Ilfracombe, like so many coastal towns along the shores of the UK, is blessed with amazing architecture – from the grand yet restrained Georgian period, to the often highly embellished buildings of the Victorian period. Whilst we have lost many iconic buildings such as The Ilfracombe Hotel and The Pavilion, the golden years of domestic tourism have left us with a rich architectural history that is ready to be loved, cared for and celebrated.
The mid to late 20th century was sadly not always kind to many of Ilfracombe's buildings, as period design fell out of favour and a decline in tourism saw previously buoyant areas fall on harder times. Ilfracombe managed to avoid the large-scale swathing redevelopment of the 1960s and 1970s that has affected towns like Torquay, but buildings here that did escape the demolition ball were often modernised, extended or altered to a point where the original ‘feel’ of the building was invariably hidden or lost - and many remain in that state today.
However, there is a small but growing revival in place as the merits of Victorian buildings and features in Ilfracombe are once again receiving appreciation.
Alongside the restoration of our own building, The Earlsdale, I am pleased to have seen other buildings in the town being revived to their full potential.
Above: The Earlsdale and it's neighbours on St Brannocks Rd, designed by W H Gould in 1885. Image by Lewis Daniels
Two of note are the Langleigh Park House and Beechwood on the Torrs.
Langleigh has a very interesting history - the original house being built in the late Victorian era as a 3-storey country home before becoming a guest house in the Edwardian era. It featured a solid stone construction, with large double-height bay windows to the front and a third floor with a dramatic steeply pitched roof. Sadly, it was victim to a devastating fire in 1926 which gutted all but the lower external walls. The house was promptly re-built with two storeys, the bay windows reduced to the ground floor only and the addition of two wings to the rear all topped by a large flat roof which was very much the the style at the time.
It then spent many years as a Bed and Breakfast / Hotel welcoming visitors for most of the 20th century. By the time the current owners bought the property about 5 years ago the house had fallen into a notably poor state - the roof evidently failing for many years transforming the structure of the house into a rather large sponge.
Since then, the current owners have embarked on a slow and meticulous restoration project to return the building to its former grandeur and plan to re-open their home for Bed and Breakfast accommodation in the next year or two. The list of works is almost endless, but working their way down they have completely replaced the flat roof, all interior structures including beams and steels, plus handmade wooden sliding sash double glazed windows are now present throughout.
The views from this stunning spot are arguably the finest in Ilfracombe and the house is looking magnificent.
Above: Langleigh Park House complete with new windows, bay roofs and repaired stonework and masonry. Image by John Pearce
Above: The magnificent view from Langleigh Park House. Image by Lewis Daniels
Beechwood, tucked quietly away on a secluded spot on the Torrs, fared much better than Langleigh and thankfully avoided any major disasters. Originally built as a large private home, it too, like so many others, became holiday accommodation for the majority of the 20th century. Again, by the time the current owners took on the building in 2020 it was in an unloved state and in need of investment, care, and attention to detail. This beautiful Marland Brick building is once again a proud family home and has had no expense spared on its restoration – a wonderful return to form with vast rooms, pleasingly huge sash windows and fully restored ironwork and guttering.
Above: Beechwood and it's fully restored sash windows and Marland brickwork gleaming in the sunlight. Image by Lewis Daniels
Langleigh Park House and Beechwood are just two examples where a new appreciation for Ilfracombe’s wonderful architecture sees the original features not only restored but clearly loved! Many other buildings in the town are undergoing works that retain and appreciate the original features that they boast. We have local tradespeople in the town that have the skill and knowledge to assist with such work.
Features such as wooden sliding sash windows are being preserved and restored as a new understanding of the benefits of wooden windows in general seems is growing in favour. Hopefully, the days of UPVC windows are coming to an end as more people are coming to understand that when cared for correctly wooden windows can last for generations and are easily repairable – whereas the common understanding that UPVC windows are zero maintenance and will last forever is simply not true. Wood is a renewable material and can be very eco-friendly with draught-proofing, secondary and double-glazed units now commonplace.
Above: New Wooden Sliding Sash windows being installed in Ilfracombe by Holger Meyer and his team at Real Craftsmanship. Image by Holger Mayer.
Hopefully, this admiration for our town's period properties and features will continue to grow and we can really appreciate the buildings, seeing them return to a state that can be enjoyed for generations to come.
By embracing it's rich architectural legacy, Ilfracombe has the potential to shine brightly, attracting more tourism and further investment for the future.
For information on Ilfracombe’s buildings, why not check out IBAC (Ilfracombe Buildings Appreciation Collective) on Facebook where I delve deeper and explore in more detail on a regular basis.