Culverts denied protection status

A DECISION not to offer protection to an historic network of culverts under a picture-postcard village has been met with anger and disappointment.

Dave Gooderham

A DECISION not to offer protection to an historic network of culverts under a picture-postcard village has been met with anger and disappointment.

English Heritage said Lavenham's culverts - which run beneath the heart of the village - had not been ranked of sufficient importance for them to qualify for ancient monument status.

But heritage groups criticised the decision and claimed the sanitation tunnels - which they said were exceptional when they were built 500 years ago - played a vital role in the social and economic history of the village.

Jane Gosling, chairman of the Lavenham Society, said: “We are both angry and disappointed at this decision by English Heritage.

“These culverts are unique structures, undoubtedly of national as well as local significance.

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“They offer a glimpse into Lavenham's past and are as much a part of the town's historic environment as the timber-framed houses which cover them.”

Last year, community leaders called on English Heritage to safeguard the intricate web of tunnels - the picturesque village's first plumbing system which once carried water to and waste from the booming medieval wool centre.

Historians saw the network of brick tunnels, which fan out under much of the village, as a rare early example of municipal plumbing when sanitation was a rare and expensive luxury usually reserved for Royal palaces.

But their hopes of winning ancient monument status were dashed after English Heritage said there was some ambiguity about the route of the culverts and their history.

A spokesman for English Heritage said: “Our assessment a found inconclusive evidence of a single late medieval or early post medieval culvert running underground along the length of Water Street.

“The available evidence suggests that the culvert contains sections of later fabric and repairs. For a monument to be scheduled we must be reasonably clear about its extent and survival so that we might define the areas of constraint and ascribe significance. The culverts at Lavenham have appeared over time and we do not have a precise map showing their extent.”

The authority claimed existing planning policy ensured that the culverts would be safeguarded.

But Richard Ward, director of the Suffolk Preservation Society, said: “We find these comments quite alarming. If the culverts are not scheduled then they have no proper protection whatsoever.

“I don't agree that they are adequately protected through planning procedures and English Heritage seems to have raised more questions than answers.

“These culverts are absolutely important, particularly to the social and economic history of Lavenham.

“This needs to be given proper consideration so it can be preserved for future generations in the village.”

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