Lichfield Civic Society - 25th Anniversary Dinner

On Friday 12th September the Lichfield Civic Society celebrated its Twenty Fifth Anniversary by holding a dinner in the Guildhall. This was an appropriate venue, for it was in the Guildhall on Friday 24th February 1961 that the Society was founded at a public meeting described in the Lichfield Mercury of that time as "probably as representative a gathering as any that had ever come together in Lichfield".

The Society aims to stimulate public interest in the natural and the build environment, to promote and to encourage high standards of planning an architecture, and to secure the preservation, protection, development and improvement of structures and features of historic, architectural or of public interest. Above all else it aims to retain that character by which Lichfield is identified.

Over one hundred people attended the dinner including guests from the City and District Councils and from the Cathedral. The guest speaker was author and architectural journalist Tony Aldous.

Among those present were a number of founder members including former Art School Principal John Sanders, a Vice President of the Society. In proposing the toast "To the Society" Mr Sanders recalled a number of projects that had interested its members in its early days including the redevelopment of Beacon Place and in particular efforts to encourage authority to restore the gazebo at what would then have been a cost of # 200. When eventually the work was carried out in 1985 the cost was # 35,000. He drew attention to some changes that had been inflicted upon the City's public houses, their names being altered to titles having neither local not historic association.

In responding our President Jack Ballinger recalled the formative period of the Society and reminded members of past office holders, with special reference to Mr Geoffrey Miller Yardley, the Society's first Chairman and President.

Tony Aldous then spoke of the current threats to conservation. He referred to the argument often put forward to justify pulling down, or altering unacceptably, buildings that ought to be conserved; in that conservation is standing in the way of jobs. A further threat was "simplified planning" which meant reducing the area of control, especially over such details as replacement windows and, perhaps more importantly, the merging of planning 'Use Classes' which could undermine the limiting of the spread of banks and building societies at the expense of shops. A third threat is through the system whereby 15% VAT is charged upon repairs and maintenance compared with zero per cent on new buildings and demolition. The greatest threat of all is the government's failure to encourage owners of buildings, whether listed or corporate, to repair, adapt or maintain their buildings. "Instead, what do we do? We offer them a VAT holiday if they knock things down, but penalise them with 15% surcharge if they try to keep them up"!

Civic Societies can respond to such threats by being positive, not purist; that is to accept that while listed buildings should normally be restored with meticulous attention to detail, others can only be 'recycled' through acceptable compromise - sympathetically but without 100% authenticity. He cited St Mary's as an outstanding example of townscape being retained, much of the interior character being preserved and four new uses being created. A further way in which Civic Societies could contribute was by offering a more professional service to individuals and to the community. His third method of combating threats to conservation was by being more comprehensible to the local community through the presentation of sensible and practical solutions to urban environmental problems. He suggested that the tide of 1960s development has left many scars and that today's public is more aware of dangers and politicians can no longer ignore the public's concern. "A town without old buildings is like a man without a memory". Mr Aldous concluded by saying "Happily Lichfield does not suffer from that tragic strain of urban amnesia. Keep it that way!".

In its twenty-five years of existence the Lichfield Civic Society has demonstrated a determination to preserve that which is irreplaceable and to encourage that which is capable of becoming so; but members have not been satisfied with merely responding to environmental threats for they have taken initiatives to improve and enhance the environment. Many surveys have been carried out on such varied subjects as footpaths, street furniture, traffic flow, distribution of open spaces and the state of repair of listed buildings. The Society has pursued anti-litter campaigns and organised clean-up operations and, through schools, encouraged younger citizens to take pride in their City.

Over the years many thousands of daffodil bulbs have been planted by members; at the entrance to the City and in some of the central open spaces. Hundreds of trees have been planted by the Society; with the help, in recent years, of pupils from the three secondary schools.

Recently the Bulls Head mosaic has been rescued from the front of the former butchers shop in Tamworth Street and it is now being restored by a firm specialising is this work in preparation for it being re-sited.

Currently the proposals for major development of the cattle market (Tippers) site and the Chamberlain and Hill site on Beacon Street are causing widespread anxiety. The City can rely on the Lichfield Civic Society to be vigilant on its behalf but we are seeking to recruit more members so that the Society's voice and influence will be stronger and more representative of public opinion.

Lichfield Civic Society
October 1986