Saturday, 31 December 2011

Ince Blundell marbles: Telegraph letter 31 December 2011

Risk to ancient marbles

SIR – We are concerned as members of the Society of Dilettanti about the proposed dispersal of 100 marbles from a collection of ancient Roman sculptures formed by the 18th-century connoisseur, Henry Blundell.

For 300 years, these could be seen in the spectacular settings built for them between 1780 and 1810: the Pantheon and Garden Temple in the grounds of Ince Blundell Hall, Merseyside. The importance of these marbles cannot be exaggerated. The collection is rivalled only by the Townley marbles at the British Museum, and the Weddell marbles at Newby Hall, Yorkshire.

We have learnt that English Heritage has raised no objection to an application before Sefton council for listed building consent for these marbles to be removed, presumably with the intention that they be sold. As justification for this proposal, English Heritage cites conservation problems and the danger of vandalism.

As far as we are aware, no attempt has been made to establish the cost of conservation in situ or to explore other ways of keeping them in their original setting. We urge Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage, urgently to reconsider this decision, which amounts to the desecration of that most rare thing – an intact collection of classical sculpture in its original 18th-century setting.

The 100 marbles embedded in walls at Ince Blundell are part of a collection, of which 500 pieces were given to Liverpool Museums by the Weld family in 1958. By allowing these 100 to be removed, English Heritage is in violation of its duty to ensure that historic fixtures and fittings are not removed from listed buildings. It would be an unwelcome precedent, and destroy any chance of reinstating the entire collection in the Pantheon and Garden Temple.

We call on English Heritage to reverse its advice to Sefton council and to work with interested bodies, including this society, to find a way of keeping this collection intact.

Charles Sebag-Montefiore
Martin Drury
Joint Secretaries, Society of Dilettanti
Colin Amery
Sir Nicholas Bacon
Sir Jack Baer
Nicholas Baring
Sir Richard Carew-Pole
Marquess of Cholmondeley
Alec Cobbe
Richard Compton
Richard Dorment
Marquess of Douro
Lord Egremont
Lord Charles FitzRoy
Christopher Gibbs
Sir Nicholas Goodison
Earl of Gowrie
Desmond Guinness
John Harris
Anthony Hobson
John Jolliffe
Timothy Knox
Alastair Laing
Marquess of Lansdowne
David Mlinaric
Viscount Norwich
Sir William Proby
Lord Rothschild
Marquess of Salisbury
Sir Simon Towneley
Peter Troughton
Sir Humphry Wakefield
Lord Waldegrave of North Hill
Giles Waterfield
Viscount Windsor 

The letter as it appears on the Telegraph website

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Saving Georgian buildings in Newark-on-Trent

To their credit, local councillors refused consent in early November for wholesale clearance of the Robin Hood Hotel site on the edge of Newark town centre, following concerted pressure from us and other conservation bodies. The threatened listed buildings included a distinguished early eighteenth century merchant’s house (shown here), which like its neighbours had been allowed to fall into disrepair; but their condition was not as dire as the applicants claimed and their repair and reuse for retail purposes is not only feasible but economically viable. 

The applicants’ argument that the profit achievable from refurbishment was unreasonably small compared with that achievable from a cleared site inexplicably found favour with local authority’s Director of Growth, who felt that the failure to make a case for demolition under PPS5 criteria was trumped by the Government’s Planning For Growth document of March 2011, which emphasized that priority should be given to sustainable economic growth. In the mid-1990s, a similar battle was fought and won by us and others over a proposal to demolish the listed Town Wharf CafĂ© Building on the riverfront, now restored and reused. Less happily, much of a fine nineteenth century school complex overlooking the parish church was recently demolished to provide additional supermarket car parking.  And indeed this is not the end of the battle for the Robin Hood Hotel, as the repair and reuse of the buildings need to be urgently secured. A building preservation trust is interested in taking them on but would need a substantial dowry.