Exhibition charts campaigns to fight the demolition of historic buildings

Kirkgate Market, Bradford and, below, Crystal Palace, London and JohnBetjeman
Kirkgate Market, Bradford and, below, Crystal Palace, London and JohnBetjeman

A major exhibition commemorating campaigns to save some of Britain’s finest buildings is set to open later this month.

The exhibition is being mounted by the Victorian Society, which fights to preserve important Victorian and Edwardian buildings and landscapes.

Crystal Palace, London

Crystal Palace, London

The exhibition illustrates some of the society’s most remarkable campaigns, among them the battle for St Pancras, London, Liverpool’s Albert Dock and the Foreign Office and the much-lamented Euston Arch, both in London.

Using archive photographs and material from the society’s 50 years of fighting for historic buildings, the exhibition, at Queensgate Market in Huddersfield, charts the successes and defeats of an organisation that has done much to change public attitudes towards 19th-century architecture.

“Saving A Century tells the extraordinary story of battles that have shaped our towns and cities,” said the society’s director, Dr Ian Dungavell. “Without these campaigns many of our most famous places would look very different today.”

The exhibition includes photographs of some of the best Victorian buildings destroyed in the first half of the 20th century, among them the Crystal Palace, which burnt down in 1936, Trentham Hall, Staffordshire, demolished in 1911, and Queen’s Park Church, Glasgow, lost in the second world war.

John Betjeman

John Betjeman

Among the society’s most famous campaigns was the bitter battle for the Euston Arch, the original entrance to Euston station, London, built in 1937. Despite a campaign featuring many well-known personalities, including Sir John Betjeman (pictured below), vice-chairman of the Victorian Society, and Nikolaus Pevsner, the neoclassical arch was demolished in the 1960s.

But there were early victories too, among them the Oxford University Museum, proposed for demolition in 1961 to make way for new science buildings. The Victorian Society also succeeded in getting the Broad Street Building of Balliol College listed after it was threatened in 1963.

The exhibition also has photographs charting the 10-year campaign against plans to demolish many historic London buildings, including nearly every building south of Downing Street. Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Foreign Office, Richard Norman Shaw’s New Scotland Yard and Middlesex Guildhall in Parliament Square were among the buildings proposed for demolition.

There are photos of key railway buildings the Victorian Society fought to save. The closure of many branch and other railway lines resulted in the redundancy of numerous stations, bridges and viaducts.

That many pioneering and magnificent railway structures, such as St Pancras Station, survive today owes much to the society’s efforts.

There are photos of some of the most innovative 19th-century buildings, among them Clevedon Pier and the now long-lost Kirkgate Market, in Bradford, which the Victorian Society fought for.

There are also photos of historic churches, chapels and synagogues, commercial buildings, banks and offices which have been threatened with demolition and some impressive industrial buildings, mills and warehouses which became redundant after the decline of traditional industries in the north of England.

Some of the grandest country houses have also been the subject of Victorian Society campaigns, among them Shadwell Park, Norfolk, Tyntesfield, near Bristol, and Highcliffe Castle, Dorset.

Made redundant by social and cultural changes, some of the most famous large houses were demolished between the wars while many more disappeared in the 1950s.

There are also photos of some of the best municipal buildings that have been saved or lost – splendid town halls, libraries, swimming pools, museums and art galleries and post offices which still add much to the rich character of British towns and cities today.

nThe Saving a Century exhibition is at Queensgate Market, Huddersfield, from February 19 until March 30.