The “Conservation Compass”

By Paul Walters

Paul Walters Brickrubbing with Emma Simpson at Hampton Court Palace.jpg

Paul Walters brick rubbing at Hampton Court Palace with Emma Simpson

It has been a few months since we embarked on the incredible journey that is the William Morris Craft Fellowship and it has not disappointed! We have visited an incredible amount of sites, varying in architectural style, function and grandeur. However, I have always been just as interested in the ethos of the people working on these sites as I have been in the buildings themselves.

As a small business owner it can get very difficult trying to get the balance right when establishing one’s boundaries to repairing, conserving and/or restoring a building, and having spent a significant amount of time these past few months with a variety of craftspeople and conservation professionals, it is reassuring to know that everyone has such dilemmas. There are a few obvious avenues that affect the ability to carry out works in the manner which is perceived as “textbook” or the “SPAB way”, this is perhaps true north on our conservation compass. On sites, this magnetic pull towards our true north is disrupted by numerous and perhaps inevitable complications that will make us deviate from our path. Perhaps the strongest influence is the client. A lot of clients want to ‘modernise’ a building, to the peril of the character that makes the building desirable in the first instance. But equally detrimental is that of personal ambition of specifiers, architects and craftspeople. We can all get blinded by our own version of doing what’s right, whilst trying to manage what the client wants. Some value some eras more than others, some crafts or work more than others.

Fortunately, one could argue that we’re better off having a compass in the first instance? Knowing where true north is serves us in good stead, regardless of whether we choose to utilise it to its full potential. Its reassuring to know that even the most knowledgeable and experienced people go through similar turmoil when making important decisions, before putting the stamp of our era on such amazing buildings.

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