted in cartographical evidence from the 1840s onwards to which the main barn building as well as the intersecting gable-ended barn can be attributed to. 1840s maps also include a parallel set of buildings to the eastern end of the site which are likely the piggeries; the southern building was removed around the 20th century but the northern set of piggeries have survived.
Grade II Curtilage:
As part of applications 12/05579/FUL & 12/05580/LBA, it was established that the Barn and Lodge were considered to come within the curtilage of the Grade II Farmhouse: “Charmydown Barn & Lodge are part of an historic model farm complex associated with the adjacent Grade II listed Charmydown Farmhouse. It has been determined by English Heritage and agreed by the Council that the Lodge and the Barn are curtilage listed as part of this important farm complex” (Design & Access Statement). This position has been maintained through a string of planning applications from 2012 – 2021, despite significant demolition/dismantling works to the Lodge resulting in the sole retention of the external west and south wall. Indeed, in its assessment of the lodge the Statement of Architectural and Historical Significance highlighted that “the front elevation is the most architecturally significant”, going on to conclude that “Whilst it is regrettable that areas of walling have been lost, enough of the physical structure has been retained to ensure the continuing significance of the heritage asset.”
From this conclusion, it is therefore maintained that the heritage significance has been sustained in the retention of the interconnected group form and setting of the building and their collective historic farmstead character, as well as their wider, cumulative contribution to the wider historic landscape and the setting of the World Heritage Site.
We have strong concerns regarding claims in this application that the Lodge and Barn should no longer be considered to be curtilage listed. The main focus of the applicant’s argument is the “unusually great” “degree of spatial and visual separation” between the Grade II farmhouse and the ancillary farm buildings. This argument relies on the following points (as summarised):
- A working relationship maintained between the cottage occupiers and the farm buildings, precluding the farmhouse.
- The visual separation of the site due to tree planting and changing land levels.
- Historic separation of the buildings by the access track from Ramscombe Lane.
- Series of separate enclosures associated with all three buildings.
Whilst a band of tree planting from the late 19th century does offer a degree of visual separation between the Farmhouse and Lodge, this overlooks the continued visibility of the Lodge from the Barn (see Fig. 1 & Fig. 10, Heritage Statement) as well as the clear inter-visibility of the Farmhouse and Barn in wider landscape views. We note that it is not unusual for historic farmhouses to be somewhat set back or away from working buildings, sometimes “with its own driveways and gardens” (Historic England, ‘Adopting Traditional Farm Buildings’), whilst still remaining part of a legible, interconnected ensemble.
Furthermore, newspaper and Bath Directory evidence consistently refer to ‘Charmydown Farm’, highlighting an ongoing lack of distinction between the historic occupants of the worker’s cottages and the Farmhouse. It may be credible to suggest that “the farm work was to be primarily undertaken not from the main house but by workers within these cottages” (Heritage Statement), considering the potentially ‘higher status’ residents of the Farmhouse in light of its size and comparatively formal architectural style, but this does not exclude the Farmhouse from its aesthetic and functional agricultural setting.
We do not consider the final two points to be relevant. The number of 19th century access tracks to Charmydown Farm is somewhat unusual but not incomparable with other historic farm complexes in the area with multiple access tracks (see St Catherine’s End Farm and Hartley Farm). This isn’t necessarily attributable to the historic separation of the site and it is worth noting that the site as existing can only be accessed by one shared road from the west. The marking of separate enclosures is apparent by the mid-19th century at the latest but these “small-scale and irregular patterns of enclosure” (Historic England, ‘Historic Farmsteads’) may well be indicative of earlier, medieval farming boundaries, contemporary to the farmhouse’s 17th century origins.
We therefore conclude that there are no clearly evidenced reasons for the Barn and Lodge to be excluded from the Farmhouse’s Grade II curtilage considering their strongly interconnected age, agrarian heritage and functional relationship, architectural ‘vernacular’, and grouped setting. We are concerned that efforts are being made to remove this curtilage to subsequently weaken statutory powers and planning controls for the protection of these significant buildings. Development pressure should NOT be considered an adequate reason for exclusion from heritage designation.
BPT remains strongly unsupportive of the history of unauthorised works on this site, and the constant cycle of retrospective applications to regularise unauthorised and substantial harm to a group of interconnected historic buildings. This includes the large-scale demolition of the Lodge due to poor condition, despite indication as part of application 08/04769/LBA that proposals “to convert and upgrade the existing buildings are reasonable”. The resulting reconstruction was significant enough to constitute a new dwelling. In the case of the Barn, conversion works under 12/05580/LBA included the insertion of a new northern retaining wall at ground floor level and the creation of a 2.4m wide void for ventilation and drainage measures. It was not intended for this void to function as additional residential space; however, this has since been expanded to a 4m void with substantial openings created in the external north wall to expand usable residential space at ground floor, almost doubling the barn’s footprint and resulting in a significant expanse of flat roof visible as part of the historic farm yard (see photos in Heritage Statement). Further unauthorised works include the creation of new window and door openings in external elevations, the use of Crittal-style window and door fenestration out of keeping with its agricultural context, and the enclosure of the piggeries in what appears to be concrete blockwork.
We maintain that the scale, extent, and continuous progress of unauthorised works across the site is unacceptable. We are strongly concerned by the pattern of ‘works first, permission later’ in which it is assumed that a planning application can be submitted after works have already gone ahead, in many cases resulting in irreversible harm to historic fabric and significance.
This continued, intentional transgression of planning controls should NOT be allowed to continue and we urge strong enforcement action to be taken against this series of planning breaches.
Harm to Listed Buildings & Landscape Setting:
Retrospective works have already substantially altered the character and appearance of the site, resulting in the ongoing detachment of the Barn from its agricultural farm context as well as associated harm to historic fabric:
• The use of Crittal-style windows are out of keeping with the Barn’s agricultural appearance and we maintain concerns regarding the over-domestication of its appearance as part of its farm setting as well as in wider landscape views.
• The creation of a new doorway in the north-east elevation of the Cross Barn results in an unnecessary loss of historic stonework and an ‘arrow slot’ window, unbalancing this elevation whilst detracting from the main access point in the historic gable end. There is no demonstrated need for a second external opening in this elevation.
• The subterranean ground floor extension has substantially altered the legibility of the Barn’s form and scale as well as resulting in extensive loss of fabric from the northern wall; this is not appropriately excused by the reconstruction of the north wall where this was solely intended to address structural bowing.
• Further inappropriate works have been undertaken to ancillary structures such as the ‘enclosure’ of the piggery to create a new bedroom and studio space; the solid wall inserted behind the historic, tapered columns is entirely contrary to its previously open and permeable appearance.
The scale of material and landscape works to the Barn have further resulted in the unbalancing of the group value of the farm complex, in which the farm buildings remain ancillary to the central Farmhouse. Instead, wider landscape views from the south show that the Barn now visually competes with the Farmhouse in terms of scale and prominence, an effect that has been exacerbated by the works to merge the Barn with adjoining structures such as the piggery. The result is a building that reads as a solid ‘whole’ to the detriment of its relationship with a Grade II building. We maintain that further works such as the addition of a glazed balustrade to the link building would heighten this harm and be out of keeping with the agrarian character of a group of Grade II listed buildings.
We maintain strong concerns with what we perceive to be the continued development creep of this site, including the increasing ‘sprawl’ of alterations to the Barn as well as considerable landscape alterations and earth works. Part of the value of this historic farm site is derived from its relatively self-contained form and appearance and its isolated setting in Bath’s rural landscape. As such, it is clearly legible as an agricultural settlement with strong ties to its setting. We maintain concerns with continuing ‘overdevelopment’ on the site, resulting in the over-domestication of the farm buildings and detriment to wider landscape views and character.
The proposed block plan submitted as part of withdrawn application 21/04437/FUL earmarked a section of field north of the barn for “future development”; whilst not part of the current proposals, this is a strong indicator of plans for further expansion across the site with resulting cumulative harm to the setting of multiple listed buildings, the openness of the Green Belt, and the special qualities of the AONB.
The proposed works have further resulted in significant landscape works and impact on wider views to the south, including the creation of two new north-east tracks and a new south track, significant land profiling to the south including what appears to be a spoil heap (likely from the excavation works along the north wall), an approx. 6ft wall enclosing the southern boundary of the Barn, and indications that a septic tank has been installed in the southern field. It is indicated that a separate planning application is expected for these works; however, we emphasise that what appears to be a piecemeal and fragmented approach to this site has resulted in ongoing, cumulative harm to sensitive landscape views from footpaths to the south of the site and possibly in wider views across the valley from Steway Lane, and associated harm to the openness of the Green Belt and the special qualities of the Cotswolds AONB. The impact of works on landscape character and views has been insufficiently assessed or considered as part of this application and we strongly maintain the need for the submission of an LVIA to adequately consider the joint impact of material and landscaping works on this site. We further maintain the need for a comprehensive landscape plan to remove spoil from the site and restore its historically agrarian and rural setting.
The proposed scheme has resulted in cumulatively substantial harm to a group of Grade II buildings, as well as wider harm to the openness of the Green Belt and the contribution of the farm complex to the special character of the Cotswolds AONB. There is no indication that the proposals would achieve the “optimum viable use” of the Barn, beyond the proposals already approved as part of applications 12/05579/FUL & 12/05580/LBA, and therefore the harm fails to be outweighed by demonstrated public benefit. This application is contrary to the Planning (Listed Buildings & Conservation Areas) Act 1990, Section 16 of the NPPF, and Policies B1, BD1, B4, CP6, D1, D2, D3, HE1, NE2, NE2a, and RE6 of the Core Strategy and Placemaking Plan and should be refused or withdrawn. We urge appropriate enforcement action to be pursued.