Echoes from the Past

The following article was passed to the Chairman by one of our members who thought it would be of interest to all. It is taken from the Lichfield Mercury dated 18th March 1927 and entitled "Preservation of Ancient Buildings in Lichfield".

Tony Crookes
April 2006

The article reads:

"Last Thursday's issue of the "Times Literary Supplement" contained an interesting article on William Morris and the formation of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, christened by Morris "Anti-Scrape", a nickname derived from these of destructive tools for removing whitewash from stone buildings in the process of "restoration". William Morris had all his life observed the wholesale destruction of buildings by restoration and there had been only individual protests which could do little good and only served to puzzle a clergyman here and there to make him think how odd it was that experts should so differ. But when Morris was forty-three years old, in the summer of 1876, he and Wardle visited Lichfield Cathedral where destructive restoration was going on. He at once drafted a letter suggesting the formation of a Society to deal with such cases which, if it could not stop the restorers, might at least show that they were destroyers rather than preservers. In 1877 the Society was formed.

In the "Times" article is mentioned the destructive restoration at Lichfield Cathedral. Are we sure if William Morris was alive today that he would approve of what is and has taken place since he and Wardle last quitted Lichfield in 1876 - shocked at what they saw?

There is no doubt that he would have something to say and something very strong about the loss of the fine Tudor building at the corner of Bore Street, known as the Minor's House; the similar wanton destruction of a very fine example of English Renaissance, the Yeomanry House; and the disappearance of many, though not all (and this is much to be thankful for) renaissance shop fronts. One wonders why these are allowed to decay or be removed and replaced by that modern monstrosity, a plate-glass window. Again, there is the disappearance of the north wing of the Friary, a quite unnecessary mutilation, as proved by those competent to give an opinion [Kennings corner]. He would probably approve of the removal of the sham ashlar from two or three 16th and 17th century houses stuccoed in the Georgian period, but the revival of this faked method in St John's Hospital chapel seems unforgivable. He would probably wonder what the Cathedral architect is contemplating doing to the Cathedral south transept, seeing that it is nearly the only part of the building on the exterior left untouched since the middle ages.

Having seen this most unsatisfactory state of affairs we can imagine him asking himself whether the various authorities will ever realise that it is their bounden duty to protect ancient buildings, not so much for their architectural and archaeological interest as from the fact that all old buildings are a little bit of the history of England and, by protecting them, you save a bit of England. Consequently destroy them or leave them to decay and not to repair them or restore them shows a lack of patriotism, altogether apart from the fact that an old-world town draws visitors; and visitors purchase. It is a short-sighted policy with nothing to commend it." Lessons from History - still relevant today!