The hands of time

If William Morris were still here he might be interested to know that, whilst many of his ideas were considered revolutionary in his lifetime, some have since been absorbed into mainstream planning policy. In particular, he did not share his fellow Victorians’ enthusiasm for turning back the hands of time in relation to the preservation of ancient buildings, and an appeal decision against the refusal of listed building consent for internal alterations to a thatched cottage in Wiltshire (DCS Number 400-022-320) is in line with his philosophy.

In this case the inspector observed “….it would not appear that the repairs adopted the approach recommended in Historic England’s ‘Principles of Repair of Historic Buildings’ which advises that: ‘A conservative approach is fundamental to good conservation – so retaining as much of the significant historic fabric and keeping changes to a minimum are of key importance when carrying out repair work to historic buildings. The unnecessary replacement of historic fabric, no matter how carefully the work is carried out, can in most situations have an adverse effect on character and significance.’ “

The appellant, the inspector noted, referred on several occasions to the approach to conservation adopted by William Morris, who founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in the late 19th century. The inspector pointed out, however, that “….Morris was against a particular ‘restorationist’ approach which involved trying to return a building to its ‘original’, or imagined original, form. He supported retaining surviving building fabric, no matter how flawed by the passage of time, while employing minimal, non-intrusive reinforcement of the existing infrastructure to prevent future damage. That philosophy informs much of Historic England’s current approach, which is to try to retain as much of the significant historic fabric as possible and keep changes to a minimum. Whilst that does not necessarily preclude the honest use of more modern materials or interventions, where appropriate, the need to do so has to be properly assessed and evidenced.” 

Finding a lack of clear evidence of a conservative approach or any agreed design scheme in relation to the changes made, the inspector dismissed the appeal.

Section 27.233 of DCP Online concerns internal alterations to listed buildings.