AN EXTRACT OF A TINY PORTION OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE PROTECTION OF ANCIENT BUILDING’S
WORK OVER THE LAST 125 YEARS.
1877 ~ March 22 William Morris and other notable members of the Pre Raphaelite brotherhood
hold the inaugural meeting of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
in Queen Square, Bloomsbury. The founding members are deeply concerned that well
meaning architects are scraping away the historic fabric of too many buildings
in their zealous ‘restorations’.
1879 ~ With Ruskin in decline Morris and the SPAB pick up the baton of the international
campaign to save St Mark’s, Venice. This is supported by both Gladstone &
was 372 – although at £1 a year subscriptions were somewhat prohibitive (according
to the RPI £1 then is over £400 now). Today the Society has approximately 6000 members.
1896 ~ SPAB hosts a conference in conjunction with London County Council on the preservation
of ancient buildings in London. Given that ‘Londoners are by no means well informed
as to the architectural treasures they possess’ it was resolved that a register
of ancient buildings would minimise the threat to such edifices. It will be another
62 years before Listed Building status as we know it becomes law.
Also in 1896 the National Trust is founded and adopts the SPAB’s approach to
conservative repair. For many years the SPAB defends the Trust from its detractors,
promising that it will become successful.
~ ‘Notes on the Repair of Ancient Buildings’ was issued as the first technical
pamphlet. The Society’s mail order specialist book service now carries over fifty
of its own and others publications
1912 ~ SPAB urges Kitchener to take care of Arabic Art during his campaigns.
1913 – The SPAB’s Hon. Sec., Lord Crawford of Balcarrs introduces into Parliament
the first effective historic buildings law on behalf of SPAB and the National
1913 ~ A delegation led by SPAB member Lord Curzon lobbied the Church of England
to take seriously its wealth of mediaeval and later architecture, which resulted
in the establishing of Diocesan Advisory Committees (DACs). The Society now employs
a full time church caseworker to help parishes adapt their church to modern needs,
while preserving the integrity of such historic buildings. Ecclesiastical, architects,
builders and surveyors are regulars on SPAB sponsored courses and we are developing
training days for churchwardens.
1914 ~ SPAB asks the American President to make representations to the German Government
to protect works of Art in the war area. The Committee expressed relief that with
Cyprus under British control its ancient monuments would be better protected than
under the Turks. At home WWI is a quiet time for the Society with many ‘restoration’
projects being put on hold.
1920's ~ After the war SPAB is again very busy defending ancient churches against the
crass insertion of ill conceived war memorials and a ‘tidal wave’ of stained glass
windows. However the conservation message is catching on as local preservation
trusts and allied societies spring up, lending valuable weight to SPAB’s message.
The advent of the motor car threatened ancient bridges with demolition and widening.
The SPAB established a fund to protect them and undertook a massive survey of
every bridge in the country.
1927 ~ Thomas Hardy, novelist and architect dies. He had been a very committed SPAB
caseworker and worked particularly hard protecting churches in the West Country.
~ With support from The Daily Mail and The Times the Society undertook a survey
of ancient wind and water mills. Today the Society’s Mills Section
is devoted to protecting mills, educating millwrights and encouraging public
~ many houses are lost in the name of ‘Slum Clearance’ and SPAB urges the authorities
to think laterally about repairing and reusing seemingly hopeless cases. Today
through its case work the Society encourages owners and local authorities to be
imaginative in the re-use
~ David Nye becomes the first young architect sponsored by the SPAB to travel
the length and breadth of the country learning ancient building crafts. Today
115 assorted architects, building surveyors and structural engineers have been
through the SPAB Lethaby Scholarship
. They make up the core of Britain’s leading building conservationists, such
as Donald Insall who led the conservation work at Windsor Castle after the fire
and Louise Bainbridge, the most recent scholar to be appointed Surveyor to the
Fabric at an Anglican Cathedral.
~ A Georgian Group
is established to meet the needs of Georgian buildings, the Group has now grown
into an independent body with its own offices.
1939 ~ 1945 SPAB’s principal concern is the damage caused by Baedeker Bombing, air raids
and subsequent vandalism. The Society despises hasty demolition of damaged buildings
and asserts that most cathedrals and other buildings can be repaired. SPAB also
hopes that planning and civic re-development will not ‘think in terms of a narrow
utilitarianism.’ The Society asks that the RAF be sensitive to continental monuments
during allied raids.
1944 ~ The Town and Country Planning Act introduced the listing of historic buildings
on a national basis.
1947 ~ SPAB and others criticize proposals to erect a power station at Bankside,
opposite St Pauls.
~ After the war, many skills seem in danger of extinction so the Society holds
it first annual week long Repair Course for professionals
. This is now CPD accredited and run twice yearly training up to 100 people in
current building conservation practice.
1952 ~ John Betjeman joined the Main Committee.
~ With assistance from Country Life, the Threatened Buildings List was first
published to find sympathetic owners for buildings in need. It is now issued quarterly,
called the ‘Properties in Need of Repair and For Sale
’ list and features about 700 – 800 buildings annually.
1968 ~ Town and Country Planning Act changed listing by emphasising need for preservation.
SPAB became a formal consultee on all listed building applications affecting pre
1720 buildings. Today SPAB’s caseworkers see about 2,000 applications per year,
with several hundred needing in depth negotiation and discussion.
~ The first SPAB Lime Day
was held in Bristol. By now the SPAB had a body of technical knowledge on various
ancient building materials and recognised the importance of lime. After near extinction
in the ‘70’s there are now over 70 lime suppliers in the UK, thanks largely to
SPAB championing the stuff. In 2002 the Society is running nine Lime Days around
the country for builders.
1980 ~ With the fad for converting barns into domestic dwellings threatening to obliterate
these magnificent buildings forever, SPAB members undertake a massive survey of
the remaining ones. Thanks to lobbying and awareness raising by the Society, planning
departments now try to encourage solutions for empty barns that don’t involve
the insertion of endless doors, floors and windows into these rural gems.
1981 ~ SPAB News the glossy quarterly must-read for conservationists is launched.
~ The Society formalised its advisory service, with a conservation building
surveyor taking telephone queries in the mornings. In 2000 the free technical advice
line helped over 2,500 people and their old buildings.
~ The first weekend homeowners course
, called An Introduction to the Repair of Old Buildings is held in London. Up
to 350 people a year now attend these courses, run all over the country.
~ The first four William Morris Craft Fellows
set out on a journey similar to that of the Scholars. The Society organises this
course for young craftsmen to pass skills on from one generation to the next,
to raise the status of craftsmen and to encourage dialogue and respect between
trades and professions. 52 Craftsmen and craftswomen including thatchers, roofers,
glaziers, stonemasons, plasters and flint knappers have now been awarded Fellowships.
~ Philip Webb Award
for Part II student architects, launched to encourage good quality new design
and historic building repair.
2001 ~ 120 regular volunteers gave time to the SPAB and many more gave time sporadically.
The Society employs 20 people, including several part-time specialists in Edinburgh,
Yorkshire, London and Bristol.
2002 ~ Using mass media and its massive network of allies the SPAB celebrates its
125th anniversary with a number of events throughout the country to continue its battle
to educate people that technically and aesthetically there is a right way to repair
an old building.
2005 ~ February University Challenge