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 March 2018:
Larnaca Holiday Apartment, Cyprus – Sun, Sand and the Mediterranean!
Get away from it all and stay in this lovely one bedroomed apartment for two which features two large balconies offering views of the sea and distant mountains and only a short walk from central Larnaca, in the heart of the Mediterranean!
Hare Lodge Bed and Breakfast – An expansive but affordable pet friendly Bed and Breakfast
Offering four bed and breakfast rooms (two ground floor rooms with ensuite bathrooms, both with king size beds). Two rooms have the added luxury of their own lounge and kitchen with two bedrooms upstairs with views of the gardens. A fresh, delicious and locally sourced breakfast awaits you.
Holly Tree Cottage – Self-catering for up to six in 4-bedroomed cottage in Wangford, three miles from Southwold
Holly Tree Cottage is a comfortable cottage, with central heating, garden and own parking. WiFi. Sleeps five in four bedrooms (one downstairs), sleeps six when using the additional stackaway bed. Downstairs bathroom. Open all year. Sorry no pets.
Logs Logs Logs – Family Firm delivering kiln dried logs to Norfolk and Suffolk, including Norwich, Diss and Woodbridge
Logs available in tipper loads and bulk bags for wood burning stoves, open fires and pizza ovens. In addition supplying firewood in bulk bags to Essex, Cambridgeshire, London and beyond.
Strathmore – Self-catering for up to eight in ground floor apartment on Southwold sea front. WiFi.
Self-catering for up to eight in this three bedroomed spacious Victorian property on North Parade. Ground floor apartment. Handy for the beach, Southwold's pier and the town centre. Wonderful sea views from the lounge and front bedroom. WiFi.