Clandon Park - Opportunity, Not ‘Lifeless Forgery’

Britain’s oldest heritage body, SPAB (The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) is alarmed by short-sighted criticism of The National Trust’s imaginative and sensitive plans for fire-ravaged Clandon Park, Surrey.

The fire in April 2015 was a tragedy, but SPAB is delighted that the phoenix is beginning to rise from the ashes. The Society endorses the Trust’s vision for Clandon and its forward-looking plan to conserve and repair the most significant rooms, while considering new, contemporary uses for other parts of the building damaged by the fire.

Part of this vision includes a competition (results to be announced shortly), to find the right architect to “bring the space alive in a bold and imaginative way.”  This is very much in line with the approach championed by SPAB since its inception in 1877.  Far from wanting old buildings to be ‘preserved in aspic’ SPAB believes passionately that sympathetic changes made to a building over years, decades and centuries become an integral part of its story and fabric.

The 2015 fire, terrible and destructive as it was, is now a part of Clandon’s unfolding story, to ‘pretend’ it never happened by restoring the building to a faithful facsimile of its former self would be a betrayal and lost opportunity. SPAB believes that the Trust’s vision for the future of the house is a bold and honest response, moving Clandon forward both architecturally and intellectually.

Importantly, this is not new thinking. SPAB was founded by William Morris in response to damaging and over-zealous Victorian enthusiasm for restoration rather than repair. He saw pastiche in the work of many contemporaries and realised that this was a form of destruction and obfuscation.

In SPAB’s founding Manifesto, Morris wrote: “Moreover, in the course of this double process of destruction and addition, the whole surface of the building is necessarily tampered with; so that the appearance of antiquity is taken away from such old parts of the fabric as are left, and there is no laying to rest in the spectator the suspicion of what may have been lost; and in short, a feeble and lifeless forgery is the final result of all the wasted labour".

Opposition to pastiche – Morris’s ‘lifeless forgery’ -  is so central to SPAB’s approach to conservation that next month sees the publication by RIBA of New Design for Old Buildings, a timely SPAB-sponsored book on the way old and new can sensitively and successfully complement each other in the context of the built historic environment. Fully illustrated, the book has been co-written by SPAB’s Chairman Iain Boyd.

SPAB endorses the imaginative vision for Clandon and has worked with the Trust since shortly after the fire. Through visits and discussions we have seen the thorough and competent process of rescue and planning that the Trust has so far undertaken during the course of this complex project. Many difficult decisions are still to be made, but SPAB supports the work that has led to the current, exciting architectural competition.

SPAB Director Matthew Slocombe says: “We believe that the decision to combine conservation of the surviving parts of the building, with imaginative new design in the most damaged areas, is entirely right.  The resurrected Clandon looks set to combine the best of old and new.  It is impossible to turn back the clock, but the scheme that results from the architectural competition should allow a new layer to be added to Clandon’s long history, providing an exciting and enjoyable experience for visitors.”

However, while SPAB welcomes the Trust’s vision for the building, it sounds a note of warning for its setting.

Matthew Slocombe adds: “Though there should be optimism about the house, the future of the Capability Brown parkland is of concern.  Much of this land lies outside the National Trust’s control and is on the Historic England ‘at risk’ register.  The SPAB has urged the Trust and Guildford Council to do everything possible to secure the unified care and management of the park as part of Clandon’s resurrection". ENDS

Notes to Editors

Date of release: 19 September 2017

For further information please contact: Kate Griffin SPAB press office 0207 456 0905 / Alison McClary, SPAB press office: 0207 456 0908

The SPAB is Britain’s oldest building conservation body. It was set up by William Morris to oppose the destructive restorations of the Victorian era and promote the alternative of “conservative repair”. By law it must be notified of applications to demolish listed buildings in England and Wales and comments on hundreds each year. Today its broad remit is to advise, educate and campaign.  The Society, a registered charity, also trains architects and craftspeople; produces a range of helpful publications and campaigns on issues affecting our built heritage.  Follow us on Twitter @SPAB1877