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Legacies
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23rd August - 12:22
Cecily Greenhill was the SPAB's archivist for many years and left a generous legacy to the Society when she died in 2012. Cecily, known to all in the organisation as 'Green', valued the Society's work and ideas. Green joined the Society’s staff in the early 1980s, under the Secretaryship of David Pearce. She was a devoted and enthusiastic custodian of the SPAB’s historic records, knowing its files and collections intimately. She helped many hundreds of researchers with their work and through this was only too aware of the fragility of much of the archive’s material. She was well acquainted with the wealth of information and knowledge about buildings, people and repair methods held by the Society. Green's support has helped the SPAB continue its work and we plan to make the accumulation of knowledge held within the archive more accessible in future.
23rd August - 12:03
John Sell joined the SPAB in 1974. He has been a Trustee for many years and served as the Chairman for a number of terms during the 1990s. John explains why he is leaving a legacy to the SPAB. ‘Like most young architects one of my first projects when I set up in practice on my own was for work to an old building – in fact a listed building. I very quickly saw that nothing in my training at the Architectural Association had equipped me to deal with this. Looking back I am surprised to realise that I did something rather sensible and asked for help. Somehow, and I have no idea how, I fortuitously stumbled on the SPAB at the right moment to get myself a place on the one week course for professionals. I found an organisation that gave me a clear idea of how to set about looking after an old building and one I found myself in great sympathy with. William Morris had for a long time been a hero of mine politically, I knew his wallpapers and fabrics, found his poetry rather archaic but now I began to see how his politics and his art, his love of old buildings and his concern for craftsmanship formed the whole man. I was intrigued to see how he had brought together people of different types, different political opinions with the common objective of caring for old buildings. Around the same time I became involved with the conservation area in Primrose Hill, where I was living at the time, and ended up writing some guidelines for SPAB on conservation advisory committees. It must have been around this time that David Pearce, then Secretary of the SPAB, ‘headhunted’ Gillian Darley and me to join the main committee. I suspect he thought that some younger members might be a good idea – I do know that he thought I looked like the office junior. How I made the jump from ‘office junior’ to Chairman in 16 years I don’t recall. The Duke of Grafton’s decision to retire as Chairman after 25 years obviously gave the opportunity. Why me? Perhaps a feeling in the committee that the SPAB needed the leadership of a younger generation. Whatever the reason it was a delightful challenge and wonderful opportunity to be chairing an organisation started by my hero. One of the delights of repairing old buildings is working with others with similar values. When working at Cobham Hall in Kent the stone-mason was an SPAB member, the bricklayer was an SPAB member, the structural engineer was an SPAB member and what made working on this wonderful 17th and 18th century building even more special was sharing our enthusiasm with the staff and pupils of the school housed there. My first involvement with heritage outside the UK was in Bosnia just as the war there was ending. That mission to train four young architects was a time of high emotion. Those four young people, traumatised by war, were desperately trying to find a way to help rebuild their country. Sitting in front of a log fire in Travnik, listening to Sevdalinka songs, tears began to stream down the face of one of the young architects. Sobbing – why? I don’t know. Remembering what? I never dared to ask but I too cried myself to sleep that night. Why is it assumed that loyalty is determined by which side of a line from a map one is born? Real loyalty comes from stored values. The war in former Yugoslavia showed how much heritage matters to people, the extent to which the destruction of heritage is a pre-cursor to attempts to re-write history, that heritage, although it can be misused and maltreated, has, in the words of the World Heritage Convention, universal value. The war in former Yugoslavia was my introduction to Europa Nostra, the European Federation of non-governmental heritage organisations. My wife, Jane Wade, and I wrote a letter to The Times exasperated by the lack of international action when the roofs of Dubrovnik were being shelled by the Yugoslav navy. We were invited to the Europa Nostra conference being held in Vienna that year and so began a long and fascinating involvement with Europe’s heritage. It is a truism to say that heritage tells us who we are but it also tells us of human endeavour, human skill, human emotion, human ideas. Ideas may change but endeavour, skill and emotion are always present. Bringing together those who understand this both nationally through the SPAB or internationally seems to me to be a way of ensuring that shared values are passed from one generation to the next. William Morris left us the SPAB as his legacy. We can protect that legacy by leaving a bequest to the SPAB. Legacies to charity are cost effective because they can reduce the overall value of your estate liable for inheritance tax. There are even greater tax advantages if you leave more than 10% of your estate to charity. And why the SPAB? The SPAB is about buildings not people but people made the buildings we care for, people love them, people look after them now and hope to pass them onto those who come after. The SPAB trains, educates, campaigns, gives advice and it does that in a way that inspires love and passion.
19th August - 11:41
Roger Mears, architect and former SPAB Guardian on his enduring involvement with SPAB.   'In 1979 my wife, Joanie Speers, and I bought a derelict watermill and cowshed in Carmarthenshire, with the intention of turning them into a holiday home. This proved to be a turning point in my career as an architect. Neither of us knew anything about watermills, but since this one was of considerable age and retained a substantial part of its waterwheel and much of its internal machinery, we decided we should find out more. We found and joined the Mills Section of the SPAB, which introduced us to the fascinating world of old buildings and machinery. Work started on the mill, with a builder who responded sensitively and became a good friend. Together, we began to understand how the buildings had been put together, how they had developed, the significance of every detail and how to work with their grain. We made mistakes but the advantage of working on my own building was that I was able to learn from them at no one else’s expense. I attended the SPAB’s Repair Course in 1985 and was thrilled to discover that there is a wealth of knowledge in the SPAB community that everyone was keen to share. I gained reassurance that my approach to old buildings had been developing in the right direction. A year later I was fortunate to be appointed as architect for the refurbishment of Tudor House in Cheyne Walk - one of the finest houses in Chelsea, formerly owned by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It was in a poor state of repair and my recommendation that it should be repaired following SPAB principles was welcomed by my client, John Paul Getty II. I needed to learn a huge amount, but fortunately Mr Getty took decisions slowly and I was able to draw on the help of successive Technical Secretaries of the SPAB. Once the work was completed I sought a way of contributing to the SPAB and was elected as a member of the Guardians’ committee in 1996, eventually standing down in 2015. Monthly meetings gave the opportunity to discuss contentious or unusual cases in depth with fellow Guardians. Casework on behalf of the SPAB has played a large part in my life. I have particularly enjoyed being involved with some of our great cathedrals. Being able to admire the craftsmanship, to see hidden corners – roofs, crypts, closed chapels, work in progress from scaffolding – and to have had a positive influence on decisions taken on such important buildings has been very rewarding. I have regularly been a member of the jury for the John Betjeman Award, which celebrates excellence in the conservation and repair of a place of worship (other than a cathedral) in England or Wales. It has involved visiting churches, chapels, an abbey, a priory and a Friends’ Meeting House to see a great variety of conservation work of all varieties and levels of expertise. Discussions with other jury members are always enlightening and in the end our decisions have almost always been unanimous. The SPAB Manifesto makes a clear statement of the principles of conservation and it is something that is always salutary to read. It was drawn up at a time when many prominent architects were rebuilding or ‘scraping’ old buildings and, while this practice is still far too prevalent, there is today a much wider appreciation of the SPAB’s ideas. It can, at times, be difficult, even impractical, to follow its principles to the letter; the secret is in finding ways to acknowledge them while responding to the needs of today. This country has a wealth of historic buildings and they embody the ideals and aspirations of generations. Satisfaction in working with them comes from attempting to understand them, before trying to decide on necessary repairs or alterations to fulfil clients’ needs. The most appropriate approach involves consideration of two clients: people and their buildings. It has been a privilege to become part of the ongoing process of alteration and maintenance over the centuries, constantly aware that we are but the guardians of buildings for future generations. In 2008, disturbed by the number of disused farmhouses in rural Wales falling into dereliction and by the lack of affordable housing, Joanie and I formed a building preservation trust, named Adfer Ban a Chwm (ABC), which translates as Revitalise Hill and Valley. The aims of the trust are to restore derelict vernacular buildings as affordable housing for local people. A breakthrough came in 2015 when the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority asked ABC to help them deliver affordable housing in ‘non-nucleated’ rural Carmarthenshire, at the western end of the Park. All work with old buildings involves constant learning; techniques and skills are evolving. The SPAB involves people as well as the buildings we care for; it educates, trains, campaigns and gives advice. Its role in education and promulgating its ideas is of the utmost importance and one of the great joys of being involved is the willingness of so many people to share their own passions, knowledge and experience. Members of staff are the backbone of the organisation; their dedication and enthusiasm has been inspiring. The range of the SPAB’s activities has spread considerably since I first became involved: the William Morris Craft Fellowship was instituted in 1986; Faith in Maintenance ran for 5 years from 2007 and has been succeeded by the Maintenance Co-operatives Project; the choice of technical and other courses and workshops has expanded considerably. Our historic buildings have benefited from the legacy, both financial and in kind, passed on by all those who have been involved since the SPAB’s foundation. Its work needs continued funding and including a legacy in a will is one of the ways that we, as members, can contribute to enable it to grow. Legacies to charities are cost effective because they reduce the overall value of an estate liable for inheritance tax and a reduced rate of inheritance tax can be levied if more than 10% is left to charities. My long-term hope is that the message of the SPAB will permeate right through all levels of society so that our historic buildings, whether listed or unlisted, castles or simple dwellings, are loved, understood and cared for, that the best quality work is carried out to them and that future generations will be able to enjoy them as much as we do.'