Report at the Second Annual Meeting - SPAB

By William Morris

In putting forth their Second Annual Report, the Committee feel that while they have undoubtedly to congratulate the Society on the progress made by its principles, the nature of their work is little altered from what it was last year.

It must be remembered that as so much of that work is of a negative character, is preventive rather than creative, it is not easy to show the obvious signs of success that attend some undertakings; while on the other hand the Committee are apt to see most of the discouraging side of the matter, because the greater part of their work consists in protesting and advising in cases in which there is not much hope of direct success, since such schemes have already gone far before the Society can get to know of them. Nevertheless these protests cannot be regarded as useless; in most cases there are some people concerned who are anxious for such support as the Society can give them, and, even in the worst, their earnest appeal to care and patience will often save something of value, and prevent the most sweeping changes; in the meantime even unsuccessful protests are sure to breed doubt in some minds that have not hitherto thought of the subject, and to make those already inclined to treat ancient buildings with reverence, more disposed to thorough care and forbearance in their practical dealings with them.

Taking these things into consideration therefore, the Society has, on the whole, no cause to be disappointed with the results of its work since its foundation. It is certain that the general tone of the public is decidedly more favourable to its principles than when it was first started.

Further on, in dealing with the principal buildings which the Society has had before it, examples will be found which tend to confirm this view of the matter. Meantime the Committee may call attention to the fact that the public press which, as noticed in the First Annual Report, has been from the first by no means discouraging to the Society, has of late been unequivocally in its favour; most helpful articles have appeared in the Daily News, Standard, Echo, Athenaeum, Globe, &c., which doubtless Members will have noticed.

Before proceeding to call attention to the cases above referred to, the Committee think it right to beg the Members of the Society to note that it is rather the custom of its opponents, at all events of the least well informed of them, to assume that the Society has no regard to the stability and good order of ancient buildings, that they rather delight in decay than try to prevent it. Certainly if there were any foundation for this view, the Society would be condemned with reason enough. The Committee need scarcely point out however that this misrepresentation was from the first foreseen, and met in distinct terms in the prospectus first put forth by them, and they only call Members' attention to this, because conventional misrepresentations are apt to stick, however far they may be from the truth; moreover they think that no opportunity should be lost of giving such misstatements unqualified denial.

To come to details of the work done during the past year: it was discovered that the business of the Society was so very onerous for the one General Committee that had been formed, that it became absolutely necessary to form Sub-Committees to carry on the work of the Society. A Restoration Committee was formed, which has had before it and has sifted the cases submitted to the Society throughout a great portion of the year.

A Committee to take notice of the condition of ancient buildings abroad, called the Foreign Committee, has also been constituted in accordance with a hope expressed in last year's Report, and has begun its work by putting itself into communication with archaeological Societies in France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Holland, &c. Enquiries havebeen set on foot respecting the state of ancient buildings in India, as also in Spain, where restoration is commencing. The prospectus of the Society has been translated into French, German, Italian, and Dutch, and steps have been taken to obtain Corresponding Members in each of these countries. The Committee do not conceal from themselves the difficulties in their way in dealing with the state of buildings in foreign countries; nor is it easy to overrate the necessity for caution in such details, but it is hoped that the effects of the Society to prevent the falsification of monuments and the ruin of works of art, may attract attention abroad, and be commented upon in the public prints, and that its principles may be spread thereby.

Arrangements have been made for appointing local Honorary Correspondents in various parts of the country for the purpose of obtaining quick and accurate information of the threatened restoration or demolition of any ancient building. There are now 22 correspondents spread over 18 countries, and it is hoped that before long their number will be considerably increased.

The Committee being desirous to bring themselves into more frequent communication with the General Members of the Society, have determined in future to publish a Quarterly Report of their proceedings in as much detail as is possible, which will be sent to every Member of the Society.

Already Members of the Society will have had placed in their hands an interesting pamphlet detailing the condition of many churches in East Anglia, which district has been very much attacked by injudicious restoration. It is the intention of the Committee, if funds permit, to have similar pamphlets published of other districts, and it is to be hoped that the publication fund, which was originated by Mr. Coventry Patmore, will not remain a dead letter. Pamphlets like the one that has just been published are not only interesting to Members, but useful to the Society for reference.

Amongst the objects the Committee have taken in hand is the preservation of the City Churches, and in this respect they are able to a certain extent to report favourably. Although St. Dionis Backchurch has been demolished, the interesting Church of St. Mary-at-Hill, Eastcheap, has, in spite of strenuous opposition, been saved. In this case much help was afforded by the "City Church and Churchyard Society." Owing however to the Union of Benefices Act, the City Churches are being continually threatened, and very great vigilance has to be exercised to secure early information of any proposed demolition, and to prevent a surprise. The Committee cannot help calling attention once more to the loss that Londoners and the country at large would incur by the demolition of these interesting and handsome buildings, which are such a rest both for the eye and the mind amidst the hurry of business London.

First of importance amongst the buildings which have been threatened with restoration is the great Abbey Church, now Cathedral, of St. Albans. The Society protested again and again against what it considers the rash and destructive scheme of altering and replacing the present roof, and the Committee are very sorry to say that these protests have not had the success which was hoped for, and that in all probability this work will soon be begun. At the same time, however much they regret the irreparable misfortune which is overhanging this magnificent building, they cannot help thinking that many of the incidents that have taken place with refrence to this restoration are to a certain extent encouraging, and do confirm their view, expressed above, as to the spread of reasonable opinions on the subject of the fit way of dealing with our ancient buildings. In this case at least the Society has been by no means alone in opposing the scheme of the restorers, but can count amongst those that agree with its views, outside its own body, many of the most distinguished architects and antiquarians in England, including the Society of Antiquaries, led by their President, the Earlof Carnarvon, Mr. Street, Mr. Blomfield. Mr. Christian, and Mr. John Evans, who resigned his position on the Committee for the restoration in consequence of the proposed action. In fact it may be said that the balance of opinion amongst those who are usually regarded by the public as capable of forming a responsible opinion on these matters, has been most decidedly in favour of the views advocated by the Society. Though this cannot console the Society for the damage about to be done to one of our grandest monuments, it may nevertheless give some hope as to other monuments that have not yet been tampered with.

The case of the interesting and beautiful buildings of Blundell's School, Tiverton, Devon, which was threatened with demolition, has taken up a good deal of the time and attention of the Committee. The architecture and fittings of the structure, dated 1599, have been figured in Dolman's book of Domestic Architecture. They are known to all architects, and are without doubt among the very best specimens in existence of the School architecture of a School-founding age; it had been proposed to remove the School from its present site and to sell the existing buildings, but there was considerable local feeling in favour of the site of the School not being removed; the Committee though not feeling themselves in a position to give any opinion on the question of removal, pointed out to the Charity Commissioners and others the great value of the buildings; they believe they can claim to have influenced the decision which has been come to, i.e., that in any case the buildings shall be respected and preserved.

The Carliol Tower, Newcastle-on-Tyne, the last remnant of the old fortifications of that City, is on the point of destruction, in spite of very general local opposition. The townspeople, at the suggestion of the Committee, sent a memorial to the Lords of the Treasury, which was supplemented by one from the Society. The result is still somewhat in doubt, as the members of the Town Council are very much divided in opinion on the matter.

Grasmere Church, Westmoreland, where the poet Wordsworth constantly attended, was threatened with restoration; but a well-timed protest, and a letter written to the Patron, had the desired effect. The work of destruction which was just commencing was stopped, the Patron having vetoed the whole scheme.

The Committee heard a report that the fine old tower of St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich, was threatened to be rebuilt. They have since however heard with satisfaction from Mr. Street, who has been appointed consulting architect to the church, that nothing but necessary repairs will be undertaken.

Ormskirk Church has been twice threatened, and each time the Committee has interfered successfully. It is again threatened, and every effort is being used to prevent any injury being down to it. York Water-Gate, at the foot of Buckingham Street, Strand, the Metropolitan Board of Works proposed to remove to the entrance to the Gardens. The Committee memorialised the Board on that subject, and that scheme seems to have been abandoned; but it is now proposed to raise the Gate to a level with Buckingham Street, and make it a thoroughfare to the Gardens. As this would be tantamount to its destruction, such a proposal is obviously objectionable; the Board has therefore been again memorialised and other steps taken in order, if possible, to prevent this from being done.

It would make this report too long were the Committee to enter into details of all the buildings which have come under their notice; suffice it to say the foregoing instances are good specimens of the work which the Society has been able to accomplish.

The following is a list of the cases which have been brought under the notice of the Committee during the past year:-

Several cases of dilapidation and neglect of old Castles and other buildings have come under the notice of the Committee. In each case representations have been made to the owners, general eliciting satisfactory replies.

Instances also have occurred where clergymen and patrons have written to the Society, asking that a Report might be furnished them as to the condition of their churches, and to suggest what repairs were absolutely necessary. In every instance the Committee have sent down responsible Members to view and report upon the buildings in question.

There are many Churches which the Committee are at the present moment making efforts to preserve, to one of which more particularly they would desire to call the attention of Members of the Society. Penton Mewsey Church is a most valuable example of fourteenth century architecture, and is threatened with absolute demolition. Members will no doubt have see that the Committee have advertised for subscriptions to the amount of £330, in order to pay that sum to the builder in lieu of the use of the materials of the old Church. Members and all others interested in the preservation of old buildings are invited to help in raising the amount required.

As regards the greater number of the cases dealt with by the Committee during the past year, although they have no certainty of their protests having been successful in preventing their restoration or demolition, yet they believe the action taken by the Society in respect of them has been conducive of much good in arousing public opinion on the subject, as they think will be apparent from the general tenor of this Report.

In conclusion, the Committee beg to remind the Members that as the work of the Society increases (and it is already very large) it cannot possibly be carried on withoutincreased funds. They would also be very grateful for additional assistance, both upon Committees and as local Honorary Correspondents in different countries, from those who have leisure, and who wish to forward the objects which the Society has in view. They would also recommend unceasing activity on the part of those who are already Members in increasing the number of the Society's subscribers.

Bibliographical Note


Annual Report of the SPAB - II (1879).


1. 28 June 1879: Before SPAB at the Annual Meeting held at the Willis Rooms, King Street, St. James's, London. The Hon Percy Wyndham, M.P., was the chairman.


1. The Architect, 5 July 1879, p. 7.


1. As `The Report' in Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. The Second Annual Meeting of the Society, (London 1879), pp. 8-17.

The reference to this piece of work in the Chronology