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SAVE Britain’s Heritage 1975-2005: 30 Years of Campaigning

'The Destruction of the Country House' exhibition held at the V&A in 1974. Photograph by Robin Wade, exhibition designer

'The Destruction of the Country House' exhibition held at the V&A in 1974. Photograph by Robin Wade, exhibition designer (click image for larger version)

3 November 2005 – 12 February 2006

Curator: Marcus Binney, President of SAVE Britain’s Heritage

Sponsored by the DARE Group
Supported by the Drue Heinz Trust

This exhibition celebrated the 30th anniversary of the founding of
SAVE, a campaigning body working to save Britain’s architectural heritage.

The birth of SAVE was sparked by the immense publicity generated by the now legendary exhibition 'The Destruction of the Country House' held at the V&A in 1974. The exhibition’s Hall of Destruction was a fantasy of tumbling columns illustrating a selection of over 1,000 historic country houses demolished over the preceding century. In 1955 one house was demolished every five days. Such was the concern generated by the exhibition that from 1975 demolition of historic country houses came to a virtual halt. A sample of some of the success stories can be seen below.


Churches under fire

As city centres were bulldozed for redevelopment, fine Victorian churches were left isolated and vandalised, and dozens of remote country churches were declared redundant. Many were demolished, but ‘Change & Decay’, the V&A’s 1977 campaigning exhibition, triggered the first grants for historic churches. SAVE’s travelling version of the exhibition toured Britain for three years, followed in 1979 by ‘The Fall of Zion’, a powerful plea for northern chapels and meeting houses.


Fight for London town houses

As well as fighting for large country houses, SAVE also works to protect smaller, urban housing. In London SAVE successfully campaigned with local people to prevent the demolition of 29 Regency houses in Shepherdess Walk, Hackney, resulting in the happy restoration of the properties.

A less happy tale was the loss of the original Chinese Embassy in Portland Place, which was demolished in 1980 under the pretext of diplomatic immunity. Meanwhile, hundreds of Georgian houses in Islington and neighbouring boroughs, many owned by local councils, were left empty and allowed to decay.


Barlaston Hall, Staffordshire

This imposing Palladian villa had been badly damaged by coal mining subsidence and boarded up for ten years when SAVE bought it for £1 at a public inquiry in 1981. SAVE had to take legal proceedings to force the Department of the Environment and the National Coal Board to pay monies promised for repairs.

With the help of engineer Brian Morton, the house was placed on a raft to protect it from further subsidence. When structural repairs were complete and all the distinctive octagonal windows repaired, SAVE put the house on the market. It was bought by James and Carol Hall, who have restored the remarkable Rococo interiors. They have also taken responsibility for the parish church which SAVE had acquired to forestall demolition by the Coal Board.


Industrial heritage

Blackened and brooding, the hundreds of grand Victorian and Edwardian textile mills in the Pennines looked like a species in danger of extinction. In 1979 SAVE’s exhibition Satanic Mills showed that many local people felt enormous pride in these great buildings. Thanks to the efforts of entrepreneurs like Ernest Hall at Dean Clough in Halifax, Jonathan Silver at Saltaire and now Urban Splash, many of them have been given a dynamic new lease of life as space for small enterprises, art galleries and residential apartments.

Other aspects of our industrial heritage championed by SAVE include railway stations and former power stations, including most famously SAVE’s proposal in 1981 for converting Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s Bankside Power Station into an art gallery, now triumphantly realised with the opening of Tate Modern. SAVE are also still involved with the ongoing project to restore and give new life to Battersea Power Station.


Time gentlemen please!

In partnership with CAMRA, SAVE has long fought to protect and preserve traditional public houses, so much a part of Britain’s heritage and social history. These atmospheric photographs of pubs in Liverpool, Leeds and Beverley were commissioned for SAVE’s 1983 exhibition Time Gentlemen Please! They highlight the remarkable but highly vulnerable interiors with their original fixtures and furnishings.


Hospital architecture

Victorian mental asylums were built on sunny south facing sites, often with one acre of grounds to every ten patients. When the government announced that 100 out of 120 asylums were to be closed, the intention was to demolish the buildings and sell the sites for development. In 1995 SAVE’s pioneering report Mind over Matter first drew attention to the architectural importance and potential of these buildings and over half have now been converted to residential or college use.


Military history

SAVE has long championed historic naval and military architecture, most notably in 1993 with Deserted Bastions, a report and an exhibition at the RIBA Heinz Gallery. More recently SAVE has been active working to preserve what remains of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Farnborough is the cradle of British aviation and spiritual home of flying in Britain, yet it had no protection, and only half a dozen buildings were listed. When the 108-acre site was sold for redevelopment, SAVE launched a campaign to retain the core historic area of 20 acres. They proposed to bring it to life as the central focus of a new office park with a mix of uses, providing houses instead of offices on adjacent land. This strategy has now been adopted by the owners, Slough Estates.


At risk today

Here is a sample of just some of the buildings SAVE is currently campaigning for.