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'Ruins need protecting'

Cllrs Wassell and Clarke are right to draw attention to the state of the 12th century ruins of the Hospital of St John the Baptist/later Royal Grammar School in Easton Street, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, now in private hands (Bucks Free Press, October 15 - ‘Grotty ancient monument needs clearing up, Cllr says’: Page 16).

For the last year High Wycombe Society has been concerned about the litter around the ruins whilst considering how to make this historic feature more visible to the public. 

Having contacted the owners in regard to the litter it was discovered that a landscape maintenance company visits the site fortnightly to clear up the site. The site is currently reasonably tidy.

However, there are 8 trees on the site whose roots are growing up against the walls and where some lower branches are bashing part of the structure whilst, in spring/summer, leaves obscure the scene. 

At the same time if a gale blows down any of these trees the ruins could be severely damaged.

For these reasons, earlier this year HWS notified Buckinghamshire Council of intended tree works to progress discussions with the owners’ agents with a view to enabling taking down 4 of the trees.

The whole plot is part of a conservation area and when we submitted the above notification to remove the trees to the council, their reply was to place Tree Preservation Orders on all the trees. 100 year old trees, it seems, are far more important than 800 year old ruins.

Yet the article in the BFP last Friday states that Historic England believes that the ruins are a ‘rare example of a mediaeval hospital surviving in a town’. 

So it begs the question as to why these rare and important ruins have been allowed to be hidden away behind a screen of green, almost forgotten and unloved for so long.

If the ruins were given the prominence they deserve they would attract much local interest and perhaps even national acclaim. 

They would also provide a stunning entry to the town for those coming in along the London Road. Not only that but the trees partially hide another building of character just behind which was the successor yellow-bricked Royal Grammar School built in 1883 and which later housed the High Wycombe Technical Institute where many of Wycombe’s furniture manufactures and designers were taught.

Heritage assets are an irreplaceable resource and it is important to conserve them in a manner appropriate to their significance. 

If these ruins had been in York, Chester or London surely they would never have been allowed to become infested by trees.

The HWS recognises the importance of preserving trees to reduce the rate of climate change and would be prepared to consider planting double the number of any trees removed in an area designated for planting by Buckinghamshire Council.

Willie Reid, Trustee, High Wycombe Society