Back to the old school: victory secures future of 15th-century classrooms

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The Independent Online

The future of a crumbling grammar school and a 15th-century house were secured last night when television viewers voted them winners of the BBC's Restoration programme.

The future of a crumbling grammar school and a 15th-century house were secured last night when television viewers voted them winners of the BBC's Restoration programme.

The Old Grammar School and nearby Saracen's Head on King's Norton Green, a medieval enclave in the suburbs of Birmingham, will get more than £3m in funding to restore them to their former glory.

More than 750,000 votes were cast as the winning bid was whittled down from the 20,000 historic buildings at risk nationally and the 21 highlighted during the television series. The actor Griff Rhys Jones announced the winner to a passionate, banner-waving crowd at Hampton Court Palace in London.

The winning buildings will receive a £2.5m National Lottery Fund grant and £506,000 raised from telephone voting. Carole Souter, director of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: "A lot of lottery tickets were bought to raise £2.5m. I think it is great so many people have had a say in how it is spent. I know that everyone associated with The Old Grammar School and Saracen's Head will be delighted. The real work starts here."

The Old Grammar School, a decaying timber-framed structure, is on English Heritage's "at risk" register. It operated as a school for more than 200 years before falling into neglect at the beginning of the 19th century. Repairs were made in 1910 when a new external staircase was installed and again in 1951 after vandalism and further decay had taken their toll.

The nearby Saracen's Head is thought to have been the largest house of the royal manor during the 15th century. Currently used as parish offices and structurally intact, the house boasts highly decorative medieval workmanship. The sophisticated building techniques confirm that the property held high status.

The winning bid beat off rivals which included a Yorkshire cotton water-mill with the oldest turbine in the world still in situ, and the Archbishop's Palace in Charing, Kent, a palatial over-night stop for upper echelons of the clergy travelling between London and Canterbury.

Andrea Miller, the programme's executive producer, said: " Restoration captured the imagination of the nation last year and this year has done the same with communities from all over the UK getting behind their local buildings and rallying support. The Old Grammar School and Saracen's Head has done incredibly well to win in the face of fierce competition but in a way all the buildings are winners as the series does so much to raise their profile and create interest in their future."

The programme, in its second series and produced by Endemol, the makers of Big Brother, has again produced an urban winner that has trounced rural competition. Last year Victoria Baths in Manchester was triumphant but has since been criticised for a series of delays which means restoration work has yet to start.

Last night's winner is steeped in local history. The school's most famous headmaster was Thomas Hall, a hard-nosed, puritanical Protestant who took up the post in 1629. His legacy was one of the largest libraries in the country which is now housed in Birmingham Central Library.

It was through Hall's staunch teachings and high moral attitude that the school became one of the best in England. Hall's achievement comes in spite of him being at odds with the locals - he was a Puritan in a Royalist enclave during the Civil War.

The wife of Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria, stayed at the Saracen's Head on her way back from Yorkshire after gathering troops for the Civil War. The devoutly Catholic Queen arrived at King's Norton in July 1643 with around 5,500 men and spent the night in what is known as the Queen's Room, while her troops slept on land behind the church.

A 12th-century church also stands on King's Norton Green. Both the Old Grammar School and the Saracen's Head are now owned by King's Norton Parish, which lacked the funds necessary to restore the buildings.

THE RESTORER'S CURSE

Manchester's derelict Victoria Baths triumphed in last year's inaugural series of Restoration.

Viewers were told the building, which once had three pools, a Turkish bath and an Art Nouveau interior, would be brought back to its old splendour.

But 11 months later work has yet to start. The BBC is preparing an information pack to explain the delay to exasperated supporters.

No work can begin until plans are finalised for the £18m renovation of the entire site. This includes a business plan for re-opening the main pool which may mean part-development for flats.

The delay is made worse by the number of funding bodies to satisfy, including English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and tight conservation rules.

Last year's losers could be restored faster than the baths, as some have now been awarded Heritage Lottery grants.

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