History at your feet

Caring for Historic Floors


When people enter an old building, step onto a churchyard path or walk down a street in an ancient town or village their natural inclination is to look up – at a moulded plaster ceiling, at glorious stained glass windows, at panelled walls or at buildings above and around. We never look down. For some time SPAB’s caseworkers have expressed alarm at the treatment of old floors. Often, in plans submitted for our consideration, there is, what SPAB caseworker Joanne Needham described as, “an almost casual disregard for the history at your feet.” Further enquiry into interventions involving floors in both religious and secular buildings across the country has convinced the Society that this is a subject of concern and something that should be brought to the attention of a wider audience.

Obliteration of ancient fabric is happening with alarming frequency. Although often well-intentioned, brutal work is being carried out under the guise of ‘improvement’ with little or no regard given to the aesthetic or historic significance and interest of a floor and its importance to the integrity of a building or place. Irreversible damage is being caused by lack of understanding. Our caseworkers regularly report that they are involved too late in discussions about works involving old floors. By the time they are asked to comment on plans or proposals, pivotal decisions have already been made or are being actively developed. SPAB believes a vital ‘step’ is being missed by many of those involved with and responsible for the care of the built historic environment. A great number of schemes are being developed without initial consideration of the beauty and interest of the materials, literally, underfoot. 

In summer 2016, the SPAB launched a campaign to encourage people to look down and appreciate the history at their feet. We highlighted some of the country's most important and beautiful floors in a blog post and created a downloadable campaign document on how to look after historic floors: Caring for Old Floors pamphlet (2.5MB PDF)

Historic floors guidance note launched
The SPAB is pleased to announce the launch of a guidance note, developed jointly with ChurchCare, which addresses the issues surrounding the appropriate care of historic floors.

Head of Casework, Emma Lawrence says: “As an organisation concerned with the fabric of old buildings the SPAB has become increasingly troubled by the lack of recognition and importance given to historic floors. A great number of schemes are being developed without initial consideration of the beauty and interest of our historic floors resulting in an unecessary loss of special and unique surfaces. We are pleased to have worked in conjunction with ChurchCare to provide this guidance to raise the profile of historic floors in church buildings as part of our Floors Campaign.”

Download the historic floors guidance note (PDF, 648kb)