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Churches Conservation Trust - Lunchtime Lectures #11 - Restoration vs Conservation



Whoever said churches were dull and boring clearly hasn't been following our weekly lecture series. Our free lectures take place live every Thursday online, but you can catch up on every single one right here. Our lectures explore everything from art, architecture, history, politics to even some pretty weird and wonderful topics too!



Another video in our highlights from the CCT Lunchtime Lecture series.



After decades of neglect, Blythburgh church, a grand fifteenth-century building in a small Suffolk village, was ‘mouldering into ruin’. In 1881 the church was closed as unsafe. Although the church was re-opened in 1884, proposals for restoration precipitated a twenty-five year long rancorous conflict between local vicars and restoration committees, and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.


Would the restoration of the church lead to the loss of medieval work and the means to understand its history through a study of its fabric, and transform the character of the church? Was the alternative just ‘propping up a ruin’? Extensive documentation survives covering both sides of the dispute, enabling the reconstruction of an important restoration v conservation dispute that had a national dimension. The influence of strong-willed (and devious) individuals is revealed and the existence of tension between vicars and patrons. The ways in which the SPAB functioned as a pressure-group are demonstrated, with their lobbying techniques and use of the media.


Was there a winner? Did William Morris save the church as some have suggested? Do the various uses of the church today help us, with hindsight, to judge the outcome of the dispute? This talk will present the story based on documents edited for the Suffolk Records Society, published in 2017. This lecture is given by Dr Alan Mackley an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of History of the University of East Anglia. Dr Mackley has written numerous books and articles published including Creating Paradise. Building the English Country House, 1660-1880 (co-authored with Richard Wilson, 2000); two volumes of eighteenth-century letters edited for the Norfolk Record Society, and The Restoration of Blythburgh Church 1881-1906. The dispute between the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and Blythburgh Church Restoration Committee (Boydell/Suffolk Records Society, 60, 2017). He is a University tutor and contributor to BBC TV, Radio 4, 5, local radio BBC Norfolk and Suffolk, ITV (Secret Rivers) and Channel 4 TV (Time Team and Restoration Man) programmes. As well as a. Producer/Presenter of local history programmes for community radio stations. Has lived in Suffolk, first as a WW2 evacuee, and now continuously for over 40 years.


Check out the full range of video lectures Here and Here

Stay tuned for more videos from the CCT in coming weeks.



Why Churches are important to our national heritage


The churches of the United Kingdom are a testament to the country's rich cultural heritage. From the grandeur of medieval cathedrals to the charm of small rural chapels, these buildings represent centuries of architectural excellence and artistic achievement. They are not only beautiful structures but also play an important role in the cultural, social, and political life of the country.


One of the most significant features of the churches in the UK is their architecture.

The cathedrals, in particular, are awe-inspiring structures, with their soaring spires, intricate stone carvings, and stained glass windows. They are a testament to the incredible craftsmanship and dedication of countless artisans and builders who worked tirelessly over the centuries to create these magnificent structures. Many of these buildings have stood for centuries, providing a link to the past and a sense of continuity.


The churches in the UK have played a crucial role in the country's cultural and social life. They have been the setting for significant religious events such as weddings, funerals, and christenings. They have also been used as venues for cultural events, including musical performances, art exhibitions, and festivals. Many churches have also become popular tourist attractions, drawing visitors from all over the world to marvel at their beauty and learn about their history.


Beyond their cultural significance, churches have also played an important role in the political and social landscape of the UK. Many churches have been at the forefront of social justice movements, advocating for the rights of the marginalized and oppressed. For example, during the suffragette movement, churches played a critical role in supporting women's rights and fighting for their right to vote. Similarly, many churches have been at the forefront of promoting human rights and advocating for the rights of refugees and migrants.


Furthermore, churches in the UK have played a crucial role in the country's education system. Many of the country's oldest schools and universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, were founded by churches. These institutions have played a vital role in the country's intellectual and cultural life, producing some of the world's most influential thinkers, writers, and artists.


Finally, churches in the UK are an essential part of local communities, providing a space for people to come together, socialize, and participate in community events. They are often the center of local cultural life, hosting events such as concerts, plays, and exhibitions. They are also an important source of support and comfort for those in need, offering counseling and other forms of assistance.


In conclusion, churches in the United Kingdom are a vital part of the country's cultural, social, and political heritage. They are beautiful structures that represent centuries of architectural and artistic excellence, and they have played a crucial role in shaping the country's history and culture. They are not only places of worship but also serve as cultural centers, community hubs, and sources of support and comfort for those in need. The churches of the UK are a testament to the country's rich history and enduring cultural legacy, and they will continue to be an important part of the country's cultural and social landscape for generations to come.


Restoration vs Conservation


When it comes to preserving the churches of the United Kingdom, two approaches are often used: restoration and conservation. While both methods aim to protect these important cultural and historical landmarks, they differ in their goals and methods.


Restoration involves bringing a building back to its original state or appearance. This approach often involves significant changes to the building's structure, such as repairing or replacing damaged elements, adding new features or decorations, or even rebuilding entire sections of the building. The goal of restoration is to recreate the building as it would have looked when it was first built, often using historical records or other evidence to guide the process.


Conservation, on the other hand, aims to preserve a building in its current state, often with minimal intervention.

This approach focuses on maintaining the existing structure and materials, repairing any damage or deterioration, and preventing further damage through maintenance and monitoring. The goal of conservation is to protect the building's historical and cultural value without altering its appearance or character.


Both restoration and conservation have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to preserving the churches of the UK. Restoration can be an effective way to revive a building's original grandeur and beauty, but it can also be expensive and may involve significant changes to the building's structure or character. Restoration can also be controversial, as some people argue that it can obscure a building's true history and character.


Conservation, on the other hand, is often seen as a more conservative approach, focused on preserving a building's original character and materials. It is generally less expensive than restoration and can be less controversial, as it seeks to maintain the building's original appearance rather than changing it. However, conservation can also be challenging, as it requires constant monitoring and maintenance to prevent further damage or deterioration.


Ultimately, the approach used to preserve churches in the UK will depend on a variety of factors, including the building's age, condition, and historical significance, as well as the available resources and the goals of those involved in the preservation process. In some cases, a combination of restoration and conservation may be used, depending on the specific needs and challenges of the building.


Regardless of the approach used, however, the preservation of churches in the UK is essential to protect the country's rich cultural and historical heritage. These buildings are not only beautiful and impressive structures, but they also represent centuries of architectural and artistic achievement and play an important role in the social, cultural, and political life of the country. Preserving them for future generations is a crucial task that requires careful planning, dedication, and a deep appreciation for the value of these important landmarks.



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