Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Thursday, 3 April 2014
Yesterday I slagged off listed buildings inspectors in general, and one conservation officer in particular, and this produced a trickle of admissions about how some of you have flouted the law in the past, as if you were surrounded by nothing but friends and fellow conspiritors. You naughty people, you. I ought to redress the balance.
As we all know, the concept of the mandatory conservation of historical buildings was introduced in the 1960s, following a load of criminally greedy town councillors and builders who knew they could make good money by ripping down perfectly good, 18th century structures simply by designating them as 'slums'.
Bath was probably the leading precedent set when trying to halt the wanton destruction, and I have many friends who were in the vanguard in facing up to rogue councillors and uninhibited developers.
Once these safeguard laws were in place, the tricky problem of ruling as to what was worth conserving and what wasn't, fell to a handful of young phogeys most of whom had a background in Art History. The were all a pain in the arse, but a necessary one at the time.
Then the United Kingdom Institute of Conservation was set up and quickly became a quango. I was one of its original members in the days when the subscription fees were low to attract numbers - they would take anyone who would swear allegiance to them in those days, and councils would not let you loose on their heritage sites without knowing that you were a member.
A mate of mine wrote the rulebook for the stone side of the operation (they have paper, fabric, wood, metal, glass etc. departments as well), and now his deliberations have - literally - been set in stone.
Then the young phogeys grew old, and most of them not only devoted their lives to Christ, but also to his many houses dotted around the whole of Britain. Most of them are church inspectors now, and the Catholic ones are having a whale of a time telling the Protestants what they can and cannot do with their own buildings. I used to deal regularly with one particular officer here in Bath, who came from the Appalachian mountains in the early 1970s, and now he has been amiably adopted by many C of E churches, despite being a born-again papist.
The vacuum was filled by the worst form of petty power-hungry, pen-pushing officials who know the worth of everything and the value of nothing, but since it's them who decide on something's worth, it's them who set the value - not that a recently listed, avocado bathroom suite will put anything on the price of your property when it is time to sell.
The worst thing about the situation is that these people are still actually needed in today's materialistic society. Without them visiting the sites on a weekly or daily basis, unscrupulous builders and tradesmen would still be destroying some really valuable, historical artefacts and replacing them with avocado bathroom suites. I just wish they were better educated, that's all.
I could go on, but suffice to say that just because the inspectors insist on nothing but the finest lime-mortar be used on all the buildings in this World Heritage site, they don't know enough about their subject to notice when a mason has sprinkled in a liberal handful of Ordinary White Portland Cement into the mix, destroying the properties of the lime altogether. Many of them do not even notice when the lime has been substituted for grey Portland cement either, believe it or not.
By the time it is obvious to anyone, they will probably have got themselves a job pottering around on the churches to while away the autumn of their lives.
The thing about most lime-based stone conservation techniques is that they are spectacularly simple, but you have to have the discipline of using them firmly embedded into your very psyche before you always adhere to them. Just wearing socks and sandals won't do.
In the time of Vitruvius, the period of training for all architects was 21 years.