William Morris

Chichester Cathedral

Many of your readers are aware that for some time a scheme has been on foot for rebuilding the north-western tower of Chichester Cathedral, which fell down about the year 1634, leaving only the lower portion standing, and that it is now proposed to carry out this work as a memorial to the late Bishop. The promoters of this scheme, in appealing to the public for funds, state that `unless this tower is rebuilt shortly the whole north-east corner of the Cathedral will come crashing to the ground, so bad is the state into which that part of the building has got owing to the lack of support which the tower was intended to supply.'

This is an assertion eminently calculated to frighten those who remember the fall of the central spire in 1861 into contributing money to avoid a similar mishap; but the verypotency of the appeal ought to render those who make it doubly cautious not to endorse a doubtful statement.

Now, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings unhesitatingly affirms (and its opinion is confirmed by architects of practical experience in upholding large structural masses) that any support which would be afforded to the columns, arches, and superincumbent weight of the nave and south aisle by a new tower, would be obtainable by strengthening the foundations and adding abutments, and this without destroying historical evidence, and, moreover, without incurring that risk of disturbing the balance of the old walls which would be involved in pulling down the remains of the tower and excavating to the necessary depth for the foundation of a weighty new building - a risk which it is hardly possible to overrate, it being scarcely too much to say that a wound inflicted in any part of such a building as one of our old cathedrals is felt throughout its whole body, and may have a most prejudicial effect in disturbing its equilibrium.

We must not, however, rush to the conclusion that it is such support as a north-west tower would afford which is required to secure the safety of the west bay of the nave roof. The loosening of the vaulting and other dislocation of the fabric may arise from other causes, such as the depression of the foundations of the support; and the first step should be to make diligent search for all such possible causes. The preservation of our cathedrals is too important a matter to rest entirely on the judgment of any individual architect unassisted by the experience of other minds. In spite of the large sums which have for years past been spent on `restoration,' the country is in anxious suspense as to the stability of Chichester Cathedral, as well as such other precious fabrics as those of Peterborough and Salisbury. Should not the architect whomay be chosen to direct important repairs be assisted by such an expert as an experienced engineer, who, as well as the architect, should be responsible to the committee or other body authorizing the works?

Letter to the Times, 14 December 1895.