6 Fitzroy Square
Emeritus Professor Janet Myles Spencer
In the 21st century our cathedrals and churches have never been better cared for. In this talk Professor Janet Spencer will take us back to earlier times to ask questions about how attitudes to our medieval heritage have changed over the centuries. Why was it, for example, that by the end of the 18th century, many great buildings such as St Alban’s Abbey, and Rochester and Hereford cathedrals were on the point of collapse and our beloved small parish churches were falling to ruin, described in such desperate terms by one vicar, as ‘the church being overrun by dissent, the crumbling stone carried away by the cart-load for road-mending and the font in a field used as a cattle trough’. Some restoration was carried out in the 1700s, but what inspired the architect James Wyatt in the course of his reparations at Lichfield and Canterbury to sweep away much decorative work and demolish 14th and 15th century chantry chapels as ‘excrecences’?
How did change happen and what was the context for the great revival movement that took place in the 19th century, leading to much rebuilding and restoration, not all of it the most sensitive kind?
What of our own attitudes in the 20th and 21st century? We may shed tears throughout over some of the disasters, demolition and loss from previous ages, but we will hope to end on a positive note for the future survival of our magnificent church architecture.