‘It cost me £5k – but I don’t regret taking a stand’

A pensioner who lost a court case against a developer over the destruction of a 400 year old plaster ceiling, says he has no regrets.

Barry Cash said he was so angry at the loss of the ornate ceiling in the former Big Chill Bar, at 15 Small Street, that he tried to sue the developer for “negligently impoverishing my architectural heritage”. 

His case was thrown out, but he says he’s glad he highlighted the loophole in the law.

The story started in August 2017 when Historic England planned to inspect the building, because they thought the 400 year old Jacobean ceiling might rate protection of listed status.

By the time the inspectors visited, the ceiling had been pulled down.

The developers were later granted permission on appeal to change the upper floors of the building into four student flats.

Last autumn, six years after the ceiling was demolished, Barry, from Bishopston, decided to take action – and brought a case in Bristol County Court against the building’s owners and developers Midas Properties, run by Giuseppe and Elaine Baio. 

In court papers he claimed “The Baios have impoverished my historical heritage and that of my descendents. 

“Our heritage matters to me and it matters to a dozen other citizens who have given statements expressing their loss and their outrage at what has happened.”

In documents submitted to the court, a solicitor acting for the developers “Midas Properties trading as G and E Baio” said the couple still owned the property.  

He said Mr Cash lives two miles away from the property and “has not been affected directly nor indirectly by the ceilings removal, and there was no duty of care or any other reason that might prevent D (the developer) from removing its own ceiling”.

Representing the developers, solicitor David Marsden of Freeths LLP said that “it is difficult to conceive of a claim that is more deserving to be struck out”.

In November 2023,  the court rejected Barry’s case, and ordered him to pay £5,000 to Mr and Mrs Baio.  

Despite losing, Barry told The Voice he did not regret the court action, as he hoped it would draw attention to the loophole.

“I get upset about injustice. At the time in 2017 there was a lot of fuss but no one actually did anything. A lot of these listings and orders are powerless, and no deterrent at all. 

“The risk is if you apply for a listing then people can smash up the building before the inspector gets there – the fines they might get are just a business expense.”

“I have been well stuffed, and now have £5,000 of costs, which I cannot afford on my £15,000 pension – but what else could I do?”

He has started a fund raiser – and so far has had more than £1,000 donated by well wishers to help with his costs.  

When the ceiling was destroyed, Bristol’s Civic Society said it was “deplorable”.  Historic England said it was “saddened” and confirmed they were about to inspect the ceiling with a view to giving the whole building Listed Building status. Both the Civic Society and Historic England said because the building had not yet been listed, the company that are carrying out the work have done nothing illegal or incorrect in the eyes of the law.

Marcus Binney, executive president of campaign group Save Britain’s Heritage said: “This is yet another tragic example of the failure to provide interim protection for buildings being considered for listing, giving owners and developers the chance to destroy important features before they can be fully assessed.

“The property at 15 Small Street in Bristol, is adjacent to the city’s Grade II*Guildhall. 

“Bristol today is largely a great Georgian and Victorian city, but it was a great medieval and 17th-century city too and survivals of the quality of the Jacobean ceiling at 15 Small Street should certainly be protected. “

The Voice has been unable to contact Mr and Mrs Baio for comment.

If you would like to help Barry pay off his legal costs – you can donate here: https://whydonate.com/en/fundraising/jacobean-ceiling-legal-costs