30 Nov 2011
Speaking of Cathedrals...
They are not simply tourist attractions. Even today they speak as they were intended to do...and perhaps to a generation soaked in the visual, the visual / sign language of the medieval and renaissance Christian cathedral speaks without words.
In the midst of the deserts of the modern city they are oases of colour, warmth or coolness, light and sheltering space, into which people are drawn (it should be noted, too, that many have a Cathedral close, a precinct with grass, flowers, trees, and smaller human-scale buildings; in Australia this also applies to quite a few of the smaller inner-city churches, in that they have trees, a bit of grass, flowers, maybe even a somewhat jungly old-fashioned graveyard).
The effort and expense of maintaining these old Cathedrals and other old city churches is worth it. They are refuges..and the 'refugees' are finding them.
From the Spring 2011 newsletter of the Australian branch of the Mothers' Union (an Anglican womens' organisation), these observations, from the President, upon attending morning service at St John's Cathedral, Brisbane.
" A couple of Sundays ago I worshipped at St John's Cathedral in Brisbane. As ever I became immersed in the beauty and holiness of the space and the joy of allowing the worship to flow over, around and through me, without having to be a part of leading the worship.
"The sun coming through the stained glass windows turned the stone pillars into rainbows, and the choral music, sung by a church school choir augmenting the cathedral choir, only enhanced the atmosphere.
'By the time it came to share God's peace I had become aware of my fellow worshippers and there were a great many of them.
"What surprised Bill [husband] and me the most was their age. Many, many of them were young adults, and there were a goodly number of children at the rear of the nave, happily involved in various activities.
"Our daughter, Rowena, is a part of the cathedral congregation and on checking with her we were assured that this was about the regular number and make-up of the congregation. Many stayed for morning tea afterwards".
Interestingly, I later discovered, reading an article in the parish magazine of an English church, that something similar is happening in England: people are creeping back into the shelter of the Cathedral.
I quote: "Unlike Anglican attendance generally, numbers attending cathedral services are increasing. Midweek attendance has more than doubled over the past decade, while Sunday attendance has wobbled but remained basically constant...
"In one study, attenders at two different cathedrals said their main reason for attending (88 %) was the "spiritual atmosphere" and the "Feeling of peace". Their second reason - 86 % - was "the choir" and "the music". The location and worship made a "contemplative atmosphere" (84 %) which was "friendly" (80 %).
'These are high percentages, and are echoed whether a person regularly goes to church or not.
"In another study, this time of those visiting St David's Cathedral in Wales, 77 % of those who never normally attended church said they found "the cathedral uplifting" while of those who only occasionally attended 84 % said this, while for regular worshippers it was 95 %. All 3 groups put "a sense of peace" as their second reason for attending".
A note about St John's, Brisbane:
St John's, dedicated to St John the Divine, was only completed last year after a bit more than a hundred years of intermittent but persevering effort by the Anglican church in the state of Queensland, Australia. Its architect was inspired by French rather than English Gothic; it has indeed been described as a perfect little French Cathedral, perched on its hilltop in the Southern Hemisphere. And yet - built piece by piece out of local stone and local timber, - it is organically connected to the place in which it stands, far more so than the skyscrapers surrounding it with their glass and steel and concrete that could have come from anywhere and look the same no matter where in the world you go.
I would say to the persevering remnant of the church throughout Europe, but also in the rest of the West - cherish your churches and especially your cathedrals, in particular those in the midst of the inhospitable landscape of the modernised city. Do not sell them off, whatever you do. Inhabit them. If necessary, reinhabit them. Make sure that the candles are burning and the bells are ringing and that there are flowers in the garden outside. If you have to have security guards, have them, so that the visitors will feel safe; but keep the doors open and make sure there is always someone 'at home'. And the wanderers in the desert places will find their way to the waters.
1 Dec 2011
I certainly did not mean to say cathedrals are just tourist attractions. I was talking about cultural continuity and how it gives the community identity and a sense of belonging.
The economic argument is to show those who would destroy our great buildings that it is just as economically viable to maintain places like St.Pauls as it is to surround it by hideous skyscrapers and ten-a-penny shopping malls. Sorry, if I did not make myself clear.
12 Dec 2011
I came upon your article while searching for examples of beautiful architecture carelessly and heartlessly demolished. This is because I'm about to write to Historic Scotland in an attempt to save Perth City Hall, a Grade 2 listed building designed in 1908.Nicholas Crane spent some time discussing its importance to the city of Perth, and why it shouldn't be demolished, in the first in his series on British towns. You probably know about it the programme. It seems unlikely that you haven't been following the saga and desperate attempts to save the building which Perth and Kinross Council recently voted to demolish, but if not just Google Perth City Hall.
I'm writing to say how well you make the case for conservation and intelligent planning. It was particularly interesting to read of instances from outside the UK. I've just been on a site which shows the stunning railway stations which have been demolished in the States and when your points about human beings being gregarious and requiring a comfortable feeling of community are taken into account, it all makes for very depressing reading. One thing comes across clearly: the subequent replacements are always miserable and dreary and without even basic thought, never mind planning. The sites remain empty and forlorn for many decades afterwards.Which raises the question: why are so many buildings knocked down in the first place? Those which remain tend to be in rural areas (eg Shakespeare's house and school, Robert Burns' house ), presumably where real estate isn't so desirable, or profitable. Should we sympathise with cash-strapped councils trying to save money for their citizens, or as in the case of Newcastle and Birmingham, is corruption the usual motivating force?
12 Dec 2011
Thank you for those kind words.
I personally think there is a cluster of problems. Among them is corruption in local authorities especially planning departments. In The History of Halesowen (2004), Julian Hunt relates how in the late 1950s and early â€˜60s when the historic town centre was demolished for a concrete shopping centre, three of the local councillors were builders, and a fourth a demolition contractor.
There is also the nihilistic ideology that is rife amongst contemporary artists and the intellectual and academic elites with a contempt for our past which does not stop at criticising our faults but extends to hating the very symbols of our existence and fine buildings are that.
I also think that Democracy has been replaced by Oligarchy and the new buildings are built and finaced by oligarchs as monuments to meglomania but nothing higher or more noble.
Could you send something over about your campaign it sounds interesting and important.
13 Dec 2011
It would be interesting to learn how many votes the councillors who voted to destroy Perth City Hall, part of the heritage of the local population actually got. I understand the average is about 20% of those eligible to vote which does not take into account those who are yet to be eligible to vote. I believe they have no legitimacy to destroy their towns and cities. It also means that they are depriving future generations of their culture and history. One type of corruption they are prey to is emotional corruption: they are made to feel important by being associated with a development. There is also ignorance as many are thick as bricks.
The reference in the my above comment to local councillors destroying the centre of Halesowen in their own interest is typical. The destruction of the very impressive Kensington Town Hall is even more outrageous.
Most of the destruction has been brought about by local councillors elected by a minority and unelected planning officials. I thought a solution could be an office appointed by the Crown like a lord lieutenant with responsibility for protecting communities not representing interest groups. The Office of the Lord-Lieutenant dates from the 16th Century and has the force of tradition behind it at a time when we are victims of unrestrained change for profit at our communitiesâ€™ expense.
The Lord Lieutenant is apart from local politics in the County and is interested in all aspects of life -voluntary and business, statutory and social and cultural. This office could be expanded into a Royal representative to appoint local authorities with responsibility for maintaining the continuity of local areas and communities.
This would not be democratic but the priority would be to strive for neutrality as opposed to councillors acting as local agents for international property developers as they now do. I realise that this not likely to happen yet but it was meant as a positive suggestion to be built on.
Unless some architects with real talent and ability come along to replace the third-raters we have now the best way to restore our social environments is to rebuild some of the grand local buildings that were undemocratically destroyed.
16 Dec 2011
Thank you for taking the trouble to reply at length to my comment. Just quickly, since you ask for further info about the proposed demolition of Perth City Hall can I refer you to the current edition of Private Eye, Nooks and Corners section which has a rather depressing article about the SNP role in the proposal. I hadn't realised that Perth and Kinross Council is SNP controlled. Also, a former Planning officer at PKC has written an intelligent letter to the Perthshire Advertiser giving insights into decisions made. He has copied the letter to the website my brother has set up: www.saveperthcityhall.co.uk We had had hopes that Historic Scotland would naturally want to save the building, but it appears they are just an arm of the SNP government, so their hands are tied. Their decision will be made on 23rd December, possibly to bury the news, we wonder?
18 Dec 2011
I meant to post this above as it and the Halesowen exampl fit in with critism of the actions of some Perth councillors.
In 1982, The Leader of the Kensington & Chelsea Council, ordered the wreckers to demolish Kensington's Italianate town hall at 3 a.m. on a Sunday Morning because the building was due to be formally listed Grade 2 later that day. He died early but that not bring back the town hall with its beautiful interior plasterwork. Though it could still be rebuilt.
the Liverpool Waterfront is a World Heritage site but the view has been completely ruined by skyscrapers being built arount it.
30 Dec 2011
You might have read the pie ce in The Telegraph about a couple who were sacked from a teaching post in Dundee for being White Christians?
The comments are especially nteresting like this one:
1) The Ruler of Dubai wanted to build a mosque on a site that was part of George Galloway's old school (Harris Academy) in Dundee.
The site for this proposed mosque is a few hundred yards from the college referred to in the above.
2) George Galloway, who is from the Irish catholic community in Dundee, also received an expensive watch from the Abu Dhabi royal family for all that he's done for the Palestinians.
3) The left wing politicians in Dundee have come up with the construction plan for an area near the city centre called the "2031 plan" which is uncannily like Abu Dhabi's "2030 plan" for their infrastructure.
4) The UAE flag is flying from Dundee's city hall referred to locally as the Caird Hall.
5) George Galloway had the Palestinian flag flying in Dundee City Chambers almost 30 years ago.
6) In a final twist, the local SNP politician Joseph Fitzpatrick(Irish cahtholic) is also involved in the Free Gaza Campaign which is also supported by the local SNP muslims.
7) Several years ago Osama Saeed (SNP) stood up in a meeting in Dundee University and urged muslims not to cooperate with police.
8) A muslim doctor with the NHS working at Ninewells hospital is been allowed access to local schools in the evening to preach Sharia Law.