The Church of England is looking at selling off some of its finest palaces to save money. Rebekah Oruye visits Bishop's Palace, in Hereford.
Steeped in history, the lavish Bishop's Palace has been the grand home of Hereford's bishops for centuries.
But now, this fine palace, parts of which date back to the 12th century, could be put up for sale as the Church of England searches for ways to make savings, including the sale of historic, residential homes for its bishops.
The Palace, situated between Hereford Cathedral and the River Wye in Hereford, will be among one fifth of the 44 see houses that could be sold off within a year, as they are costly to maintain and often fall short of environmental targets.
Although the Church Commissioners could not give details on expenses at individual residences, in 2008, £7.3m was spent on maintaining all the official residences, many of which are listed as heritage properties or historic palaces. The bishops’ also claimed £351,894 for heating and lighting the old buildings, and £177,961 for gardeners’ pay and minor repairs.
In 2005 the church adopted a policy of reviewing the suitability of each palace when the incumbent bishop turns 62, in order to allow time for a smaller replacement house to be found when he retires at 65.
Hereford’s incumbent bishop Anthony Priddis will be 62 later this year, and his residential home will be reviewed together with those in Derby, London, Chichester, Gloucester, Liverpool, Merseyside and Wakefield.
Hereford Bishop's Palace, itself a listed building, has many quaint features unique to it’s long history within the town.
The premises are accessed through a coach house – built so that horses could enter with the bishop’s guests. To the rear is a courtyard, used by a handful of private businesses and well-tended gardens.
Inside the palace, there is a 12th century hall, now used for social functions and concerts. An original oak floor lines the central hall that was given a makeover in the 1700s.
As well as the Bishop’s home, the palace houses his offices and those of the Diocese, which are under a separate lease agreement.
Diocesan spokeswoman Annie Holden said: “It’s a beautiful aspect in which to work, everything is close-knit, the bishop’s office and church are all within easy access.”
“It’s only been the last 10 years that people have started asking why we are maintaining this expensive building. It’s still early days, but we do take it on board and we have been thinking about ways we could make the building more effective.”
Hereford Bishop's Palace has already begun adapting it’s facilities for use by the general public.
Ms Holden said: “We are already seen as being at the forefront of the use of historical buildings in the 21 century. We opened a village shop behind the church and have set up the first ever library with a lift access in the tower.”
“It is a listed building so there are restrictions as to what can be done with the building.”
Although the palace has been home to the town’s bishops for hundreds of years, Ms Holden said there would not be a “complete resistance to change” if it was decided that the location would be moved.
“There will be lot of heart searching to do before moving out. But, this is not a purpose-built modern office, there are times when we think could we run more efficiently in a purpose-built building.
“The Church was here yesterday, will be here tomorrow and will be here in the future.”
So far, 30 see houses have been reviewed to check their condition and determine whether they still provide value for money. Future plans for the residences include being transformed into hotels, apartments or museums but the church may struggle to find buyers because of the building’s listed status and the presence of tombs or chapels that cannot be removed.
While the future of Hereford Bishop's Palace is being reviewed, a campaign has been set up in Worcester to retain the heritage of a former bishop’s residence and keep developers at bay.
Hartlebury Castle Preservation Trust, formed by the Friends of Hartlebury Castle and the Hurd Library, have been offered the chance to buy the prestigious castle from the Church Commissioners.
Sue Beeson, chairman of the trust, said it was imperative the building remained in its present form “to benefit the community and future generations”.
She said: “We want to keep it as a heritage and cultural centre to benefit the whole community. The castle is unique as it houses the Hurd Library – an 18 century library belonging to the bishops. If the castle was sold to a private developer other than the trust, they will have to move the books whereas we are committed to protecting the books.”
The trust has to raise £2.5million and it hopes for a decision in weeks.