Monday, July 20, 2009

Prince Charles Declines to Renew his Patronage of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings


His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, who has been patron of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) since the death of the Queen Mother, has withdrawn his support after a difference of opinion with the members of the society's board. The Prince failed to renew his patronage of the society when it came up for renewal last year.

The Prince apparently raised the ire of the society by contradicting their stated views on restoration in a forward he wrote for a book on architecture. In the forward, the Prince argued that historical buildings should always be restored in their original style.

I can't help but feel that William Morris, who founded the society back in 1877, would have agreed wholeheartedly with the Prince on this particular matter. Morris was very much against reproduction of historical buildings, but was a strong supporter of historical preservation and protection. One only has to look at the "new designs" that Morris appreciated in order to realise that he was not quite as supportive of all forms of architectural innovation as the SPAB would have us believe. Morris found most modern design downright ugly, and I'm sure that he and the Prince would have agreed on that point.

While the SPAB's mandate might warn against "feeble and lifeless forgeries," it hardly seems fair that this should remain the chief concern for historical preservationists in this day and age, when we have much better access to appropriate materials for restoration. The danger of damaging the integrity of the historical architecture is far greater. However, it appears that the board of the society disagrees. They apparently requested that the Prince amend the forward to the book to more closely align with their own views and he refused.

It's surprising that the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings would actually refuse royal patronage from someone who happens to share views so similar to those of the society's founder. William Morris always felt it was disingenuous to try to imitate historical architecture, but he remained strongly convinced about the importance of preserving buildings as carefully as possible. I haven't seen the Prince's forward (and it sounds like none of us ever will), but it would be interesting to know what the fuss was all about. Besides, it seems that if Morris had seen some of the more atrocious examples of modern restoration, he might have agreed with the Prince even more! I guess I'm a bit of a Luddite, but I would prefer to err more on the side of cautious restoration than of reconstruction using new styles.

The SPAB has yet to name a new patron.

For more info on this story, see the Independent

The press release from the SPAB can be found on the Society's website

Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

8 comments:

willow said...

Too bad they can't iron out their differences in the name of preservation.

Margaret said...

I was a little surprised that they wouldn't even allow Prince Charles to write something that they disagreed with. After all, everyone knows that people who write introductions to books don't always agree with everything the authors have to say.

Thorsprincess said...

I guess I'm a bit shocked. It seems the society needs a new name since preservation and restoration are no longer their mission. The prince looks very splendid in the picture, too!

Teresa Howard said...

I completely agree with Prince Charles. Trying to preserve buildings it a very difficult business. I spent two years trying to preserve an old house next door from a ghastly extension. Lewisham Council treated me with utter distain. I will never forget that councillor leaning over the table in a really aggressive manner in a public meeting. I was treated as if I were a criminal in a court of law... when all I was trying to do was to stop the wanton destruction of an old and beautiful house. I am sorry they did not manage to settle their differences with the Prince.. he must surely be their best figure head.

acornmoon said...

I don't like it when we try to reinvent the past as in the case recently of a sixties block of flats which has been stripped back to a concrete skeleton at vast expense, in order to be reconstructed and reinvented by English Heritage.

We are waiting for "Desperate Romantics" with baited breath!

Tracy said...

All of this is very surprising. It is a pity they can't find some kind of compromise. The Prince of Wales has long upheld tradition in architecture and has a well known dislike of modern architecture and building methods. It's a pity he couldn't have been able to express is differences of opinion and still be part of the society and its good works. He is, or rather was, their most prominent figurehead, so this may be their loss, unfortunately...

Margaret said...

Yes, it's a little strange to me that the SPAB would be surprised at Prince Charles' views--they've been working with him for five years. Besides, everyone knows that he has rather conservative opinions about architecture!

Rowan said...

I absolutely agree with Prince Charles on this and admire him for withdrawing his patronage. He has, over the years, been way ahead of the game on most things. The trouble with all these big organizations is that they get altogether too fond of themselves, the National Trust is another one cast in the same mould. The sixties block of flats mentioned by acornmoon is in the city close to where I live and English Heritage should be shot for this and several other projects that they have been involved with. The sheer waste of public money is beyond belief. It's a pity that Willam Morris isn't still around! Hopefully I shall be going to Kelmscott next weekend so shall be able to revel in the peace and beauty of his country home.