Last edited 16 Oct 2023

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Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

SPAB Magazine Spring 2023

SPAB magazine spring 2023.jpg

For those who have not had the opportunity to digest Historic England’s Listed Building Owners and Occupiers Survey for 2022, Matthew Slocombe highlights some telling statistics in the SPAB (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) Magazine (Spring 2023). In some respects, the survey results are encouraging, with 89 per cent of residents feeling proud of the listed place in which they live, and 86 per cent concluding that they are able to keep on top of repair and maintenance issues.

However, while 81 per cent supported the concept of listed building consent, satisfaction with the operation of the system has fallen from 51 per cent in 2017 (the date of the last survey) to 35 per cent in 2022. This is despite only 15 per cent of respondents having had their listed building applications refused. Slocombe concludes that the response presumably reflects the perceived difficulties or both appropriately authoritative expertise and administration within the planning system. That is likely to come as no surprise to readers here.

What may also be of interest in this issue is an exploration of the philosophical arguments surrounding the treatment of Clandon Park, owned by the National Trust and gutted by fire in 2015. The then National Trust director Helen Ghosh said that Clandon would be rebuilt ‘in some shape or form’, sparking a vigorous debate on the merits of alternative approaches. Diametrically opposed arguments were voiced ranging from full restoration to accepting Clandon’s fate and leaving it as a ruin while spending the insurance money on conservation of other houses in the trust’s care.

An international design competition, held in 2017, was won by Allies and Morrison with a proposal to ‘restore, reimagine and rebuild’. Those proposals have now been significantly revised in the light of a growing understanding and appreciation of what survives, and what is achievable in terms of reinstating lost interiors. This shift in the National Trust’s thinking about how the house might best be used, interpreted and presented led to the launch of new proposals in July 2022.

It is now being argued that, post-fire, Clandon represents a new and exciting chapter in the house’s rich history. This has prompted a rethink of received knowledge and revised comprehension of the multifaceted nature of the materials and layers that make up the house, and acknowledgment and admiration for often unknown, but highly skilled minds and dexterous craftsmanship that had contributed to the building as a whole. Clearly this is proving to be a very long-drawn-out project, and it might be argued that the longer it continues, the more additional scholarship and further evidence might inform yet further revisions to the proposed renovation work.

Finally, Eleanor Jolliffe considers the emergence of architects, and the changing nature of their profession, particularly with reference to the 19th century; the founding of the RIBA and the SPAB; and the architects’ presently evolving role. The relationship between what prospective architects are taught about building construction and building history; and the specific needs of authenticity, appropriate heritage management, construction and the use of traditional materials, are aspects of conservation that the SPAB is particularly well placed to address.

This article originally appeared in the Institute of Historic Building Conservation’s (IHBC’s) Context 176, published in June 2023. It was written by Bob Kindred MBE.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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