February 28: ‘We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist.’
2012/02/28 § Leave a comment
On this day in 1958 the Victorian Society held its first meeting.
This initial assembly of the Society, which took place in London, was attended by–among others–Nikolaus Pevsner (who was the author of the epic 4,000-volume Buildings of England series) and Henry-Russell Hitchcock (who, one supposes, must have experienced a significant spiritual conversion to atone for his sins of the past). The impetus for the group’s foundation was their general love of nineteenth-century architecture, which was made somewhat desperate and heroic in the midst of the destruction wrought by London’s post-war rebuilding efforts. The Brit Victs were prompted by the loss of two specific buildings: Euston Station and the Coal Exchange (as was later the case with American preservation groups that were provoked to action by the destruction of famous buildings like Penn Station). However strong their sense of calling to save monuments like these, the Society’s mission has never been just about famous buildings in the capital: neighborhoods, suburbs, and towns throughout the country have attracted their attention and energies for decades. In spite of their name (which is still pretty broad, considering the length of Queen Victoria’s sixty-four year reign), the group’s interest is in preserving Victorian and Edwardian architecture, which extends their embrace from 1837 to the start of the Great War, and thus a great variety of architecture from Egyptian mills to stripy-bacon libraries and Gothic churches to pumping stations adorned with Gothic details (these are all real buildings and present concerns, right now).
Not only does the Victorian Society protect treasures of Britain’s built environment, but it does so with a perseverance, strength and wit of which their namesake (quoted in the title) would no doubt approve. Currently the Society comprises eight regional chapters, and they count successes that include the preservation of Albert Dock in Liverpool, the Jewelry Quarter in Birmingham, and St. Pancras Station and Bedford Park, both in London. The Society maintains a great website full of preservation news, publishes books, journals and guides, organizes lectures, study tours, and what must be the most erudite pub crawls in Britain; its American counterpart organizes summer school programs that will knock you flat with the brilliance of the presenters and the glory of the sites. Clio has seen even the most clever architecty-historian smarty-pants know-it-alls be completely gobsmacked by the general greatness of the Victorian Society in action. You should go.
image: Northampton Guildhall by Edward William Godwin, 1861-64 (Victorian Society summer school photo by a friend of Clio’s)