Annual Report of The SPAB - III

By William Morris

The work of the past year has differed little from that of the previous one, except in two notable instances, which will be referred to presently. The Committee have, as before, received information, written letters of enquiry, protest, and advice, sometimes with obvious and encouraging results, sometimes with nothing apparent to show for the trouble. The Society is, doubtless, becoming well known, and the Committee believe its principles are taking root, and especially, they think, are influencing the great body of our Architects; a course of events which is both very encouraging and what might have been expected.

The Society has by no means lacked the support of the Press during the past year; articles advocating its principles have been not unfrequent, and the columns of all the leading papers have been most generously thrown open to letters and explanations whenever necessary.

Nothing can be more hopeful than the fact that a Society having a similar aim to this has been set on foot in France, under the auspices of M. Guillon, and Honorary Member of this Society.

Before going further it may be well to quote a few of the most interesting cases in which the Society has taken action:-

Chesterton Church, Near Cambridge.

Mr. Naylor, one of the Churchwardens, wrote to the Committee, asking them to use their influence in preventing the carrying out of a very damaging plan of so-called restoration which has been talked of. Mr. Basil Champneys hearing of this, very kindly offered to report on the Church; this report, a most careful and interesting document, being printed in the local papers, and extensively circulated, had the desired effect of putting a stop to the scheme of restoration.

St. Germain's Cathedral, Isle of Man.

This Church, which forms part of the romantic and curiously interesting ruins of the Islet of Peel, is itself a complete ruin, though its dismantling is of comparatively recent date. This latter fact, doubtless, operated in pressing on a scheme for thoroughly restoring it, and making it the Cathedral Church of the Island. The Committee wrote a letter explaining their objections to the scheme to Mr. Gladstone, who on his visit to the Isle of Man had spoken in favour of the restoration; and later on the Honorary Secretary, being in the Island, had an opportunity of pressing the views of the Society both on the Governor and the Bishop. He found that several influential and intelligent people on the Island were by no means in favour of the scheme, and thought on the whole that opinion was against it; nothing has yet been done to carry it out, and the Committee have good hopes it will be dropped.

Aldborough Church, Suffolk.

The Committee did not hear of the proposed restoration of this Church until it was just about to be begun. Two Members of the Committee then viewed and reported on it, and the Rector was written to on the subject, and as the result the scheme was greatly modified.

Prestbury Church.

The attention of the Committee was called to this interesting Church by the Society's local correspondent in Staffordshire. The views of the Society were then placed before the Restoration Committee of the Church, a meeting of which a Member of this Committee was deputed to attend and explain those views more fully. Letters from Members of the Society were published in the local papers in answer to those who supported the restoration, and, in consequence, the opinions of some of the Restoration Committee were much altered, and the scheme of repair changed for the better.

Studland Church, Dorsetshire.

The Vicar and Churchwarden wrote to the Committee for advice as to this Church. The Committee sent down a Member to view the building and report upon it; it turned out to be a most interesting, though small Church, of Norman style, with a groined chancel, and was, in some respects, in a dangerous condition. An elaborate report was made, fortified with careful measured drawings, as to the practical means to be taken for preserving the Church from destruction, without subjecting it to restoration. This report was sent to the above authorities, who were quite in sympathy with the Society on the subject, and will form the basis of any work they undertake; so that the building may be considered to have been saved by the good sense of the Vicar and Churchwarden, aided by the work of the Committee.

The Society received information that it was projected to pull down five pre-Reformation Churches in Exeter for City improvements, by means of a short Bill in Parliament; but after some correspondence, in which the Committee offered to do all in their power to oppose the scheme, the Committee heard that such strenuous opposition had been made to it, that it had fallen through.

Malmesbury Market Cross.

The Committee being informed that it was intended to restore this beautiful and curious monument, wrote to Lord Northwick, the owner of it, pointing out the dangers of restoration. They received a prompt and courteous letter from his Lordship, asking them to send some one down to confer with his agent there; on this two Members of the Committee went to Malmesbury, saw the agent, and drew up a careful report of the state of the Cross, showing what repairs were necessary, which was sent to Lord Northwick, and will, the Committee believe, be acted upon, and save the building (one of the best of its kind in England) from restoration.

Very elaborate and accurate drawings were made by the Members of the Committee while they were about this work.

The Old Town Hall, Leicester.

A building which possesses some fine William and Mary carvings was threatened with demolition; but the Committee having taken action in the matter, it was saved - for the time, at least.

The Baptistery, Ravenna.

This most curious and valuable building it is believed has sunk into the marshy ground on which it is built, and it has now been proposed by the Italian Government to lift it bodily some three feet. The whole interest in this building lies in its Mosaics, which are both early and beautiful. The danger to these from such a process is obvious; besides, the restorers do not intend to rest content with simply raising the building, but they propose to extend their work and restore the decoration to the three feet of wall, which would be newly uncovered by this process, and this would sorely mar the genuineness of the whole monument. This little building seemed of so much importance to the Committee that they have ventured to address a letter of protest to the Italian Minister of Public Instruction and the Fine Arts, and are prepared, if necessary, to discuss the matter further.

St. Alban's Cathedral.

Members will bear in mind the opposition which the Society has made, though in vain, to the scheme of the high-pitched roof, and the restoration, at the expense of the Freemasons, of the Western Porches. Sir Edmund Beckett having offered to rebuild the whole West front, the Committee saw no other course open to them but to make one last protest to save what was still left unrestored of the Abbey. They co-operated with Earl Cowper and Mr. John Evans in opposing the faculty which Sir Edmund Beckett was applyingfor in the Bishops' Court. The Committee regret to state that their opposition was unsuccessful, and that Sir Edmund Beckett has obtained his faculty; and though the Committee have been informed than an appeal lies to a higher Court, they do not think it advisable under the circumstances to carry the matter further. The Committee cannot refrain here from drawing the attention of the Society to the fact that no tribunal exists in this country before which any proposal for the alteration of a public and national monument can be dealt with, from the point of view of the effect such alteration may have upon it as a Work of Art or an historical monument.

This last is one of the two cases mentioned above in which the Committee has undertaken work different in character to what usually lies before it. The other case is that of St. Mark's at Venice. In October last the Society received information from a correspondent that the west front of the Church, which had long been vaguely threatened with restoration, was now and immediately to be attacked and rebuilt. The Committee felt that, however delicate was the task of appealing to the Minister of a Foreign Country on such a subject, it had no choice but to act at once and vigorously in the matter. Therefore at a crowded meeting of the Committee it was resolved to memorialize the Italian Minister of Instruction, and the memorial was drawn up and offered for signatures, while members of the Committee attended meetings at Oxford, Birmingham, and elsewhere, which were held to protest against the rebuilding. These proceedings, as far as attracting both notice and sympathy in this country were concerned, were successful beyond the most sanguine anticipations. The memorial was signed by 2,000 names, including those of the most distinguished persons, by position, in the country, in statesmanship, literature, art, and science. The press discussed the matter in the amplest and most open way, and in short at home public opinion was thoroughly roused. Of course this could not fail to have its effect in Italy, where to a certain extent it was misunderstood, and supposed to indicate ill feeling towards that country: a supposition quite without foundation, we believe, and which the Committee guarded against from the first by the careful wording of all its communications. At any rate the movement excited so much attention in Italy that the Italian Ministry published, through the columns of the Times, what amounted to an official declaration on the subject, the purport of which was that the information about the rebuilding was wrong; that the whole subject was already under reconsideration, and taken out of the hands of the local authorities to be lodged in that of the central Ministry; that it was generally understood how disastrous the last restoration - that of the South Front - had been; and that this one would be conducted in a different and less sweeping way. At first sight this statement seemed so satisfactory as to set the matter at rest for a long time to come, though the Committee's information had been both definite and from the most reliable sources. Subsequently, however, Mr. J. J. Stevenson, one of the Society's Members, Mr. Street, and other Architects visited St. Mark's and communicated with the Society. Mr. Street's letter, which he kindly allowed to be made public, appeared in the Times. Mr. Stevenson will address the Annual Meeting on the same subject; therefore all this Report need say further is, that experience abundantly confirms the views of this Society, that all restoration of the front is totally unnecessary. The Committee regret to have to add that it appears to be the present intention of the Government to carry out the restoration of the West Front by rebuilding it - a project which it was hoped they had finally abandoned, according to the terms of their communication to the Times already referred to.

City Churches. - The Committee are glad to be able to inform the Society that none of these interesting buildings are at present threatened; the City Church and Churchyard Protection Society is doing good service in watching over their condition, and it is confidently hoped that public attention has been once for all roused to this important subject.

The Committee have also taken action in the undermentioned cases:-

The Committee beg to call attention to the good service which their local correspondents have done. For example, Mr. Hadfield, at Sheffield, was successful in getting the old Font Cover at Rotherham Church replaced. Mr. Whytehead of Nunkeeling, near Hull, has been active in opposing the restoration of Hedon Church. And amongst others may be named, Mr. Ferguson of Carlisle, the Rev. A. V. Walters of Winchester, the Hon. Percy Wyndham, M.P., of Salisbury, and Mr. J. Davenport, of Malmesbury, as being very active in obtaining information for the Committee in their respective districts.

The Committee take this opportunity of reminding Members that local correspondents are much needed by the Society, since it is not uncommon that, through the lack of them, news of proposed restorations reaches the Committee only after everything has been decided on, when it is practically too late to do anything more than make a protest.

The Committee have to announce that it has been thought desirable to add three Hon. Secretaries to the original one, the business of the Society being often very heavy and various. Mr. Eustace Balfour, the Hon. R. C. Grosvenor, and Mr. C. G. Vinall have consented to act in this capacity, which it is believed will expedite the despatch of business.

Members will note that the great activity of last year, especially that which took place about St. Mark's when so much had to be done in a limited time, has burdened the resources of the Society heavily. The Committee therefore urge earnestly upon all Members the necessity of their using every endeavour to increase the numbers of the Society's subscribers, as the only means by which the resources of the Society can be steadily raised, and its influence efficiently secured.

N.B.- The Committee wish to draw special attention to the Publishing Fund which was started about two years ago by Mr. Coventry Patmore, but which has become a dead letter through want of funds. The Committee will look to the money that may be received for this fund to issue the Quarterly Reports, which, owing to the financial position of the Society, they have been unable to do up to the present time.

Bibliographical Note


Annual Report of the SPAB - III (1880).


1. 28 June 1880: Before SPAB at the Annual Meeting held at the Society of Arts, Adelphi Street, Adelphi, London. Mr. Stanley Leighton, M.P., was chairman.


1. As `Annual Report' in Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. The Third Annual Meeting of the Society, (London 1880), pp. 10-18.

The reference to this piece of work in the Chronology