Much of central Leamington is designated a Conservation Area, defined in the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act as anywhere that is “ … of special architectural or historical interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance”. The Civic Amenities Act 1967 introduced the concept of conservation areas before being superseded by the 1990 Act. Conservation areas are decided by the Local Planning Authority (Warwick District Council for Leamington) who may add extra conservation areas over time.
The conservation areas of Leamington are extensive and varied in style. The northern end of Brunswick Street, some of which dates from the early development of Leamington as a spa, is deemed as worthy of protection as Kenilworth Road with its grand villas or the Regency terrace of Lansdowne Crescent.
Leamington’s history can be traced through the development of such neighbourhoods. The remarkable early growth of the original village followed the discovery of a second mineral source by William Abbott, which he exploited commercially by building a bath house above the new well. The use of the first mineral spring remained free to the poor at the insistence of the Earl of Aylesford, on whose land the spring was located. Later building of privately-owned bath houses led to the transformation of Leamington into a fashionable and busy spa. At about the same time, the Birmingham to Napton canal, which had opened in 1799, enabled the ample supply of coal and other necessities for the growing spa and its visitors. Development followed, both north and south of the canal.
The area now called Old Town grew up south of the River Leam in the early 19th century. Charlotte Street is an example of a grand terrace built at the start. The elegant hotels of Bath Street, High Street and Clemens Street catered for the accommodation and entertainment of visitors to the new bathing establishments. In Clemens Street the Apollo Rooms were built as an Assembly Room and library. Plaques indicate the sites of former bath houses. The Parthenon in Bath Street was opened in 1821 as the Lower Assembly Rooms.
The decision to develop land north of the river prompted the growth of the Parade. The new Pump Rooms and Baths were opened in 1814 and the Regent Hotel in 1819. The Upper Assembly Rooms were built on the corner of what is now Regent Street. New Town streets were laid out as a grid but with no overall plan for the buildings themselves, in type or design. Plots were simply marked out for acquisition by builders, who developed the sites as residential dwellings or for visitor accommodation. Sections north of Regent Street were not completed for some years. As late as the 1830s plots in Upper Union Parade remained empty. During that period, areas to the north and north-west of the Parade were being designed: the whole of Clarendon Square, with its imposing classical terraces, by the architect of Mayfair, PF Robinson, was subsequently completed by different builders. Clarendon Square is one of the most important conservation areas in Leamington.
Holly Walk runs between Regent Grove and Hamilton Terrace to the east of the Parade. These roads have an interesting mix of buildings; from the early days of the Spa, late 19th century and 1960s functional office buildings. Both sides of Upper Holly Walk contain imposing villas built in the 1830s by the important local architect William Thomas.
Between Upper Holly Walk and Willes Road are Lansdowne Circus and Lansdowne Crescent, also built by William Thomas. These were rented out to visitors coming to the spa for the season. Both Lansdowne Circus, composed of identical semi-detached houses built around a central communal garden, and Lansdowne Crescent, a grand classical terrace, retain beautiful original ironwork.
Other areas were developed later: Kenilworth Road between 1830 and 1858; the Library and the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady in Lillington, both Grade II listed buildings, were 20th century.
Conservation areas are subject to additional planning controls to ensure the protection of the area’s character and appearance. Many of these areas also contain individual listed buildings which are subject to further restrictions.
In 2018 land straddling the canal running through Warwick District was designated a conservation area – preserving it from unsympathetic development along this historic and much-appreciated waterway. WDC provides a full description of the (2007), and of the Leamington Urban Conservation Study, and of the Canal Conservation Area (part 1) (2018).