William Morris and Blythburgh Church
The fabric of Blythburgh church was in a very bad condition in the late nineteenth century. The Bishop of Norwich closed the church in December 1881 because the roof was unsafe. Press reports were soon brought to the notice of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. It had been founded in 1877 by William Morris, George Wardle, his business associate, and the architect Philip Webb. They opposed the over–zealous restoration of medieval buildings, often involving virtual rebuilding, with the loss of original features and the use of inappropriate styles and finishes. The SPAB immediately sought details of the restoration plans drawn up for the local building committee by the architect George Edmund Street, and continued after his death in 1881 by his son Arthur. Webb visited the church in 1882 and prepared his own report for the Society.
The SPAB became extremely concerned about the restoration proposals, but their ability to influence the local committee was complicated by a public dispute between the incumbent, Henry Sykes, and the patron, Sir John Blois, over the latter's alleged responsibility for allowing the deterioration of the church, and his parsimony in response to the appeal for funds. The existence of a London Appeal Committee, formed in response to press reports, added further confusion. The parties debated ‘Preservation’ v ‘Restoration’ in the national and county press. By the spring of 1883 the SPAB was expressing grave disquiet at events. They were anxious for work to be stopped to give time for the consideration of its own proposals. Letters to the patron, Sir John Blois, and the Earl of Stradbroke pressed the Society's case. The London Committee felt unable to claim any right to interfere in the matter. Work appears to have progressed according to the local committee’s preferences.
Contact with Blythburgh was resumed in 1894, with a new incumbent Henry Oakes. No work was being done and funds were urgently needed. William Morris visited the church in July 1895, with F. Thackeray Turner, the SPAB’s secretary. They restated the rigorous SPAB position, including opposition to opening out any more windows, and urged that the south porch should be attended to without delay. When in 1902 the SPAB saw new proposals for restoration work they were ‘astonished and taken aback’. ‘We have not seen such drastic and thorough-going "restoration" advocated for many a year.’ Another bitter debate ensued. The Society did succeed in having the south porch repaired and not rebuilt. But the local committee insisted that overall the plans of its own architect and not the SPAB's should be followed. The SPAB would only endorse the work if it met its standards but an inspection in 1906 was extremely critical of priorities and techniques. With the expression of deep regret and disappointment, the SPAB disassociated itself from the work.
The Society had remained at odds with the local committee for twenty-five years. In spite of having the patron on its side, and being able to field noble allies in the persons of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, and Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, the SPAB was defeated by a determined local building committee. Although the avoidance of over-restoration at Blythburgh has sometimes been presented as a success for Morris and the SPAB, it may well be that it was shortage of funds that really stayed the hands of the restorers.
Alan Mackley, Blythburgh, April 1995
Back to the History Index
Some Favourite Websites For September 2019:
Chris Doyle Photography – Beautiful Photos of local recent horse riding events
View extensive online galleries of recent horse shows, show jumping, cross country and other events as well as galleries of racing dogs and wildlife. Prints are available to order online.
Green Haven Holidays – Caravan and Camping Site near Halesworth
Stuart and Katherine have enthusiastically established their campsite in the village of Rumburgh just north of Halesworth. From the outset they were keen that this would be an eco-friendly business. Village CAMRA pub close by. Re-opened on 1st May for the 2015 season.
Poachers Cottage – Poacher's Cottage, Halesworth - Charming self-catering accommodation for three (plus cot) with beach hut option
A welcoming and charming one-bedroomed cottage, with space for a cot. Additional single sofa-bed. Highchair available. This cosy cottage is in a Conservation Area in a street of other interesting period cottages, yet countryside walks start opposite the front door. Stroll to the Market Place and the pedestrianised Thoroughfare. Just ten miles to the coast at Southwold where you have the option of renting a beach hut which is in the same ownership.
Golden Light Essences – A Gift of Transformation
Golden Light Essences comprise a range of flower and vibrational essences. These flower essences have been created to help us to understand and transform the negative beliefs we have about ourselves, and our world.
Michael Bullen – Walberswick based watercolourist and Artist
Watercolours are a moment in time with all the depth, light and simplicity of a haiku and just as elusive. Michael's paintings and prints can be viewed at his Studio overlooking The Market Square in Halesworth.