ON July 22, 1968, a young, local playwright named Alan Bennett wrote to the Craven Herald.

His mission was to highlight what he saw as new builds in Settle to replace old people’s houses as having no imagination and called them “unsightly rubbish”.

Not pulling any punches he wrote: “Sir - The old people’s houses in the centre of Settle are now approaching completion and it becomes increasingly obvious what a blunder they are.

“A central area of the town has been gutted to erect a set of buildings utterly devoid of imagination and out of keeping with the rest of the town.

“What presumably happens now is that people will be moved out of condemned houses in Upper Settle down to these soulless dwellings, and Upper Settle will in turn be demolished and more such unsightly rubbish erected.

“Isn’t it time the council called a halt to this policy and looked at the situation again?

“Why is it not possible to renew many of the condemned properties and fit them out with bathrooms and lavatories? Is this more expensive than to demolish and re-erect new houses?

“Quite apart from any question of architecture or taste, the present policy is economically short sighted. Settle is a tourist centre. It won’t remain so for long if all that is left is a picturesque market place surrounded by a conglomeration of inferior modern dwellings.

“The town mist be considered as a whole, and quickly, before it is too late.

“Some time ago the community council rejected the suggestion that Settle should become a member of the Civic Trust, a body designed to assist local communities in preserving the appearance of their towns.

“The grounds for rejection of this proposal were that Settle could manage its own affairs quite well without outside assistance.

“The disappearance of the mounting steps shows that that was a rather over-confident view.”

Mr Bennett concluded that a step in the right direction would be for the community council to affiliate itself to the Civic Trust.

Within a few weeks of that letter appeared in the paper the Settle and District Civic Society was formed. Its successor organisations - the North Craven Heritage Trust, North Craven Building Preservation Trust and Museum of North Craven Life - will shortly be celebrating 50 years of helping secure North Craven’s Heritage. it all started with a letter to the Craven Herald.

Since then a number of key buildings in Settle have been acquired and preserved by the Building Trust, most notably The Folly. Zion Chapel is the latest building to be gifted to the Trust, ownership being transferred this year. The Museum has become a key attraction in the town. The Heritage Trust has widened its reach to cover the whole of North Craven, seeking to record and promote its history, providing talks and visits and giving grants to help refurbish over a dozen historic buildings from Burton to Kirkby Malham.

Over all these years Alan Bennett has supported the organisations. He was President of the Heritage Trust until 1993 and of the Building Preservation Trust until 2017 and has now written the foreword to a commemorative booklet which will be published later this month. He says: “Looking back fifty years on I am thankful I was undeterred and in common with a few concerned individuals woke up to the danger to the environment. In 1968 it was just in time.

“Though conservation was then very much in the air nationally, it hadn’t really got to Settle. Had our local building styles been grander or more picturesque there would have been less of a problem. But the unpretentious I8th and I9th century cottages which were so common in our area tended to be taken for granted and consequently undervalued. Hence the proposal, happily defeated, to demolish the row of cottages in front of Giggleswick Church and replace them with toilets and a car park.

“It was only when thanks to the efforts of the Civic Society the commercial sense of conservation was demonstrated with the restoration of Twisleton’s Yard and various other cottages in Upper Settle that the sheer common sense of conservation began to be accepted.

“I wish I could say that the battle has been finally won but one doesn’t have to go far to find unsuitable developments more suited to the suburbs of Leeds than the centre of a village in Craven. This will go on with ‘affordable housing’ offered as an excuse for over-intensive developments… though the ‘affordable ‘ element tends to be overlooked as soon as the planning permission is given and the building starts.

“The planning process itself is still weighted against conservation with proposed development at Hellifield Flashes a good example. The planning set-up is still weighted in favour of a developer who, faced with opposition, can submit an amended plan as often as is required with the opposition eventually worn down and the developer winning by a process of attrition.

“In the fifty years since the Settle Civic Society was founded conservation, while more popular, has not got easier. Our societies still deserve support. Nobody wants a suburban Craven. There is still a great deal to be done.”

The 50th anniversary commemorative booklet will be published later this month and will be available from The Folly and other outlets.