Say 'Hello' to History

A Marathon at a Sprint

That is how John Sanders in his vote of thanks described the address entitled "Say 'Hello' to History" given by David Burton-Pye, the Conservation Officer of South Staffordshire District Council to the Society on Tuesday 16th June at the Swan Hotel. It was an apt description of a full and fascinating talk, profusely illustrated by excellent slides, about David Burton-Pye`s work with historic buildings and landscapes in his own familiar territory, "the pan handle" of Staffordshire extending around the borders of Dudley and Wolverhampton.

It was in two parts. The first part was devoted to a loose chronology of historic buildings both ecclesiastical and secular within the District which contains 640 listed buildings and 19 Conservation Areas. He showed in pictures an extraordinary range of buildings from the 12th Century church at Lapley, St.Mary's at Enville with its elaborate tower, with 300 carved faces, designed by Gilbert Scott, the oldest vernacular building in the District, Smithy Cottage in Dean Street Brewood, Chapel Farm Essington with its tax bricks through to the rock houses at Kinver Edge. The second part was devoted to a consideration of the wider landscape, mainly that associated with substantial stately homes - Moseley Old Hall, Four Ashes Hall, Hilton Hall, Weston Park, Chillington Hall and Patsull Hall.

Throughout his talk David Burton-Pye provided an insight into what his life as a Conservation Officer involved. Sometimes it is a journey of discovery with buildings revealing unexpected surprises as to their age and form of construction; at others it is a long and complicated exercise in harnessing the resources and owner's co-operation in securing the repair and restoration of buildings and landscapes, often in poor straits. The basic requirements for the job are clearly considerable knowledge of the subject and above all enthusiasm, bordering on passion for it.

To many members of the Society, the talk was probably a revelation about the richness in numbers, quality and variety of the buildings in South Staffordshire District, an area which is just a short distance away from Lichfield. Like John Sanders, I am sure that many of those who attended the meeting will now have a desire to go and see for themselves. If that is so, it will be the deserved outcome of a talk which was colourful, interesting and entertaining with a message.

As David Burton-Pye explained, the existing buildings and landscapes which remain enable us "to say hello to history" - hence the title of the talk - whereas "to say goodbye" means that the buildings and landscape which were the tangible expression of that history have gone forever.

Mike Tole
June 1998