Nursery staircase illustrates social segregation

An inspector refused to authorise the removal of a nursery staircase from a Devon country house because it would fail to preserve its special interest.

The grade II* listed house was built in the mid 19th century. The inspector remarked that as an isolated country house it would have been more or less a community in itself. He held that its significance lay beyond just the dramatic and striking public rooms, and that the service wings also contributed to an appreciation of how the entire building would have functioned.

The staircase was of simple construction and the parties accepted that it was probably to allow children, their nannies and family members to have access between the school room on the ground floor and the children’s bedrooms and nursery above, without the need to mix with visitors in the more formal parts of the house. As it was less utilitarian than the servants’ staircase this reflected the fact that it was intended to be used by servants and family members alike.

The appellant commented that attitudes to children had changed. To the inspector’s mind, however, this weighed in favour of the staircase being retained, as it reflected a culture that could otherwise not be appreciated.

The inspector acknowledged that the nursery stairs constituted a fire hazard as they provided a channel for smoke to rise from a newly formed family room on the ground floor to the first floor landing. He found, however, that it had not been shown that removal of the staircase was the least harmful way of addressing the hazard.

Inspector Jeremy Sargent; Hearing

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