Tuesday, November 04, 2008


click photo to enlarge
On March 2nd 1877, William Morris, Philip Webb and other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood held the inaugural meeting of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in Queen's Square, Bloomsbury, London. The founding of the Society was prompted by concern that many architects were over-restoring old buildings, particularly churches, and in so doing were literally scraping away history. William Morris, ever one to call a spade a spade, actually referred to the organisation as "Anti-Scrape"!

When we visit old churches today we can often determine the degree of sensitivity that the Victorian restorer applied to his work. In the worst examples we can find original Norman windows substituted by Victorian Gothic, whole aisles replaced in a totally unsuitable style, or any vestiges of the original architecture in windows, doors, towers, etc, replaced by something entirely different that was deemed to be "better". Of course many churches were in a very dilapidated state when the Victorians set about restoring them, and one mustn't forget that many would not be standing today without their intervention. However, through the work of SPAB and the agitation of vocal individuals, architects came to realise the importance of repairing and restoring whilst retaining original fabric, and understood the need to make new additions sensitive to what was already there.

St Mary and All Saints, Swarby, Lincolnshire, shown above, was restored in 1886-7, a time when the influence of the SPAB was being felt across the country. That being so, it's unfortunate that its exterior has that "scraped" look, with everything too sharp, too perfect, too new looking. The south aisle dates from those years in its entirety, so accounts for some of this. But, the chancel wall must have been rebuilt too, and its flat smoothness in no way reflects its origin in the 1200s. Nor does the tower suggest it dates from the 1400s though much of it does. Perhaps it's those fanciful pointed battlements, surely not the original design, that draw the eye away from the older material. There's no doubt that this is an attractive looking building - perhaps a touch too pretty - but its over-restoration, in my view, robs it of character. Fortunately the interior is less "scraped".

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On