Church Commissioners are treating a valued piece of heritage as if it were a shopping mall.
Rose Castle, Cumbria: once home to the Bishop of Carlisle, and still a jewel in the Church’s property portfolio.
During the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell took a dim view of Rose Castle, the Bishop of Carlisle’s palace in Cumbria. One of the occupants had been rash enough to fire a cannon as he passed by, and so he burnt it. But thanks to the efforts of Georgian and Victorian divines, it recovered from the disaster and entered the 21st century as one of the most precious jewels of the Church Commissioners’ portfolio. But the Puritans are back. Despite a report two years ago by the then Bishop of Carlisle, stating that Rose Castle admirably fulfilled its purpose as a “see house”, it is now seen as surplus to requirements. Cavaliers fear its sale will be considered at a meeting this month.
We all know that the Church Commissioners have a chequered record where property is concerned. During the 1990s they gambled on the market and lost £800 million. Recently, though, they’ve been doing better, and in April reported that their investments had grown by 15 per cent in 2010, bringing the value of their fund to £5.3 billion. So the money to find an appropriate solution for Rose Castle ought to be there. But the organisation is so focused on the bottom line that it has been treating the bishops’ residences – some which, like Rose Castle, have ancient associations with the Church – in a shabby manner. If the Church Commissioners were City bankers, Dr Rowan Williams would be up in arms. But to the prevailing orthodoxy, the idea of the Church owning “palaces” – even cold, under-furnished ones – is an embarrassment.