Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday 29 January 2023

Lost Victorian architectural heritage

The Mail Online has an article about a number of major losses in our heritage of Victorian buildings in the late 1950s and 1960s - when it was open season on any such structures seemingly just because they were Victorian - and about a few which escaped the wrecking ball.

It is in many ways so very depressing to realise what we lost in so short a time and for such tawdry and fleeting reasons. 

We should be very grateful indeed for those who changed opinions such as Sir John Betjeman and the Victorian Society.

That era was not just destructive of Victorian buildings but of much else - in those years one historic country house is reckoned to have been destroyed each week, town centres were ravaged with the wholesale loss of historic buildings, any old building not actively in use was a sitting target and the Church of England and then the Catholic Church got in on the act with closing historic churches and not infrequently demolishing them. This was not just due to greed or stupidity - important as those undoubtedly were - but it was the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist, of creating a modern and brave new world that infected planners
( that’s how they make money after all ) and politicians both left and right. This was a new triumph for Burke’s despised sophists, economists and calculators. It was already established by the 1930s and the post WWII world gave it uninhibited free rein. For an instance of that with horror at the late 1940s Plan for Oxford, too much of which was regrettably realised and relentlessly copied in so many other towns. It was, of course, there in Victorian Britain and in other centuries before that, driven by religion and political upheavel in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries - but by the early to mid-twentieth century we should surely as a society have known better. Even as a boy I deplored such destruction, and I have, mercifully, lived long enough to see attitudes change, but at what an appalling cost not just to our physical surroundings but to our mental landscape as well. We are all diminished by such losses.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A wave of heritage destruction is nothing new, sadly. Victorians between the 1840s and the 1900s merrily ripped out medieval church fittings and carvings all over the country. There is hardly a church in Devon, for example, not almost wrecked by their earnest "improvements".

Going further back in time, I'm probably in a minority of one in lamenting the fact that Christopher Wren replaced Old St Pauls instead of renovating the original. The stained glass west window was the finest in the world, as even the French with their fine stained glass acknowledged. But doubtless nobody had bothered to record a detailed plan of its layout. In fairness though, perhaps the building had been weakened beyond repair by the Fire of London, as Wren claimed.

John R Ramsden