2010 Yearbook

The SPAB Connecting with Conservation Officers Matthew Slocombe In 1877, when the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) was founded, there were, of course, no professional conservation officers, no Institute of Historic Building Conservation, no English Heritage or Cadw, and no conservation legislation. Over the 133 years of the SPAB’s existence, things have changed dramatically. Publications like the IHBC’s Yearbook now include dozens of national building conservation bodies. Some, like the Georgian Group and the Victorian Society have their origins within the SPAB, while others have come about independently or are government sponsored. Inevitably, with the diverse range of heritage bodies that now exists, even those council officers with an interest in the historic environment may feel uncertain about the SPAB’s present role. At the core of the SPAB’s work is its manifesto, written by its founders. This is assumed by some to be an outdated Victorian curiosity, of little relevance to the 21st century, but the society believes that it remains as relevant today as ever. Its language may be poetically antiquated, but its concerns are entirely modern: sustainability, maintenance and protection of the environment. As the SPAB manifesto states: ‘It is for all these buildings… of all times and styles, that we plead, and call upon those who have to deal with them… to stave off decay by daily care, to prop a perilous wall or mend a leaky roof’. To this, William Morris added the society’s catch phrase : ‘We are only trustees for those who come after us’. The society views itself as the voice of, and advocate for, old buildings, although this is often achieved through help, advice and support for current owners. Much of what we do is statutory listed building casework. For nearly 40 years the SPAB, along with other national amenity societies, has had to be notified of applications that involve demolition of a listed building of any grade, in England and Wales, or alteration with an element of demolition (as set out in Circular 09/2005). The other societies now notified are the Ancient Monuments Society, the Georgian Group, the Council for British Archaeology, the Victorian Society and, most recently, the Twentieth Century Society. Although notifications should be sent to all, in practice the period- based societies try to avoid overlap, with the Georgian Group picking up where the SPAB stops, in about 1720. Government advice is that ‘Authorities should include a copy The SPAB provided pre-application advice about proposals for this Grade II* listed farm at Dymock in Gloucestershire. Regrettably, the district council there no longer has a conservation officer.