22nd Jul, 2017

Behind the scenes of Old Toll House restoration

THE OLD Toll House in Stratford may be one of the town’s most historic buildings – but it was a complete failure in its day.

Built in 1814, attached to the Clopton Bridge, it was only used as a toll house for 25 years before it was decided it was not making enough money and was shut down.

The likelihood was the building would have been knocked down had it not formed part of the actual structure of the bridge itself.

As it was, the he Cox family moved their timber yard next to the toll house and took on the building as office space until they closed in 1991.

Since then the toll house has stood empty and falling into disrepair as a near constant stream of traffic passes by crossing the river, damaging the roadside brickwork with pollution, while the rumble of HGVs shakes the ageing structure.

But the Toll House now has a championn in the Stratford Historic Buildings Trust (SHBT) which has raised £440,000 needed to carry out the restoration of the 200 year-old building.

Only three per cent of listed buildings are given Grade I status like the Old Toll House which has helped SHBT swiftly move the project along in the past three years.

Project manager Chris Rice told The Observer: “Stratford Historical Buildings Trust was set up to deal with this building and the money has come primarily from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic England.

“Fundraising was easier because the building was Grade I-listed and therefore ‘at risk’ because it was so run down. It’s taken us three years to get to this point which is relatively quick.

“We’ve built a small modern extension where there was a wooden lean-to which had all but fallen down by the time we started work. It will be timber clad higher up so it’s in keeping with the rest of the building.

“The original building was made from Warwickshire sandstone which is a rubbish, soft stone. We’re using sandstone from Northumberland which looks similar, is harder and also still quarried.

“We’re also using Woodkirk from Leeds higher up on the building too. We needed stone which is sympathetic to the toll house but is also harder and that we can get hold of.

“The toll house was staggeringly unsuccessful. It had stopped being a toll house by 1839 because it didn’t make enough money.

“At this point James Cox moved his timber business here and created what we call Cox’s Yard. The yard finally closed in the early 1990s but for most of its life the toll house was the office for Cox’s Timber Yard.

“The river was an industrial area originally. Riversides have been gentrified now but they were traditionally working areas – there wasn’t a theatre until 1880.”

It is hoped the Old Toll House will be reopen at the end of June.