Annual Report of The SPAB - VI.

By William Morris

It will be seen from the following Report that the cases are very numerous in which, during the past year, the Society has taken action, either to induce the guardians of our ancient buildings to perform some necessary repairs, or in protesting against the falsification of old work which is often called "restoration."

The Society has engaged the services of a skilled professional Secretary, a great deal of whose time is taken up with the careful inspection of the old buildings which from time to time are considered by the Committee. They are thus able to offer to those under whose charge ancient buildings may happen to be, a careful report of their state, and advice as to the proper method of treating them. We are glad to say that there seems an increasing tendency on the part of parish clergymen and others to accept willingly, and even gratefully, the advice which our Society is able to offer. In several cases the Committee have visited or sent their Secretary to visit ancient buildings at the particular request of the guardians of the building.

But as, in no case, have more than the actual travelling expenses been changed by the Society, and very rarely even as much as that, it will easily be seen that this increase of activity necessarily involves an additional amount of expenditure, more, we are sorry to say, than the present income of the Society is able to meet.

On this account we are obliged to make an urgent appeal for further pecuniary aid. The minimum subscription to the Society remains as before, half a guinea a year, bit a good many of our Members pay a guinea subscription, and if all were to do so, it would not do more than just enable us to meet the increased cost of more prompt and active work, such as we are now trying to carry on.

The following cases, selected from the long list printed below, are given as examples of our success or failure during the past twelve months.

Blythburgh Church, Suffolk.

When the last Annual Report was printed the restoration of Blythburgh Church was not begun, and there appeared reason for believing that the advice offered by this Society might be well received. It will not be surprising if we have now to confess that any hopes of that kind were illusory. Nothing could have been more repugnant to the ideas of the Restoration Committee than the recommendations we finally laid before them, after taking great pains in the examination and re-examination of the building, to square our proposals to the exact necessities of the case.

Our ill-success at Blythburgh is another proof that the so-called restoration of churches is but a name for various ecclesiastical and ornamental alterations, not always possible without some economical pretext.

Blythburgh is a decayed, almost ruined, town. The church is a world too large for the present scanty congregation, who are so poor that for many years an income of £30, provided for the constant repair of the church, has been diverted to other, presumably, more important uses. The congregation, therefore, is quite unable to provide the funds required for an ambitious scheme of restoration, and is dependent, for carrying out the specification adopted by their Committee, upon the produce of bazaars, private theatricals, and the donations of strangers.

Under these circumstances, it might have been supposed that a moderate and carefully-considered plan for the repair of the building would have been gladly accepted bythe Committee. They, however, preferred the one which offered all the attractions of modern "cathedral glass," shiny encaustic tiles, new carving, and the ordinary paraphernalia supplied by the fashionable ecclesiastical tailors, though the estimate for all this was a minimum of £5,000, against the £2,000 for which the really necessary works might have been done.

It is characteristic of the restorations this Society so steadily opposes that, when, as at Blythburgh, the nave roof is the part requiring instant attention, the first money obtained is spent in quite needlessly making new windows. From cases like this, of which your Committee has always abundant variety before them, it is difficult not to regard most proposals for restoration with the greatest distrust. They seldom aim merely and simply at the repair, or even the "restoration" of the building, and the promoters are rarely willing to accept help sincerely offered for the purpose they profess, if it is at variance with their notions as to the right method of treatment for an old church.

Tower of London.

The Committee has noticed more than once the continued "restorations" at the Tower of London.

Many strange things have been done there, both in scraping ancient work and in new building, designed to give a medieval aspect to the residence of our Norman and Tudor kings. The most hardy of all the attempts in this kind is now in progress. It is nothing less than the creation of a new tower to replace that which for 300 years contained the private apartments of the king when he occupied the Tower of London. Not a stone of the ancient tower remains, nor is there any guide to its appearance beyond what may be assumed from the design of other towers built by Henry III. The oldest views of the tower show the King's Lodging after the extensive alterations and repairs made by Henry VIII., and they are so small in scale that nothing certain can be judged of the detail as it then was. It seems to the Committee that nothing is wanting to make this restoration ridiculous, unless it be the use to which the tower - its walls presumably 13 ft. thick - will be put. The excuse for the new building is the want of accommodation for the War Office officials.

Though the protests of the Committee have been energetic, they have, unhappily, been apparently quite fruitless. This modern essay in castle-building, made, it should be noted, by a Government Department, will stand on the site of an ancient building, and will offer itself as a reproduction of that building, though it can be nothing but an architect's toy, and, historically, of no significance whatever. On this ground alone, the Committee thought itself bound to protest, but we regret to say there is a much stronger reason for the intervention of the Society. The scheme of the Office of Works, under which the large warehouses fronting the river have been pulled down to make room for an office for a few officials, involves also the destruction of the little house known, for 150 years at least, as the "Record Keeper's Office." How much older the house is, it is not very easy to say. It has undergone many alterations, but its transformation from a medieval building in 1537 to a semi-medieval, semi-classic building in 1689, and to a more modern building in Queen Anne's time, can be clearly traced, with the help of various drawings and documents. Its alteration under Queen Anne is described by Strype, the editor of Stowe, in 1720.

Since then it has had very slight alteration: the panelled rooms and presses still remain, exactly as they are described by Strype; the shield and motto of Queen Anne are still part of the carved stone doorway, and until the records were removed to Fetter-lane, this house remained what Strype believed it had been since the time of Edward III., the "Record Keeper's Office." Sir Duffus Hardy, Sir Francis Palgrave, and Bailey, the Historian of theTower, worked there.

All these claims to respect are not sufficient to protect this genuine relic of the old Tower from the rage for medievalising which has been the bane of so many ancient buildings.

The Office of Works will pull it down to make room for their new sham 13th century Tower. This seems incredible, but such is, at least, their intention. The Committee has attempted every means at its command to obtain the safety of this ancient building, and to prevent the childish folly which the manufacture of antiques by a Government Department implies. We are all interested in that, whether we belong to this Society or not, but we cannot help fearing that sham medieval castle-building will, for a time, be more popular than genuine medieval remains will ever be. When a real love and appreciation of our priceless old buildings does at last awake among the English people, it will probably be too late - well-nigh the last of them will have disappeared, through constant neglect or silly attempts like this to commit large and elaborate forgeries in stone.

Mark's Tey Church.

In Essex, about five miles east of Colchester, is one of those interesting little buildings which catch the eye and hold the memory long after one has passed it in the train. One would think that such a landmark would be so carefully watched by its guardians that no injury should come to it from neglect. However, the visitors of the Society found it absolutely neglected, as if it were of no value. The 15th century tower at the west-end is very striking, having a brick and stone first stage, and the two upper stages of framed oak timber, sheathed with boarding, carrying a wooden oak-shingled spire surrounded with an oak-barred parapet at its base. In the church is an early 15th century oak-panelled font of fine character, partly mutilated in old times, but now constantly ill-used by being pierced afresh with nails each time the neglect of the church is thought to be covered by the usual almost childish festival decorations. This pleasant church is in a fairly sound state, but much wants attention from an architect who would understand its quality, and be able to think more of the building than of himself, and would repair it in a cautious and scientific way. The church is composed of the tower aforesaid, a Norman nave altered in the 14th century, and a chancel of which the character has been destroyed by "restoration."

Chipping Ongar Church.

In Essex, about twenty-three miles from London, is well worth a visit from those interested in seeing the use made by the Norman architect of Roman bricks, which must have been found in the neighbourhood. The church has a plain Norman nave and chancel, altered in the 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, and mutilated in the 19th. The walls are cobble built, and covered with roughcast. Where the casting has been removed, the skilful use of the Roman bricks, to form Norman architecture may be seen. The bricks, or tiles as they are often called, have added much to the strength of the walls. The nave-roof is of oak of the late 14th or early 15th century, and of good character. Framed in with it at the west end, with special timbers, is the support to a timber belfry; the bell-chamber outside the roof is covered with boarding, and capped by a lead-sheathed spire. The second most remarkable feature in the church is the roof to the chancel, which is evidently of the 17th century, and is said to have the date 1645 cut on it. It is both skilfully and prettily framed, is of high pitch, and has the characteristic ornamentation of its date.

This church was roughly treated in 1860-61, but at some earlier date two of thesupports to the belfry timber framing were cut away by someone ignorant of their use, and bad cracks in the south and west walls have resulted. The church is now menaced with enlargement and "restoration." It will be readily understood that to enlarge such a church is to destroy its peculiar character; and the Society is using its efforts to urge upon the authorities the necessity of building an additional church for an increasing population, as an addition to the size of the present fabric would soon again be out of proportion to the congregation, added to which the churchyard is small and crowded. This church, strange to say, has not been neglected; it has been roughly and ignorantly treated, but there are evident signs of care in its keeping.

St. Nicholas, Great Yarmouth.

The attention of the Committee has been frequently called to the condition of this, the largest parish church in England, and in September last it was visited, and a careful report was written upon the state of the building. It is greatly to be regretted that the style of "restoration" being pursued at this church is exactly one of those which "The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings" has from the very first denounced. It is one of that class of modernisations which, while it robs the building of all appearance of antiquity, does nothing whatever to secure it from decay. Thousands upon thousands have been spent upon "refacing" old walls, taking out old Perpendicular traceries, and replacing them by imitation "early work," stained glass, furniture, and coloured decorations of every description, while the absolutely necessary "underpinning" of the walls and foundations has been neglected; in fact, not only have these structural necessities been ignored, but in order to make the basement of the old parts uniform with the new, the ancient foundations have been uncovered and left exposed to the air; in one place they are absolutely propped up with wood. The fact is, that by the perpetual tinkering and tampering which has been going on for years, the bed of the old foundation has been broken through, and the whole building needs to be carefully shored up and the walls underpinned. This would be an expensive job; but instead of collecting money for this work, which will certainly have to be done sooner or later, money is being collected for a huge tower, which it is proposed to build at the west end of the church, and for the restoration of the south transept. It is greatly to be feared that the fine Caroline-Gothic window in the south gable end will be removed by this proposed restoration, while the western tower and cloister will destroy the whole character of the building. The Society in its report to the authorities of this church pointed out all these matters, but they regret to say that the answers received to their expostulations were not of a reassuring character.

Cowbitt Church, near Spalding, Lincolnshire.

The Vicar of Cowbitt wrote to the Society asking for assistance, and in his letter stated that he had been urged to pull his church down.

The Committee, upon receiving this letter, sent their Secretary to Cowbitt to examine and report upon the building. It has a well-proportioned, small 15th century stone tower, with delicate and highly-finished details, standing in picturesque contrast against the body of the church, which is also 15th century work, but built of old thin bed bricks, with stone dressings.

A detailed report was drawn up, describing how the building, which was in a very dilapidated state, should be repaired; and at the same time the Committee strongly recommended that oak should be used for all the new wood-work. The Committee alsourged that the proposal to recast the old bells should not be carried out, as they are of an early date, and the ornament and lettering upon them are very interesting. The architect, Mr. Teulon, has taken the deepest interest in the work, and has thoroughly supported the Society.

The Vicar, in acknowledging the report, stated that he quite agreed with the Society's views; and although he had great difficulty in raising funds, that he intended to do his utmost to carry the work out in accordance with the Society's report.

Rye Church, Sussex.

The Committee, through press of work, could no visit this building when the report that it was to be restored first reached the Society.

Upon visiting it, the restoration of the nave with its aisles was found to be almost completed. The whole of the surface of the little old work which had been allowed to remain was refaced, and the greater portion of this part of the building appeared to be new. There was not a single monument to be seen on either the floor or walls.

The Committee forwarded to the "Restoration Committee" a careful report upon the remainder of the building, which consists of a central tower, north and south transept, chancel, and north and south chancel aisles. The report stated what repairs the Society considered necessary, and at the same time offered some criticism upon the restoration which had already been carried out, urging that the unrestored portion of the building should be treated in a more conservative way.

An acknowledgement of the report was received from the Vicar, stating that the Restoration Committee had no more funds at its disposal, and that therefore nothing more would be done to the church.

This church is a sad instance of what so frequently happens. All the available money is spent on a portion of the building, a great deal of quite needless and even harmful work being done, while the remainder is allowed to fall into decay from "want of money."

Great Burstead Church, Essex.

The Committee caused a survey of this church to be made on hearing of its proposed "restoration."

It is a fine building, consisting of a nave and chancel, with an aisle on the south side of each, thus forming a parallelogram on plan. There is a tower at the west end of the nave with a timber spire. Both the north and the south doorways of the nave have a fine "Decorated" timber porch. An oak reredos at the east end of the nave, probably taken from one of the city churches, gives additional value to the building.

The Committee sent a report to the Vicar calling attention to the different points of interest in the church, such as the old benches, panelled ceiling, stained glass, &c., and at the same time gave suggestions as to necessary repairs.

The Vicar replied, thanking the Society for their report, and adding a suggestion concerning the repairs to the tower, which showed that he was giving the subject his careful consideration.

Peterborough Cathedral.

On hearing of the dangerous state of the central tower, a deputation of members visited, and, by the aid of the Dean of Peterborough, carefully examined the tower,accompanied by an eminent military engineer.

The case was a very difficult one, and one of most unusual importance.

After much careful thought and discussion, a report was sent by the Committee to the Dean and Chapter of Peterborough, urging them not to pull down and rebuild the tower, but to carefully shore it up, and then underpin, and cut out and replace, bit by bit, all the crushed stonework. The Committee had no doubt as to the possibility of this course, even though it might, possibly, have been the more expensive method of dealing with the matter.

The great beauty of the tower, and the feeling that when it is rebuilt, even with the old stones, it will be very different from its old state, made the Committee feel very strongly that it would have been worth while to spend the extra sum required to treat it in a conservative manner. Unhappily, however, the Dean and Chapter decided to pull it down, and the Society only has what poor consolation may be derived from the assurance that it will be rebuilt after the old lines, and not after a new and "improved" design, as was at one time proposed.

The Churches of Bishop's Cleeve and Stanley St. Leonards, in Gloucestershire.

have been carefully surveyed and reported upon. They are both buildings of great beauty and interest, needing some expenditure to keep them safe and free from decay.

The Society have done all in their power to urge on the guardians of these old churches the urgent necessity that some money should be spent in necessary repairs.

In the first case especially, repairs to the lead-work are needed to keep out the rain which pours freely in, and is rapidly destroying the fine oak Perpendicular roofs; and in the other case to strengthen the piers of the grand and massive Norman tower at the crossing, which show serious signs of failure. In cases of this sort delay is most lamentable; irreparable damage is being done, and the difficulty of dealing with the mischief becomes rapidly greater when the necessary repairs are put off.

Croydon Palace.

The Society reported on and wrote letters to protest against the proposed demolition of this valuable specimen of medieval domestic architecture, with its interesting private chapel. They are happy to learn that the Local Archaeological Society have taken the matter up warmly, and will probably succeed in preserving the building from destruction.

St. Crux, York.

All the repeated efforts of the Society have been useless to preserve this fine old building, with its stately tower. The practical demolition of this church is one of those acts which, frequently repeated in York, are rapidly reducing this grand old city - once one of the most beautiful and picturesque in England - to the appearance of a quite modern and commonplace town.

St. George's Chapel, Windsor.

The Society discovered with extreme regret that most serious acts of destruction had lately been committed on the outside of the chapel. The whole of the fine and richly-sculptured old stone bosses have been entirely cut away on the south side, apparently simplyfor the sake of inserting new carving of the most feeble and spiritless sort. The north side of the chapel still remains uninjured, and the Society have made a careful examination of its state, and sent a report to the Dean and Chapter, in the hope of saving what yet remains of the beautiful late Perpendicular carving and other ornamental features.

Kirkstall Abbey.

This extremely interesting specimen of early Cistercian architecture, most valuable as being the least altered by subsequent changes of any of the Cistercian abbeys, is suffering very much from want of protection from rain and weather.

The wet soaks in on the tops of the walls and the extrados of the vaulting, a great part of which has fallen in during the present century; and what remains will rapidly go too, unless some measures are taken to preserve it.

The Society has written letters to the owners of the place, and to others who might be interested in the abbey, in hopes of getting some money spent on coping for the ruined walls and roofing to shelter the vaulting.

As yet, however, nothing has been done, and the neglect of a few more years will probably destroy the greater part of what yet remains standing of this most beautiful specimen of 12th century architecture.

Church of St. Ives.

Some otherwise useful information was sent to the Society by a correspondent, but as the communication was anonymous, little or no use could be made of it.

Hampton Court Palace.

It is with extreme regret that the Committee have seen from time to time the stupid and needless acts of restoration which have been going on there - especially the cutting away from the wall-surface in various places the richly-coloured old bricks, on which the beauty of this grand old Palace so much depends. The patches of new brickwork, both in texture and colour, are grievously out of harmony with the soft richness of the general tint.

Kirkstead Chapel.

This most beautiful and quite unique little building - a perfect gem of Early-English Cistercian architecture - once an adjunct of the great abbey of Kirkstead, is now in imminent danger of becoming a complete ruin from the thrust of the vaulting which is pushing out the walls. This little chapel, which had become a parish church, is now disused. A very small expenditure would suffice to buttress up the failing walls, and preserve for many centuries more this priceless specimen of our Early-English work.

Bishop's Canning Church, Wiltshire.

The Committee, upon hearing of the proposed restoration of Bishop's Canning Church, and being aware of the great architectural beauty of the building, determined to send two of its professional members to make a survey and report on it.

The church is cruciform, with a fine central tower and spire. The nave has a Perpendicular clerestory, over a Norman-transitional arcade, with circular columns andcarved capitals. The carving of all the capitals, especially those of the responds next the tower, which is Early England, is most vigorous. The chancel, which is entirely groined in stone, has an Early English vaulted vestry on the north side, with a turret stair in the angle leading to a room above.

The south transept a few years ago used to have an interesting chapel on its eastern side; this has unfortunately been completely renewed and recovered with a deal roof. This transept has also received a new deal roof, and the wall over the arches on the east side has been pulled down in order that the roof might be fitted to a uniform centre. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the whole building is the Early English vaulted south porch, with its Decorated outer arch.

The Committee wrote to the Vicar, describing the repairs which the building required, and requesting his careful consideration of their recommendations.

The Vicar, in reply, gave as a reason for not entering into the subject with the Society, that his architect had spent much time in examining the building, and that the "Incorporated Church Building Society," thinking that too much was going to be done, had sent an architect down to report, who, when asked if too much was going to be done, replied "No, the Vicar's architect seems fully to appreciate the building." The report given to the "Incorporated Church Building Society" by their architect has since been seen, and it is found by no means to give unqualified approval of the scheme of restoration.

The Vicar declined to lend the drawings and specifications to the Committee, but said they might be seen at the Vicarage. One of the Committee accordingly went down, and on his return reported that a considerable amount of wholly unnecessary and lamentably destructive work was included in the scheme of restoration. The south wall of the porch, with its beautiful Decorated arch, and consequently a part of the early vaulting, was to be rebuilt. The west wall of the north nave aisle, which contains a small Norman window, and a straight joint showing the width of the Norman aisle, was to be rebuilt on account of a crack in the wall. The upper part of the tower was to be rebuilt and the parapet renewed, and nearly all the buttress weatherings were to be either rebuilt or renewed.

The Committee is now doing its utmost to save the building from this destruction, but as the work has actually begun, it is feared that damage will be completed before pressure can be brought to bear on those carrying it out.

Leigh Church, Hertfordshire.

The Committee sent their Secretary to survey Leigh Church within a fortnight of its being reported to the Society.

This building is among the many instances where the Society's opportunities of doing good, by giving timely advice and persuasion, are frustrated by the report being received too late. It was found that the most interesting part of the Church, viz., the nave and tower, had already been taken in hand. All the fittings were gone from the nave, a new wood and tile floor had been laid down, the old rough cast was removed from the external face of the walls, and the whole has been repointed. The probabilities are that in due course of time the rough cast will have to be replaced or the walls will require refacing, for the stone facing is of such a soft description as to be incapable of standing the weather; moreover, it is clear, from its exceeding roughness, that it was never intended to be exposed to view. The original building, which consisted of nave, central tower, north and south transepts, and chancel, was of Twelfth Century date. Both the transepts have gone, and doorways, windows, buttresses, and a south nave porch have been added at subsequent times. The chancel is still untouched, and the Committee are doing their best to save it from the fate of the nave, and to persuadethe lay Rector to repair it in a conservative and careful manner.

Foreign Work.

In spite of the many difficulties that an English Society meets with in trying to preserve buildings in foreign countries, a considerable portion of their work in the past year has been devoted to the monuments in Arab art in Egypt, and various Italian buildings, such as the Monastery of Ara Coeli, Rome, the Mercato Vecchio and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, with other buildings.

In Egypt, matters are more hopeful; the interest which once was limited to the monuments of ancient Egypt is being extended to the perhaps equally valuable remains of Moslem art in its greatest perfection, in which Egypt, and especially Cairo, is so rich.

The Society has thankfully to acknowledge important aid in this matter from Miss Amelia B. Edwards, M. Arthur Rhoné, of Paris, Mr. Reg. Stuart Poole, and Mr. Stanley-Lane Poole.

With regard to Italy, they have received much assistance from their valued and influential local correspondent in Rome, Signor Onorato Carlandi. The destruction of the whole of the Mercato Beechio, one of the most picturesque remaining portions of old Florence, is apparently decided upon, and there is much fear that the old houses on the Ponte Vecchio - an important part of the general design as planned by Taddeo Gaddi - will be pulled down, in order to lighten the weight on the failing piers; instead of what might easily be done by any skilled engineer, the underpinning and strengthening of the foundations, which have been partially undermined by the scour of the Arno.

List of Buildings for the Preservation of which the Society has worked during the past year.

Foreign Work.

Bibliographical Note


Annual Report of the SPAB - VI (1883).


1. 6 June 1883: Before the Annual Meeting of SPAB held at the Society of Arts, John Street, Adelphi, London. Sir John Lubbock, M.P., was chairman.


1. The Times, 7 June 1883, p. 6.


1. As `Report of the Committee' in SPAB Report, 1883, (London 1883), pp. 7-30.

The reference to this piece of work in the Chronology