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Lancaster is a city of landmark buildings and one is preparing for a new life as a desirable<br/>place to live, writes Sue Riley

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Anyone driving along the M6 sees three iconic buildings as they pass the city of Lancaster. Perhaps the most memorable is the Ashton Memorial, the folly in the park built by one of Englands wealthiest men and a place much loved and visited by Lancastrians.

The newest on the scene is Lancaster Universitys copper-clad Infolab which since its completion in the mid 1990s has won a handful of design
awards but divided local opinion. And the third is the citys former asylum, the Moor Hospital whose foreboding Gothic exterior is certainly striking, but for many in the north holds unhappy memories.

Writer Alan Bennett is no fan of the place where his mother and aunt were
both patients. Lancaster Moor Hospital is not a welcoming institution. Seen from the M6 it has always looked to be like a gaunt grey penitentiary, he wrote in his memoirs.


For more than 10 years the building has lain empty but now thats all
changing as the governments Home and Communities Agency which owns the site has invested 3million for essential infrastructure work to take place. Two property developers have been selected to create up to 440 homes on the site and the first apartments and houses will be ready by the autumn.


Manchester-based PJ Livesey is undertaking the conversion of the main
building and nearby Campbell House into more than 100 apartments and 22 houses and Carlisle-based Story Homes will be building new family homes on the 20 acres of parkland adjoining the site.

The overall contract is estimated to be worth 67.8 million. We will see what the market wants. Research has shown that at the present time theres no demand as such, we have to create a market. We do not do the average type of apartments, we put our type of identity on them, said Pete Livesey, managing director of PJ Livesey.

The company has worked on five previous asylums and is confident that
once work starts, peoples poor memories of the Grade II listed hospital
will diminish. The outside of the building has all the grandeur. People
relate to the large windows and high ceilings, living in Victorian buildings
does tend to appeal to people, Pete added.


They plan to develop the whole of the annexe in stages. Some of the flats will have internal balconies overlooking the courtyard which will be newly tiled and fountains installed and there will also be the chance to live in the imposing tower with its narrow spiral staircase leading to two rooms measuring five metres square. At present it houses a quarter-ofa- million gallon water tank but the developers say they will turn the tower into some form of accommodation and are open to ideas.


The other key area is the former dining hall which is being transformed into two apartments with a large communal area left to celebrate the original Waring and Gillow wooden roof trusses which are being revealed for the first time in decades. PJ Liveseys technical director Ralph Brocklehurst had seen a picture of the original room in all its glory and
wondered if the curved trusses were hidden underneath the ceiling. They
were. Behind two noticeboards they have also uncovered original fireplaces which will be fully restored.

No prices have yet been revealed for the houses and flats but its safe to speculate they will be substantially higher than the cost of the entire building when it was created in 1882 the princely sum of 125,000.

Designed by Arnold W Kershaw, it was built as an extension to the existing asylum (at the time Lancashire was one of the most heavily populated counties in England and among the first to open a county asylum) on the other side of Quernmore Road. Whereas the original building was based on a country house it now forms the centrepiece of Standen Park, an exclusive housing estate the extension built on the citys racecourse is symmetrical and Gothic.

The new building had 825 beds with female wards, kitchens, padded cells and a tunnel underneath the road linking the two hospitals. Campbell House was added in 1909 and during the war it was used to house mentally ill naval officers and ratings but for many years before it shut was used primarily for elderly patients.

So far on site buildings have been demolished and land cleared. The interior of the main annexe is being stripped of all its modern partitions, bathrooms and operating theatre; asbestos and dry rot which has pervaded the building is being dealt with.

Livesey was also applying for listed building consent to turn part of the main building into apartments which should be completed by the autumn. The first new build homes in the grounds, which are offsetting the cost of the conservation work on the Victorian building, should be ready around the same time and Story Homes are in charge of the masterplan for the site, including organising community consultation.

Deborah McLaughlin, North West Executive Director at the Homes and Communities Agency, who has been working alongside English Heritage and Lancaster City Council on the project, said: The longer we leave this site the more it deteriorates.


Unlocking publicly-owned sites to speed up the delivery of housing developments is a key priority.


I know the developers are keen to deliver a scheme that meets the needs and aspirations of local people, creating much needed affordable homes that will have a positive impact on the local community.


And for Ralph Brocklehurst its more than just a building project, he is a real enthusiast about the building and has been reading up on its history.
He has even saved some original wallpaper dating from when the building was first opened which he is donating to the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. Its a surprisingly calm place, not what I expected, he said.

Presumably thats exactly how the developers hope would-be buyers view the place too.

Tall stories about Lancaster

Originally planned as a 100 foot tall tower, Forton Services, now re-named Lancaster Services, was the only service station in the world with a tower-top restaurant until the high rise eatery was closed in the 1980s. There were reportedly complaints soon after it opened in the mid-60s that the restaurant distracted drivers because it looked like a UFO when it was lit up at night. The tower was given Grade Two listed status by English Heritage late last year.


The Ashton Memorial in Williamson Park, which acclaimed architectural historian Pevsner called the grandest monument in England, was commissioned by lino magnate Lord Ashton as a tribute to his late wife, although he had re-married by the time building work was finished and is said to have changed his mind and dedicated it to himself.


The words scientist and dinosaur were coined by Lancaster academics, William Whewell and Richard Owen respectively.

Where it is: Lancaster stands on the A6 near junction 34 of the M6. There are regular rail links with Preston, Kendal and further afield and if you have a sat nav, LA1 1XD should take you to the city centre.


Where to park: There are long and short stay pay and display car parks around the city centre and an ultra-secure multi-storey near the castle.


Where to eat:
You wont go hungry in Lancaster the city has a wealth of cafes, restaurants, delis, bars and pubs.


What to do: Theres so much on offer. Visit the Grade One listed castle, the Ashton Memorial in Williamson Park and the citys museums.


Where to find out more:
Log on to www.visitlancaster.co.uk.

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