What is going on in Imperial’s estates department?

His department is £9million in deficit, he wants to make 20 people redundant and he is seeking to ‘outsource’ much of the work traditionally done by members of estates staff. And, as our pictures show, David Brooks Wilson, Imperial College’s well-connected director of estates, also seems to have taken his eye off the ball when it comes to the day-to-day maintenance necessary for the upkeep of a historic set of buildings.

Perhaps the ancient campus of Wye College is just too far from London, perhaps there simply isn’t the money available to keep the buildings up to scratch or maybe there really is something else altogether going on here. But, whatever the reason, many of the buildings that comprise the historic heart of the village are in a state of disrepair — from those that simply need a lick of paint to those, like the historic farmstead at Coldharbour, which are in a shocking condition… a condition that must raise searching questions about Imperial College’s stewardship of this ancient estate. Having seen the disappearance of agricultural studies and some respected staff members from Wye College, are we about to witness the slow collapse of some of the built environment before a single planning application for a steel and glass building has even been submitted?

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to run a little series of pictures — taken by the few remaining members of staff at the college — that pose the question: what is going on in the estates department of Imperial College? We start this week with Coldharbour, one of the four historic farmsteads that make up much of the college’s Wye estate. In many ways, its condition is the most shocking of all of Imperial’s buildings in Wye. Although it is not listed, the main house is in a sad state indeed: windows are broken, damp seems to penetrate every wall, the roof is sagging and covered in moss and rot affects much of the joinery.


It has lain empty for more than two years and, over the last couple of months, workmen have gutted some of the interior. Until two weeks ago, a huge skip sat outside and contained the library of one of the principals of Wye College who used to live in this impressive building. Perhaps the workmen were unaware of the significance of the contents of this house? Perhaps they were unaware that many view the disposal of books — many of them highly personal — in such a way as nothing short of scandalous, particularly in a village that boasts the most comprehensive reuse and recycling organisation in Britain. Never mind, the books were rescued before they could be carted off to landfill.


Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz is planning to turn Wye into a world leader in environmentally-friendly research. We simply ask: is tipping the contents of a historic house into a skip destined for a hole in the ground or an incinerator a particularly ‘green’ thing to do?

We would be delighted to receive other photographs from within the campus. If you have some that you want to display, please use the contact link at the top of the page.


About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome, Pieter Vos in Amsterdam, adaptions of the Sarah Lund stories in Copenhagen, and versions of Shakespeare worked for Audible.
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6 Responses to What is going on in Imperial’s estates department?

  1. David Hewson says:

    I look forward to someone telling me what is happening to the estate at Withersdane which, in 1960, was described as ‘one of the most charming middle-sized gardens in England’. This was thanks to Mary Page who, according to Imperial’s own website, was ‘a former Swanley Horticultural College student who was to serve the College for three decades as lecturer in decorative horticulture. Her artistry and application created a set of gardens of immense interest, beauty and academic significance, while also giving students direct access to the management skills required to maintain them.’

    What a sad comparison with the picture we see today. It seems to me Imperial have already abandoned Wye in all but name. Perhaps they’re waiting for the place to become so decrepit we’ll all thank them for replacing it with concrete.

  2. Dave Hayes says:

    I am employed by Imperial college on the Estates Department and also a villager of 30 years, but have no authority to speak on behalf of Imperial college. However your report does seem to be unbalanced, Imperial have put resources into repairing historic buildings in the Wye campus The Old Fly, The Old Vic and The Old House at Withersdane. One of the villages prized events is the farmers market on the college green which has two of these properties adjoining it. without becoming embroiled in the development of the colleges vision ( i await to see plans etc.) I do feel that we should not loose site of the fact that the buildings were in a state before Imperial took on the Task of rescuing the Wye campus.

  3. jack woodford says:

    Regarding Dave Hayes comments on various properties owned by Imperial College,at a recent Point to Point Meeting, the Wye Beagles had an enclosure with the Beagles on show…was Dave Hayes Department responsible for banning these delightful little creatures from being assembled on the Green, whenever a Wye Beagles chase took place? Again they were part of the rural charm of Wye, before Political Correctness, and the ban on Rural Sport came into place..what will happen to this part of Wye Tradition when the Science Park comes into being?

  4. Dave Hayes says:

    Jack, As i pointed out i have no authority to speak on behalf of Imperial college, I am only an employee and only passed comment on what i felt was a fair point. I really do not want to become embroiled in bitter political accusation’s. by the way do the Beagles go round with dog mess bags?

  5. David Hewson says:

    Thanks for that Dave – I think it’s very nice of you to take the time to comment here, and I’m sure it’s widely appreciated.

    To tackie your final point though… as far as I’m concerned beagles don’t go round with brains, let alone dog mess bags. And I am now introducing a ban on the topic of beagles and hunting everywhere on this site!

  6. James Gibson says:

    As a 3rd year student at the college studying agriculture, i was very sad to see that upon returning to college today that horrendous new plastic directions signs with the Imperial College logo splashed all over have been put up all over the college buildings.

    Despite the obvious requirement to have directions for visitors unfamilier with the maze like design of the college, I am sure that something could be have been put up in better taste. Some very attractive wooden signs were only recently added to certain parts of the college.

    The new signs are literally everwhere, even in the historics quad by the dining hall and in the corridor leading towards the chapel, the blue and white plastic monstrosities can not be missed.

    My point of writing here is not only about how the signs change the image of the college, but after the news of Mr. Brooks-Wilson wishing to reduce college estates costs after announcing the £9million deficit, surely this could be seen by most as a complete waste of money, not something which is of great urgency.

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