SPAB is the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and, although you may never have heard of it, it’s not a new organisation at all. In fact, SPAB was founded back in 1877 by a group of Pre-Raphaelites including none other than William Morris, the famous textile designer responsible for some of the most exquisite wallpaper and textile designs on the planet. The original SPAB members were dismayed to find that some architects at the time were scraping away at the historical fabric of so many buildings during restoration work and launched SPAB in order to raise awareness and prevent the loss of some of our historic architecture here in the UK.
SPAB’s very first conference was held in conjunction with London Country Council with the aim or preserving some of London’s ancient buildings, realising that many Londoners of the day were completely unaware of the architectural treasures in our capital city. Within 20 years, in 1896 the National Trust was founded and rapidly adopted SPAB’s approach to conservation and repair. IN 1913, SPAB’s Honourable Secretary, Lord Crawford of Belcarrs introduced into Parliament the very first effective historic buildings law on behalf of both SPAB and the National Trust.
SPAB is involved in all aspects of the survival of buildings which are both interesting and ancient and strives to protect such buildings from any destructive or unsympathetic restoration and repair work, advocating repairs that entail the minimum loss of fabric. Old buildings cannot be preserved by making them new and in an architectural context, “restoration” means the type of work intended to return an old building to a perfect state, which is often achieved at the expense of genuine but imperfect work.
The most vulnerable buildings are those which were created by the most skilled craftsmen, skills that were honed at a time before mass production became the norm. William Morris was conscious of this and, in SPAB’s manifesto he wrote a strong case against restoration, proposing instead a policy of carrying out skilful repair work, in order to maintain the romance and authenticity of these buildings. While no building can withstand neglect, decay and depredation, SPAB believes that neither “aesthetic judgement nor archaeological proof” can justify the reproduction of worn or missing parts. The organisation strives to continuously study, develop and improve methods of repair and put their policy into practice by offering advice, teaching and undertaking casework studies.
SPAB also runs the annual National Maintenance Week campaign to encourage owners of all types of historic or old buildings to be aware of the importance of regular care. It’s running this week from 17th November, ending with National Gutters Day on Friday, 24th November. There’s a free pocket sized maintenance calendar available which can be used to set a maintenance schedule by building owners or managers with a list of helpful maintenance tasks, tips and cool cartoons and it can be used by organisations as a give-away when promoting good property care.