Heritage, Volume 8, Number 3, Summer 1990 Page: 10
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l THIS IS THE PICTURE OF THE OLD
HOUSE BY THE THAMES TO WHICH
THE PEOPLE OF THIS STORYWENTA,
HEREAFTER FOLLOWS THE BOOK IT,
SELF WHICH IS CALLED NEWS FROM
NOWHERE OR AN EPOCH OF REST 8
IS WRITTEN BY WILLIAM MORRIS.~.S
Kelmscott House, Oxfordshire. An illustration from Morris' News from
Nowhere, published by Morris' own Kelmscott Press.
during the firm's early years.13 So, despite later protestations of
innocence, particularly by Morris' apologists,14 he was deeply
involved with church restoration projects for much of his early
The main opposition to the ecclesiastical restoration practices
during this period came not from Morris or from other architects or
architectural suppliers, but from John Ruskin. Ruskin who was
staunchly anti-Anglo-Catholic, protested on both architectural
and religious grounds much that was carried out in the name of the
Gothic Revival. This attitude was tied to his understanding of the
nature of architecture. For Ruskin, buildings were not the products
of the individual taste of their architects or designers, but the
outgrowth of ongoing, long-term processes. The age, alterations,
additions, and the surface character of the stone were all part of a
building's architectural "character" for Ruskin, who wrote fondly
of the "graceful irregularity" or even the "graceful negligence" of a
monument.15 Expressed as early as his first book, Modern Painters of
1843, Ruskin's views were clarified especially in the second volume
of his Stones of Venice of 1853. Restoration was, Ruskin concluded,
as "impossible as to raise the dead . . . The thing is a lie from
beginning to end."'6
The English architectural community responded during the
course of the late nineteenth century to Ruskin's controversial
views. George Gilbert Scott, now considered the period's most
notorious restorer, called as early as 1850 for a committee of the
Institute of British Architects to reassess restoration practices and
compile a list of threatened buildings, a task that was never carried
out.17 The Society of Antiquaries of London began a similar project
a few years later, but again with little effect.' There was obviously
a concern and a hope among architects that something could be
10 HERITAGE * SUMMER 1990
Designs by Richard Norman Shaw for houses at Bedford Park, a "progressive,"
Queen Anne-inspired development founded almost the same year as the AntiScrape
Society. Bedford Park approached closer to the social and artistic ideals
of Morris than did most speculative architecture of the period.
done to end inappropriate changes and codify restoration
procedures. But it is evident that the full force of Ruskin's message
was never understood by England's powerful architectural
community or by church restorers themselves. The task of making
Ruskin's prescriptions more concrete fell to Morris.
Morris' campaign would not begin, however, until the late
1870s, fully twenty years after Ruskin's first criticisms, and must be
seen as part of a more general revival of interest in restoration
practices. Criticisms by Ruskin-influenced writers of specific
restoration projects were published more frequently in the Builder
and other professional journals, beginning around 1870.19 F.G.
Stephens, the art critic, took on the anti-restoration cause in the
influential art and literary journal, the Athenaeum, a short time
later.20 Ruskin himself returned to the issue by refusing the Institute
of British Architects' Gold Medal in 1874, complaining that
British architects should be more concerned with the restorations
taking place in Assisi than with honoring him.2' Morris finally
entered the fray in March of 1877. Writing to the Athenaeum he
announced, "My eye just now caught the word 'restoration' in the
morning paper, and, on looking closer, I saw that this time it is
nothing less than the Minster of Tewkesbury that is to be destroyed
by Sir Gilbert Scott."22 Morris called for a new society "to keep a
watch on old monuments, [and] to protest against all 'restoration'
that means more than keeping out the wind and water."23 A group
formed in April, and by the following year, the Society for the
Protection of Ancient Buildings could claim sixty members, many
of them influential figures in the art community.
Historians continue to question why Morris responded when he
did. Part of the explanation lies in the circumstances of Morris' own
life. Termed a "passive liberal" by Mackail,24 despite earlier more
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 8, Number 3, Summer 1990, periodical, Summer 1990; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45427/m1/10/: accessed May 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.