Nick Cox, architect at Blenheim Palace, former Vice-Chairman of the SPAB and member of the technical panel, recalls his Scholarship experience.
One of the greatest joys in my work is going to amazingly beautiful places. The glimpse of the west front of Wells Cathedral or the sight of Blenheim Palace across the Queen’s Pool with Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge across the lakes (Walpole’s “finest view in England”) will always be uplifting. In the field of human endeavour our cathedrals, churches and country houses represent some of the most inspiring creations crafted by human hand. They are a feast for one’s spirit.
But it is not just the large and grand – sometimes small and beautifully wrought works can
have the same delight. Recently one of my most moving experiences has been looking at the completed conservation of the Jesse window at Wells Cathedral. The intensity of the colour in the glass, the juxtaposition of the tints and the delight of the whole composition are quite overwhelming when viewed from six feet away.
I was always aware of the SPAB but it was a small posting on the noticeboard at Oxford Polytechnic,
where I was studying for my Diploma, that caught my eye. Next was a call to Rachel Bower (Scholarship and Fellowship organiser at the time) followed by a meeting with Andrew Townsend (Scholars and Fellows tutor) in a pub in Oxford after which there was no escape!
I began the Scholarship in 1990, and it offered a very different way of living for nine months. It is a remarkable programme for its diversity. Every day brought a new place, a new person and a new building. One of the constants was the other Scholars. The lifelong connection with them and so many at the SPAB is the great legacy of the Scholarship. Some highlights for me were painting the view from Culzean Castle for a week, and climbing inside the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. Two of my favourite projects after the Scholarship were the boathouses at Burghley House (Stamford, Lincolnshire) and Belton House (Grantham, Lincolnshire). Both were unusual in their use of materials – one built of terracotta blocks the other timber-framed with basket-weave render and Collyweston fishscale roof. The end result was so rewarding for everyone involved.
I also love projects that bring buildings and landscape together – it would be hard to deny the thrill of clambering around inside the Grand Bridge at Blenheim whilst carrying out a fabric inspection and looking out over the lake. Tricky technical issues always appeal to me: the study of decay of Totternhoe stone, the conservation of stained glass, the use of copperas on 18th-century stone work and the formation of different oxides on lead roofs and statues.
The Scholarship has had a huge impact on my career and provided insight into so many ways of working with buildings and craftspeople. It fostered a confidence in me to discuss ideas within a framework of values. These values continue to provide a touchstone to my thinking. The programme showed me that there is rarely only one answer to a building conservation problem and that if one is to avoid “tampering with either the fabric or ornament of a building as it stands” then analysis and open-minded discussion is fundamental to sound decisions about what you should do.
Nick Cox has just completed nine years as a SPAB Trustee. We’d like to thank him for his nine-year contribution to the Committee. The Scholars and Fellows programmes are a vital part of our work. If you would like to support these schemes see our website