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Prince Charles quits heritage society in censorship row


The Prince of Wales has resigned as a patron of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB)

The falling-out centres on a foreword Charles wrote for a handbook on the restoration of old houses. The heir to the throne used the opportunity to express his belief that buildings should always be restored in their original style. The society, which frequently uses modern architecture and design, asked Charles to amend his conservative views. The Prince refused and subsequently resigned from the Society.

Philip Venning, secretary of SPAB, said: ‘We agree with so much of what he says, but on the issue of new design there are occasions when we disagree, and we don’t disguise the fact. We were pleased he was our patron.’

Charles was asked to write the foreword to The Old House Handbook by its authors, Roger Hunt and Marianne Suhr. After his work was rejected, Philip Venning provided the introduction himself.

The SPAB, founded by socialist architect and writer William Morris, is the world’s oldest environmental campaigning group. It is understood that Charles resigned from the Society several months ago when his five-year term as patron ended - before his very public row with Richard Rogers over the Chelsea Barracks development.

SPAB has yet to appoint a new patron.


Readers' comments (7)

  • Awww diddums, toys out of the pram again!

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  • Oh No not another abdication crisis............

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  • As a member of the Society, I'm not altogether sure what Prince Charles did for it, and as Patron, he should have known about the views of the Society when he joined. However, it is true that he is indeed in general a friend to historic buildings and the wider cause of building conservation, and it is sad that this small rift could not be healed. The royal family had a longstanding involvement as Patrons of the SPAB.

    I would suggest, however, that the Society does not 'frequently use modern architecture and design' as it is not a builder or developer. It does, however, promote the view that in general, new work on a historic building should be distinguished from the old, which is accepted sound conservation policy, and holds an annual competition for new design, the Philip Webb Award

    SPAB and Philip Webb

    Philip Webb and William Morris were the main founders of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877. From the start Webb devoted time to teaching young architects the principles and methods of practical conservation. The Society maintains that educational tradition today.

    Purpose of the Award
    To encourage new design in the context of historic buildings and to develop an appreciation of old buildings amongst architectural students, through an understanding of the architectural and historical values of old buildings and the purpose, philosophy and techniques of conservation.

    The Brief
    The Student (or groups of Students) are to choose an individual building or group of buildings of historic interest in the UK which are subject to decay or neglect. The Student(s) are required to produce a scheme which will sympathetically re-vitalise the building(s) and setting for appropriate new existing use(s). The scheme should include a significant element of new design. Some local authorities have produced 'Buildings at Risk' Registers, which might be used as the basis for such a choice of building(s).


    As for the Chelsea Barracks scheme, this is not within the remit of the SPAB at all (which I would suggest isn't an 'environmental campaigning group' and is one of the national amenity societies) and so there is no connection regardless of whether or not Prince Charles was or was not the Society's Patron at the time.

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  • A postscript

    I suspect the SPAB would not agree either that the Suhr and Hunt book was about 'restoration' as the SPAB philosophy, and the book's purpose, is repair!


    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.

    Responsible methods
    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.

    Regular maintenance
    This is the most practical and economic form of preservation.

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  • What is SPAB? www.spab.org.uk/

    The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings was founded by William Morris in 1877 to counteract the highly destructive 'restoration' of medieval buildings being practised by many Victorian architects. Today it is the largest, oldest and most technically expert national pressure group fighting to save old buildings from decay, demolition and damage.

    We advise. We educate. We campaign. We offer help when it's wanted and informed resistance when we are alarmed. We encourage excellence in new design to enrich and complement the historic environment.

    We represent the practical and positive side of conservation. We have a firm set of principles about how old buildings should be repaired and the practical knowledge to show how these can be put into effect.

    We are training the next generation to do the job with discernment and care and we are helping many others, who own or live in old buildings, to understand them better.

    Our membership includes many of the leading conservation practitioners as well as home owners, living in houses spanning all historical periods, and those who simply care about old buildings.

    Our successes are visible across the country. Thousands of historic buildings survive which would have been lost, mutilated or badly repaired without our intervention.

    Today, the Society has a statutory role as adviser to local planning authorities. We must be notified of listed building applications that involve total or partial demolition. We are also informed by those religious bodies, that have an exemption from the secular system, of certain types of proposal for listed places of worship. In addition, our Casework includes campaigning to protect historic buildings at risk.

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  • The reality is probably far removed from the report above, which seems not to have any idea of what SPAB is and what the issues are.

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  • The SPAB manifesto does not in fact supprt the view that new buildings should be extended in a frankly modern(ist) way. It is true that Morris described past alterations as having been 'wrought in the unmistakable fashion of the time'. But he then goes on to distinguish between these past alterations which 'whatever history [they] destroyed left history in the gap', and the current position in which we should treat our ancient buildings as 'monuments of a bygone art.. that modern art cannot meddle with without destroying'.

    I no reason to think that Morris would not have seen the Princes views as closer to his own than those of his detractors.

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