William Morris

Speech Seconding a Resolution to Establish a Fund for the Repair of Ancient Buildings

Ladies and Gentlemen, - I was rather surprised to find my name put down as the seconder of this motion, because, to tell you the truth, for the last six or eight months I have been rather remiss in my duties in attending the committee-meetings of the Society. However, I have been conscious of a good deal of what has been going on, and it seems to me we have been going on in very much the usual way. We have, however, scored one great success - I mean, in connection with the Charterhouse. It does seem to me, and to most of us, that the original scheme of the people who wanted to destroy it was one of the most audacious attempts at robbery of the public that has ever been attempted, and that it ought to have been treated harder than it was. I am only sorry that the Bill was withdrawn, and was not rejected. As usual, there has been a great deal of work in which we have been defeated, and unfortunately there is also a deal of work going on which does not come under our notice, in spite of all our attempts to discover it. It is done in a sort of hole-and-corner way, and we know nothing about it. Of course, that must be so until we have the whole of the public with us, and until they can be aroused to a due sense of the importance of preserving these buildings. Nothing short of that will make us in any degree safe even in regard to buildings which everyone admires, far less in regard to the very important but little-noticed buildings which are nevertheless so very valuable all over the country. We have not got to that point yet, and we have a good deal to do before we get there, but I say flatly that whatever other important work there may be to be done in the world, if anyone has taken pains over one of these ancient buildings, considering the history, the art, and the general sense of humanity in it, - if anybody has spent the greater part of his life in protecting and preserving even one of these buildings, he, at all events, may say he has not lived without trying to do something. Therefore, I think we ought each to do some one thing of the kind. As to the suggestion of the Chairman, that came with a kind of surprise to me, knowing that we have had some difficulty in getting funds for the work of the Society even as it is. Still it is just possible that in an affair like ours, when you take in hand a larger work and appeal for help towards it, people will be encouraged by your attempt, and will support your wider scope and higher aim more than they would your humble work. They may think to themselves at present, "Oh, these people don't want much money to go about and visit a few old churches, but now they are taking up something serious, let us subscribe." But if we were to do any good in this way, it would want much money, as the case happens so often that people say, What are we to do? There are no funds to help us with. Yet certainly this often happens with small buildings, which are out of the way and disregarded, when two or three hundred pounds would save them. I should like to put a thumping tax on all restorations which take place, and to provide that the proceeds should be handed over to us to spend. That would be my suggestion to the country at large, though I am not, as a rule, in favour of things of that sort; but I think this is a case for rather severe legislation. Possibly, as we shall have a new Government in power in a month or two, I think we might manage to get up a party, and we might even return a member or two to Parliament, and in that way the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings would do more service to the country, by such a piece of legislation as I have suggested, than have been done by any other piece of legislation I have ever heard of in my time. You will excuse me making a joke of it, but really, considering the enormous sums of money that have been spent in destroying our ancient buildings, it does seem almost like a joke to ask the public now to give us a little money to prevent some good buildings tumbling down. If only a small portion of the money spent in destroying thehistorical value of many old buildings had been spent in preserving them, there would be no further use for this Society, and I should have been able to suggest that it now be dissolved. I now most heartily second the motion for the adoption of the Report, and must congratulate my colleagues on all that has been done. I know what hard work has been done, specially in connection with the Charterhouse, and Mr. Wardle must forgive me mentioning his name in that connection, but I think when we meet like this it is but due that we should recognise special services done during the past year.

Bibliographical Note


Speech Seconding a Resolution to Establish a Fund for the Repair of Ancient Buildings (1886).


1. 9 June 1886: Before the Annual Meeting of SPAB held at the Society of Arts, John Street, Adelphi, London. The Hon. R. C. Grosvenor was chairman.


1. The Times, 9 June 1886.

2. The Architect, 11 June 1886, p. 357.


1. [Untitled] in the SPAB Report, 1886, (London 1886), pp. 65-69.