Hounslow Cavalry Barracks: Bringing Heritage to the People

26 Oct 22

The site is a Conservation Area containing 14 listed buildings, 19 locally listed buildings, and 2 buildings considered to be ‘positive contributors’.


Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t stop going on about Hounslow Cavalry Barracks and probably never will. The project has drummed up a complex network of issues for our client, Inland Homes, to solve – from affordable housing to transport and sports facilities. And from a heritage view, it has presented a unique challenge.

The site is a Conservation Area containing 14 listed buildings, 19 locally listed buildings, and 2 buildings considered to be ‘positive contributors’. In this context, achieving a unanimous Resolution to Grant for 1,525 new dwellings with only a tiny handful of objections has been quite a journey.

The Cavalry Barracks is a fascinating place with a 225-year history, but its closure as a military facility not only meant change was both inevitable and necessary, but also posed a significant question: how do you create a liveable place from somewhere that was designed to be hostile with utilitarian, defensive buildings, and vast, windswept, hard-surfaced open spaces?

Undoubtedly, something would be lost or changed but the site needed to deliver; for a borough partially within a world heritage site, and run through with Green Belt, Metropolitan Open Land, and historic estates, 14.4 hectares of brownfield land is not to be sniffed at.

So how did we incorporate the site’s multi-layered heritage in the new development?

The answer was simple: take the focus away from quasi-academic assessments of heritage and focus on creating a sense of place and identity for the new residents, interweaving the site’s history into their daily lives.

The strategy promotes ‘time travel’ through the site, with new buildings sited, and vistas and desire lines created, to take visitors on a journey through time, past buildings and spaces from different historical periods.

Character areas capture different aspects of the site’s history too, including the domesticity of those areas where soldiers lived with their families, whilst imaginative and themed play space and a significant interpretation strategy weave their way throughout the development.

That said, there was some debate as to whether new built form could be introduced into the Parade Ground, a historically important but desolate space three and a half times the size of Trafalgar Square. This never materialised, suggesting a conflict remains between heritage considerations and human ones in retaining such a vast expanse (although part of it now plays a role in providing sports fields to satisfy Sport England requirements).

For this project, the key to success was creating a cohesive and coherent strategy that recognised that the site’s character was not entirely consistent with creating a good place for people, and that creating a sense of identity wasn’t exclusively dependent on retaining this historical fabric. The result is a scheme that truly delivers for Hounslow and will undoubtedly create somewhere that people will live with a full understanding of how their home came to be.

Laurie Handcock Director,Built Heritage and Townscape