The Committee has had a very busy year since it presented the last Annual Report to the Members. It must be acknowledged that it has had to protest against several schemes for the mere unnecessary or wanton destruction of ancient buildings. But it is not to be supposed that the fact of these being more in number than usual has any significance, as showing backsliding in public opinion; on the contrary, there are hopeful signs of the impression which the Society has made in this matter, which will be mentioned in the Report. On the other hand, the Committee feels itself compelled to repeat the warning it gave last year to those who care about our ancient monuments, and to beg Members, and the public in general, to note that this matter of the preservation of ancient buildings is one of those cases in which there is no time to spare. Every year in which the ultimate aim of the Society - namely, the complete conversion of the public to its views - is still unfulfilled, is replete with the greatest dangers to our ancient buildings. Every year which leaves the guardians of these buildings ignorant or careless of their duties, adds to the list of those irreparable losses to art and history which cultivated people are now beginning to perceive and deplore, but which they are too often quite powerless to prevent. The Committee therefore urges on Members, and all those who agree with its principles in the main, to further those principles actively and busily, since with all that has been destroyed or falsified there are still left, even in this country, many genuine works of ancient architecture, not one of which, it must be repeated, is safe until our principles are generally acknowledged and acted upon, even in remote country places in England.
The following cases, typical of their kind, or of special importance otherwise, are extracted from the long list which the Committee has been busy upon during the current year.
This very stately window, in the great Norman arch at the west end of Tewkesbury Abbey Church, contains a whole epitome of architectural history.
There is distinct evidence of three windows in the styles of various periods having existed there, and though the tracery was rebuilt and partly renewed in the seventeenth century, yet in the main it follows the grand old lines of the Perpendicular work.
Many of the members of the Tewkesbury Restoration Committee were anxious to remove all the tracery, and substitute an imaginary reproduction of a Decorated window.
The Society, through one of its local secretaries, wrote letters to the Times, and the Abbey Restoration Committee, protesting against so wanton a piece of destruction, and we are glad to be able to state that this stupid scheme has been abandoned.
At the request of the local correspondent, a deputation of the Society visited Wimborne, and reported fully on the state of the piers of the great central tower, which were showing signs of failure. The Society sent to the architect in charge a list of recommendations as to the best way of preventing any further failure. He, in a very friendly spirit, accepted and carried out the Society's scheme, with the happy result that up to the present time there has been no sign of any further damage.
Information being received that this very interesting specimen of fifteenth century domestic architecture was to be sold and pulled down, the Society put itself into communication with the Mayor and Corporation, and the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury. The result has been that the building is saved from destruction, and is now being repaired by a local architect, who very courteously acquiesced in, and promised to carry out, the views of the Society as to the manner in which the necessary repairs should be made.
The same architect had received instruction to restore this fine specimen of early Norman work, the tower of which was in imminent danger of falling. One of the Society's professional members visited the church, and a scheme of rational repair, rather than so-called restoration, was agreed on between him and the architect in charge.
The complete destruction of this grand old gateway formed part of a scheme of railway extension laid before the House of Commons.
The Society co-operated with the Dean and Chapter of Norwich, and the Society of Antiquaries, in protesting against this piece of vandalism. Those members of our Society who are members of the House of Commons were written to, and requested to oppose this clause in the Bill. The result has been successful. The Water-Gate is to remain untouched. The following letter on the subject was received from the Dean of Norwich:-
May 23, 1882.
SIR,- Owing to my absence from home, your letter of the 15th of April has only just been brought under my notice.
In the name of my colleagues and myself, I beg to thank your Society most cordially for the very efficient aid given us by them in resisting the proposed intrusion of a railway into our Cathedral Close, and to assure them that we consider the result (which was, in fact, the elimination of the objectionable clause in the Bill as the condition of its being read a second time) to be entirely satisfactory, not only in regard to our own Close, but also, we rejoice to think, in regard to all spots similarly circumstanced. If such a Bill was stopped in the Commons thus early in its career, what chance would it have (assuming it always to be vigorously opposed) in the Lords?
I remain, Sir, with renewed thanks,
Your obedient Servant,
E. M. GOULBURN,
Dean of Norwich.
The Secretary of S.P.A.B.
A deputation from the Society having visited this church, about to be restored by Mr. G. G. Scott, reported that it was of great architectural value, possessing among other things a very fine old Perpendicular roof, rich with carving and painted decoration.
A letter was addressed to Mr. Scott by the Committee, explaining their views as to what ought and ought not to be done, which Mr. Scott received in a very friendly spirit, expressing his agreement with the views of the Society in this instance.
Hearing that this church was about to be restored by Mr. Ewen Christian, the Committee sent two of their members to examine it. They made a full and careful survey, reporting that the church was a fine and interesting one of the characteristic Norfolk type.
The chancel was "restored" some years ago by Mr. Christian, who rebuilt and practically renewed the whole, leaving scarcely a vestige of its old beauties.
They addressed letters of remonstrance to him with regard to the proposed removal of the fine old Perpendicular roof of the nave, and the substitution of a modern copy; the excuse being given that the old roof was too much decayed to be preserved.
The Committee pointed out to Mr. Christian the means by which it would be undoubtedly possible to save the old work, however bad the decay might be, namely, the supporting the old decayed timber by a careful arrangement of bolts, straps, and other ironwork, applied in an honest, straightforward manner, without any attempt at concealment. A very unsatisfactory answer was received from Mr. Christian, who objected to the use of the iron suggested by the Committee, on the ground that this employment of iron was not medieval.
This church is a striking instance of what it is the main object of the Society to fight against. Many years of utter carelessness, and neglect to spend the small sums necessary to keep the wet out, have reduced the roofs to such a state that, as most modern architects would say, nothing short of complete renewal is possible. A large sum is then collected, under the pretence of saving an old building, the grand old roof is to be cleared away, and an expensive and worthless modern copy put in its place. The stupidity of such a course is apparent, as a fraction of the sum wasted on the new roof would have kept the priceless old wood-work safe and strong for many generations to come.
The fine old parish church of St. Osyth's, Essex, one of the largest in the county, is about to be restored at great expense.
A careful report on the church has been prepared by the Society, and a letter of advice to the Restoration Committee has been sent.
The appeal for funds issued by the Committee for the repair of the church, contains a sentence which, we hope, shows that the principles of our Society are making way. The public are assured "that careful `Preservation' is more the object aimed at than what is generally known by the name of `Restoration.'"
The Committee of our Society have co-operated to the utmost of their power with the Special Committee, formed to save this interesting building from passing into the hands of Westminster School. Their efforts to rescue it have not as yet proved successful: the house is in the possession of the School, and a good deal of interesting fifteenth and sixteenth century work at the western part of the house has been destroyed.
On hearing that the Benchers of the Temple were proposing to pull down these picturesque old houses, simple in design, pleasant in colour, and an unspeakable relief to the eye after resting on the new buildings lately erected by the Benchers, the Committee addressed a letter of remonstrance, and published several articles and letters in various periodicals and newspapers. Their attempts were, however, in vain; on the utterly false pretext that these buildings were unsafe, and could not be preserved, the work of destruction was begun, and is by this time probably complete.
The Squire and Vicar of this parish invited the Society to send a deputation to examine and report on the proper treatment of the church. This was done, and the work has been put into the hands of an architect recommended by the Society, who will, they fully believe, carry out their principles and advice in his treatment of the church.
Among the many disappointments met by the Society in their struggle to preserve our relics of art and history, none, perhaps, are more grievous than the hopelessness of attempting to prevent constant acts of stupid barbarism from being perpetrated by the University of Oxford.
In spite of all appeals both to the Town and the University; in spite of a memorial got up by our Society and signed by a numerous and influential body of men; in spite, in short, of the most energetic efforts of every kind, Magdalen Bridge is being pulled down, and rebuilt in a way that will utterly ruin the beauty of its proportions, and create a blot in what was once one of the loveliest street-views in the world - the entrance to the High Street of Oxford.
The authorities of Brasenose College have lately sold for old metal the group of sculpture which was one of the most characteristic features of their front quadrangle; a work of special interest, as being a copy from a design by John of Bologna, one of the greatest sculptors of the seventeenth century.
Beam Hall, opposite Merton College, a fine specimen of sixteenth century domestic architecture, is now threatened; and if things go on in this way, a few years will see the last of the many picturesque old houses which for so long made the streets of Oxford a picture of unsurpassed charm and quiet beauty.
A special committee has been formed to examine into and report upon the "restorations" proposed to be done by the Office of Works.
The Society, on hearing that this was about to be pulled down, sent two of their members to examine the place. They reported that the building partly consisted of a very interesting medieval hospital, containing a fine Norman hall and an Early English chapel.
Remonstrances were addressed to the governing body of the school, and letters werewritten to the local papers. The Society of Antiquaries was also appealed to for help in the matter.
We hope that our action in this case will be successful, and that this rare example of Norman domestic work will be preserved.
A protest has been addressed to the Dean and Chapter of Bristol against their proposed destruction of this fine old remnant of the Monastery of Bristol, once the Prior's house.
The local Archaeological Society has also been induced to take the matter up. Further action, if necessary, will be taken by our Society.
The Society has been for some time anxious to extend its operations to the Continent; especially to Italy, where there is more of artistic and historical value to be preserved than anywhere else in the world, and where the most barbarous and stupid destruction, under the pretext of restoration, is now being carried on with great vigour. The difficulties of any effectual action seem almost insurmountable, and the Society have as yet been able to do but little.
But while many of the Italians themselves appeal to us for help, and while we are constantly receiving news of fresh acts of wanton destruction, it is impossible to remain silent. Papers to explain our principles, and protest against such doings, have been written and translated into Italian and other languages, and will, we hope, soon be circulated widely in Italy and other countries.
Letters have been sent to the Khedive and to the Coptic Patriarch - the latter in Arabic - appealing to them to protect the remains of medieval Arab art and the interesting early Coptic churches. Favourable answers to both these have been received.
The following is a list of the buildings concerning which the Committee have taken action since the last annual meeting:-
At the beginning of the year the Society was much straitened in means, and even seriously in debt. After much discussion as to the means which should be taken to put the finances in a better state, it was determined to give a series of lectures on matters connected with art: several gentlemen kindly offered their services to the Society, and the lectures were delivered in the Kensington Vestry Hall. The Committee is happy to be able to say that theywere well attended, and that the receipts of money from them were considerable: the lecturers have consented to the publication of their lectures, and Messrs. Macmillan have undertaken their publication on terms advantageous to the Society.
In spite of this help, however, and of many generous donations to the funds of the Society, its income falls far short of what is requisite for doing its work satisfactorily. The personal inspection by competent persons of buildings threatened with restoration or destruction is almost always positively necessary before the Committee can address any protest, or give any advice to its guardians. To carry this out promptly and unfailingly is at present beyond the Society's means; neither is it rich enough to spend a proper sum in printing, so as to spread duly the principles of the Society by literature.
The Committee need scarcely say, that the only steady addition to our income must come from the increase of subscribers, and it is much to be wished that members would let our necessities be known to those that really wish to further our principles.
Our list of Corresponding Members is still very incomplete, and the Society loses many opportunities owing to this deficiency: the Committee appeals to members who have special knowledge and leisure, to remedy it.
The Executive Committee is not large, and the work, which is decidedly heavy, falls on a small number of workers: any additional help to those engaged in carrying on the business of the Society would be most welcome.
Annual Report of the SPAB - V (1882).
1. 9 June 1882: Before SPAB at the Annual Meeting held in the lecture hall of the Society of Arts, John Street, Adelphi, London. The Hon. J. Bryce, M.P., was the chairman.
1. The Times, 10 June 1882, p. 9.
2. The Architect, 17 June 1882, pp. 272-3.
1. As `Annual Report' in Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. The Fifth Annual Meeting of the Society, (London 1882), pp. 7-20.
The reference to this piece of work in the Chronology