Next Thursday 18 February 2021, it will have been eight years since the town walls fell at the back of St Laurence’s. There is no sign of the repairs beginning this year. What hope is there of the collapsed section being completed before the tenth anniversary? Almost none in my opinion. I would like to be proved wrong.
The failure to repair one of Ludlow’s principal monuments is an embarrassment to our town. St Laurence’s churchyard is still disfigured by Herras fencing. It’s a disgrace.
Unless there is action soon, we should perhaps register the collapsed wall as a Monumental Failure and make it a tourist attraction. A blue plaque declaring: “Here lieth the town walls. Resting in pieces since 18 February 2013.”
In the heady days after the town walls collapsed behind St Laurence’s on 18 February 2013, there were promises of immediate action to repair them and even of Shropshire Council dipping into its pockets to fund the work.
It has been a long and arduous road since involving tortuous discussions between lawyers, councils and the church.
The collapse was due to poor maintenance of one of the town’s most important assets over many decades by Ludlow Town Council. Some of the patchwork repairs used Portland Cement which, unlike lime mortar, does not stretch and breathe as conditions change. That weakened the structure of the wall.
The weather had been bad in the early weeks of 2013. Weeks of rain were followed by a drop of temperatures to well below zero for several days. The town walls behind St Laurence’s church could not cope with the thermal strains. It could not cope with the pressure of sodden soil freezing and expanding. The walls collapsed at the back of the churchyard. There was a also collapse at the back of Upper Linney but this was quickly repaired.
Former Ludlow councillor Martin Taylor Smith, then a Shropshire Council cabinet member, promised that Shropshire Council had the money and the walls would be repaired quickly.
But that proved to be blagging and Shropshire Council backed away when it realised that it was probably not responsible for the walls. Tortuous discussions followed. Tensions rose between the church, Shropshire Council and Ludlow Town Council. Shropshire Council said it was not responsible and the buck rested with Ludlow Town Council, which in turn tried to prove that it had passed the buck to the Shropshire Council. It was going to be complex the council said.
The temporary repairs put in place after collapsed the collapse collapsed and were replaced though not to the height recommended by consultants.
We have one of the most complete town walls in Europe. But neglect and overdue repairs have led Historic England to add Ludlow town walls to its Heritage in Danger list. The town council should be ashamed of this. It is crawling along at snail’s pace in arranging the long overdue repairs.
Towns across the country have heritage plans in place to protect their historic assets. Ludlow Town Council does not have any policies relating to the historic environment. It does not have a heritage champion among its councillors. Because of that, it has found itself out of its depth
There is no reasonable hope of repairs before the tenth anniversary of the great wall fall. There is no published action plan, no timescale and above all, no respect for Ludlow’s fragile heritage.
Protection of the historic fabric of our town, county and country depends on competence at all levels. What we are seeing instead is a textbook example of how not to manage damaged historic assets. Heritage students in the future will come to Ludlow to ask what went wrong. Why in a country with some of the strictest heritage protection rules in the world, a monument could lie breached for a decade while petty arguments persisted within government bodies.
There is an alternative to repair. I am a fan of visiting ancient monuments everywhere I can. Many are broken. Rubble sends its own message.
Perhaps we should stabilise the wall and leave it collapsed as a message to future generations of the consequences of the neglect of heritage.