The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings is involved in all aspects
of the survival of buildings which are old and interesting. Our principal concern
is the nature of their "restoration" or "repair", because misguided work can be
extremely destructive. To us the skill lies in mending them with the minimum loss
of fabric and so of romance and authenticity. Old buildings cannot be preserved
by making them new.
In the architectural context "restoration" means work intended to return an old
building to a perfect state. It can be the unnecessary renewal of worn features
or the hypothetical reconstruction of whole or missing elements; in either case
tidy reproduction is achieved at the expense of genuine but imperfect work. William
Morris founded the SPAB in 1877 to defend old buildings from this treatment. He
saw that the most vulnerable buildings were those of most eloquent craftsmanship,
survivors from a time before mass-production took hold. In the manifesto which
he wrote for the new Society, and which guides our work to this day, he put the
strongest case against their restoration, proposing instead a policy of skilful
We are constantly studying, developing and improving ways of putting this policy
into practice through the advice, teaching and casework which we undertake. This
is what sets the SPAB apart from other conservation societies. Ours is not a learned
body, nor are we champions of any one style or period. Historic buildings cannot
be made to last for ever, but, by the abstemious approach advocated by the Society,
they will survive as long as possible, and suffer the least alteration.
Our work is guided by these principles:
Repair not Restore
Although no building can withstand decay, neglect and depredation entirely, neither
can aesthetic judgement nor archaeological proof justify the reproduction of worn
or missing parts. Only as a practical expedient on a small scale can a case for
restoration be argued.
A repair done today should not preclude treatment tomorrow, nor should it result
in further loss of fabric.
Complement not parody
New work should express modern needs in a modern language. These are the only
terms in which new can relate to old in a way which is positive and responsive
at the same time. If an addition proves essential, it should not be made to out-do
or out-last the original.
This is the most practical and economic form of preservation.
To repair old buildings well, they must be understood. Appreciation of a building's
particular architectural qualities and a study of its construction, use and social
development are all enlightening. These factors also help us to see why decay
sets in and how it may be put right.
The only work which is unquestionably necessary (whether it be repair, renewal
or addition) is that essential to a building's survival.
As good buildings age, the bond with their sites strengthens. A beautiful, interesting
or simply ancient building still belongs where it stands however corrupted that
place may have become. Use and adaptation of buildings leave their marks and these,
in time, we also see as aspects of the building's integrity. This is why the Society
will not condone the moving or gutting of buildings or their reduction to mere
facades. Repairs carried out in place, rather than on elements dismantled and
moved to the work-bench, help retain these qualities of veracity and continuity.
Fit new to old
When repairs are made, new material should always be fitted to the old and not
the old adapted to accept the new. In this way more ancient fabric will survive.
Why try to hide good repairs? Careful, considered workmanship does justice to
fine buildings, leaving the most durable and useful record of what has been done.
On the other hand, work concealed deliberately or artificially aged, even with
the best intentions, is bound to mislead.
The use of architectural features from elsewhere confuses the understanding and
appreciation of a building, even making the untouched parts seem spurious. Trade
in salvaged building materials encourages the destruction of old buildings, whereas
demand for the same materials new helps keep them in production. The use of different
but compatible materials can be an honest alternative.
Respect for age
Bulging, bowing, sagging and leaning are signs of age which deserve respect.
Good repair will not officiously iron them out, smarten them or hide the imperfections.
Age can confer a beauty of its own. These are qualities to care for, not blemishes
to be eradicated.