Old meets new in perfect harmony

In a historic town such as Ludlow, new developments tend to be looked upon with distaste. But with a little careful thought, aesthetic considerations need not suffer when it comes to providing high-quality housing

A new building in Castle Square, Ludlow - by general acclaim one of the finest preserved 18th-century townscapes in Britain - was always going to arouse a certain level of local interest. But no one quite expected the furore stirred up by plans to replace a beautiful - but sadly unsaveable - Georgian townhouse with a contemporary stone-and-glass structure, albeit one drawn up with classical proportions.

The normally contented burghers of one of England's most blessed towns deserted the tables of the town's three Michelin-starred restaurants, its charming collection of antique shops and book stalls, and revolted. Eventually, the council was forced to reject the proposed modern "monolith" and insist on the construction of a facsimile Georgian façade. But, cunningly, the original plans for a daringly modern apartment block have also survived. The result is an extraordinary architectural trompe l'oeil where you would least expect it.

Few disputed the fact that Ludlow, now one of Britain's top property hotspots - prices rose by nearly a third last year - needed high-quality, town-centre living space. The town's remarkably intact historical centre offers a wealth of stunning, listed houses ranging from modest cottages for £150,000 to some of the finest Georgian properties anywhere in the country for over £1 million. But until now, the only flats available were small, modest properties above shops for rent from commercial landlords.

Surprisingly for a town of such wealth and architectural distinction, Ludlow also lacks really top quality hotels. The problem has always been the lack of development sites within the historic centre. Number 18, Castle Square, only came available because unusually, English Heritage engineers and others declared the existing building unsafe and even beyond rescue. It was therefore, in extremis, pulled down.

Now it has been replaced by 14 up- market and unapologetically contemporary apartments behind a highly convincing Georgian-style frontage overlooking the square. These enjoy views over Ludlow Castle and the Stretton Hills from the rear through an almost entirely glazed back wall.

The council's conservation officer, Colin Richards, has kept a close eye on construction, to ensure that every detail of the façade mirrors genuine Georgian Ludlow - from the profile and width of the window glazing bars to the insistence that the front door should be to one side of the building rather than at the centre.

The frontage is composed of local hand-made bricks faithfully laid in "provincial Georgian" style - but the rear wall, tucked away out of sight of the square, is a modern symphony of glass and steel. While the front sash windows mirror exactly in style, shape and size those in the other Georgian properties in the square, those at the back reach from floor to ceiling to maximise the light and views.

The Welsh slate roof is an exact copy of local Georgian houses - but the chimney pots cleverly conceal the internal lift shafts. There are original railings on the outside - but on the inside the flats are decked out with the usual array of Smeg ovens, Grohe bathroom fittings and Bisque radiators expected in a high-quality contemporary development. No room for ranges here.

"There was a huge public reaction against the original modern scheme," says Richards. "What the townsfolk emphatically wanted was a seamless repair of the square, rather than, as they saw it, a modern cuckoo in a Georgian nest. What we didn't want, however, was a loose pastiche. That's why we went to such pains to ensure the details were right."

The façade is almost finished and recent visitors have found it difficult to pick it out from the genuinely Georgian buildings either side, one of which is also part of the development. "The locals seem to like it and to be very interested in the apartments," Richards adds. "These reflect what people want today - an affinity with our heritage and national heyday, offering stability and familiarity, but also the creature comforts of the 21st century.

"There has always been a tradition in Ludlow for the façade of a building to have a different date to the interior. Many of the fine townhouses in Broad Street and Mill Street, for instance, simply had their Georgian frontages bolted on to old half-timbered buildings at a time when Ludlow was growing wealthy on the back of its glove-making industry. We are, in a way, simply following that tradition while also supporting modern architecture."

Three of the first apartments to be completed have just been released onto the market. A three-bedroom flat with four "Georgian" windows to the front and plate-glass windows to the rear in two of the bedrooms, is on the market at £375,000. One of the one-bedroom flats is housed entirely in the modern rear of the building (£175,000); the other (£160,000) just overlooks Castle Square at the front.

Later there will be a penthouse with balconies, which is expected to set a record for the Ludlow property market, as well as more modest one-bedroom apartments (one with a courtyard garden and annexe suitable for an office or master bedroom). There will also be one studio apartment, and a couple of two-bedroom duplexes. Prices for these properties have not yet been released, but are expected to be high.

"Apart from locals who want to downsize from large Georgian houses but remain in the centre of town, we expect to hear from buyers interested in a holiday or weekend retreat," says Kevin Boulton of estate agents Lane Fox (01584-873711), who are jointly handling the sale. "Frankly, this is the only chance to buy a good apartment in the centre of Ludlow. There aren't, and won't be, any other sites like this."