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Government confirms demolition of historic house Wantley despite opposition

Wantley, on Princess Street, North Hamilton (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A historic buildings charity clashed with the Government yesterday after it was confirmed a historic Hamilton house would be demolished.

A Bermuda National Trust spokeswoman said the Bermuda Housing Corporation, a government quango that owns the home, should have protected the site.

She was speaking after Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, said in the House of Assembly that groups that had launched a campaign to save the building should have done more to preserve it.

But a BNT spokeswoman said: “The BHC purchased a building of significant national importance in 2008 and was responsible for its care as it deteriorated over 13 years.

“The Minister has criticised the chorus of objections to Wantley’s demolition, apparently blaming those concerned about the loss of this piece of Bermuda’s heritage for not doing anything sooner to halt its demise.

“The only ones who can be considered responsible for today’s situation are those who had the duty of care for Wantley.”

Colonel Burch earlier confirmed that Wantley, located on Princess Street, would be levelled.

The house was the venue for a meeting with the founders of the Berkeley Institute in 1879 which led to the school’s opening in 1897.

The Berkeley Educational Society, set up to support the school, also launched a bid to save the house after it was realised it was under threat.

Colonel Burch said he understood the demolition was a sensitive subject, and the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation had worked to repurpose the building in early 2020 to make it into their headquarters.

A structural appraisal of Wantley was carried out after a fire last December.

Colonel Burch said that an overhaul of the building was recommended in a report and was the estimated cost was between $1.2 million and $1.3 million.

He added: “The report further stated that it would be more cost-effective to demolish the structure and rebuild than carry out these costly renovations.”

Colonel Burch added: “While the building's history was very much considered, in light of this information and the fact that the property was a health and safety issue for area residents and the adjacent Diabetes Association building, the Bermuda Housing Corporation took the tough decision to demolish the structure.

“An application for a demolition permit was made in April 2021 and approved in May.”

He said the demolition order received no objections, but work to tear down the building was halted after it was realised it was in a historic area and further approval was needed.

Colonel Burch said: “We note the new interest in saving the building following a lengthy period of silence in relation to the future of Wantley – we also note that none of the entities have any funding to support a renovation.”

He added that mouldings and other historic items from the house would be preserved and that whatever was built on the site would “recognise the historical nature of Wantley”.

Colonel Burch said: “It really is impractical for those who have a keen interest in retaining historical buildings to watch them deteriorate to a beyond salvage state – then raise objections to their demolition and simply expect the Government to fund their rehabilitation.

“The current economic climate does not allow for the funding of such projects when there are a multitude of critical initiatives that go unfunded year after year.”

But the BNT spokeswoman said: “Wantley was on the BNT’s acquisition list as a building of historical and architectural importance, a significant heritage asset – and one that was at serious risk, given its condition.”

The spokeswoman said the BNT had also estimated that it would cost $1.3 million to restore the building and the charity had approached the BHC to see if it would donate the property or lease it at a peppercorn rent.

But the charity said the BHC wanted to sell the house and land “at a price we could not afford”.

The spokeswoman added the BNT offered to assist the BHC in 2018 because the building was “seriously deteriorating”.

She said: “BHC told the BNT that renovations were being planned for Wantley, once work on Victoria Terrace, on the opposite side of Princess Street, was completed.”

The BNT spokeswoman added that because Wantley was not a listed building, the demolition order did not need to be advertised so there was no “public process” until it was realised that the house was in a historic preservation area.

The Berkeley Educational Society could not be contacted for comment.

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Published June 19, 2021 at 8:40 am (Updated June 19, 2021 at 8:40 am)

Government confirms demolition of historic house Wantley despite opposition

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