The unique interior of a historic Small Street building has been destroyed by developers intent on turning the premises into student flats.
Rare Jacobean plaster work dating back to 1620 survived for centuries inside the former Big Chill Bar, but was reduced to rubble in moments on Wednesday, when contractors reportedly took sledgehammers to the ornate ceiling and ripped artefacts from walls.
Recognised as an important survivor of Bristol’s heritage, the building was being considered for listed status, but the historic ceiling was demolished before Historic England officers visited the site.
A spokeswoman for Historic England confirmed they had received an urgent listing application for 15 Small Street last week.
She said: “We understand a significant amount of the elaborate Jacobean ceiling was deliberately removed and destroyed yesterday, before we were able to see inside the building.
“We are continuing with the listing assessment but are saddened that this important 400-year-old feature has been lost for future generations.”
Legally, the developers, Midas Properties/ G&E Baio Ltd, are within their rights to alter the building, even if under assessment for listing.
But the actions have met with widespread condemnation across the city, as people expressed sadness and disbelief that such an important piece of the city’s heritage could be destroyed so quickly.
Bristol City Council’s cabinet member for housing, Paul Smith has recently called student accommodation a ‘get out of jail’ free card for developers because of its lack of requirement to provide affordable housing and has backed calls for the sector to be regulated.
On Wednesday (August 30), he tweeted about the fate of the Small Street building:
“It’s very regrettable that a building this age has been damaged like this,” said the chair of Bristol Civic Society, Simon Birch, expressing amazement that the site was not already listed.
“Now it looks a bit late because most of it is gone. Why a developer would want to destroy something of such historical importance is beyond me. It’s a heritage building in the heart of the city and we deplore such destruction. It seems a shame to risk that for student accommodation.”
The incident has provoked a storm of outrage on Twitter, with some commentators asking if the city is intent on destroying all of its historical buildings and others calling for those responsible to be fined.
An application from Midas Properties for the building outlines plans to re-arrange the interior, including the important surviving space, to incorporate five student flats, plus communal living areas.
The developer states in the application: “No external changes to the building are proposed and there will therefore be no impact on historic significance of the Conservation Area or surrounding listed buildings.”
But Bristol’s Conservation advisory panel sought to have the building listed and Historic England were in the process of assessing the site.
Reporting the destruction to Bristol24/7, Martin Thomas said: “The interior of the historic parlour room was littered with heaps of debris from the 400-year-old decorations where they had been wrenched off the ceiling and walls.
“Once again another irreplaceable part of Bristol’s heritage has been deliberately destroyed for private commercial gain.”
A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “We are disappointed to hear reports that damage has been caused to 15 Small Street.
“Unfortunately, under national planning legislation, if the building is not listed, the council has no powers to stop this kind of damage. We are continuing to process the owner’s planning application alongside Historic England who are reassessing the building’s status.”
Bristol24/7 attempted to contact Midas Properties for comment, but was unable to get through to the company at the time of publication.