Wimbledon Heritage: Free lecture on William Morris's greatest achievement
William Morris, the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite designer and manufacturer of textiles, tapestries, carpets and stained glass at the site of today’s Merton Abbey Mills craft centre, also founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
What’s more, he considered that his most important achievement.
Now a direct successor to Morris as Secretary of the SPAB is coming to Wimbledon to tell of its crucial work since the founder’s time.
On Wednesday, March 20, architect Philip Venning, holder of the post from 1984 until 2012, will be speaking in the Mansel Road Centre at the bottom of Wimbledon Hill Road, hosted by the Wimbledon Society.
A member of the Westminster Abbey Fabric Commission, he has also served on the Heritage Lottery Fund Expert Panel and the National Trust Council. Entry to his talk will be free to all. It starts at 8pm.
The SPAB was founded in 1877 by Morris with Philip Webb, the “father” of Arts and Crafts architecture, and others.
It was Britain’s first national building conservation body, established to oppose the fashion of the time for “restoration” of ancient buildings which destroyed their original features and turned them into idealised versions lacking historical authenticity. More than 7000 medieval churches suffered such a fate between 1840 and 1870.
The problem was that property owners at that time were legally allowed to do anything they liked to their own land and buildings, regardless of national heritage or future generations. In extremis, this sometimes amounted to sheer vandalism, as seen at Wimbledon’s Iron Age fort, Caesar’s Camp (see Heritage story 13 April 2012).
Morris called the “restorations” forgeries since they often involved removal of elements that had been added over time and replacing them with entirely new features.
Instead, the SPAB was set up to ensure that ancient buildings would be repaired, not restored, and their entire history protected. Many of the laws and policies today that govern the protection of old buildings stem from the ideas of Morris and Webb whose work for the Society involved thousands of hours of fighting to save the country’s heritage.
Today, with some 8500 members, the SPAB still operates according to its original manifesto. It has to be notified of all applications in England and Wales to demolish any listed building in whole or part. It campaigns, advises, runs training programmes and courses, conducts research and publishes information.
Its Mills Section is the only national body concerned with the protection, repair and continued use of traditional windmills and watermills – both, of course, relevant to Merton because of the Wimbledon Windmill (see Heritage story 14 December 2012) and the watermills at Merton Abbey Mills and Morden Hall Park.
The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.