Victorian roots still very much in evidence

VICTORIAN SOCIETY - THE MIDLAND GRAND HOTEL AND ST PANCRAS STATION , LONDON TERMINUS OF THE MIDLAND RAILWAY, PICTURED IN 1879 (COPYRIGHT ENGLISH HERITAGE)

VICTORIAN SOCIETY - THE MIDLAND GRAND HOTEL AND ST PANCRAS STATION , LONDON TERMINUS OF THE MIDLAND RAILWAY, PICTURED IN 1879 (COPYRIGHT ENGLISH HERITAGE)

0
Have your say

Every town has its Euston Arch – a building or structure now long gone, the loss lamented to this day.

Blackpool has several. The Derby Baths. The Palace Theatre. The Palatine Hotel. The Little Vic pub. That’s just for starters.

But every town has its success stories. Buildings brought back from the brink of demolition or restored to play their part in society today.

The Grand Theatre endures as a supreme example of what a community can achieve when it stands against business bigwigs who think they know better.

The restoration of the Winter Gardens, under Blackpool Council ownership, along with the reinvention of The Tower, should also secure the future of two buildings worthy of the term icon, and which underpin the resort’s renaissance.

In fact, the Victorian Society says there couldn’t be a better town to host the society’s exhibition.

Saving a Century spans the society’s most remarkable campaigns – such as the battles for St Pancras, Liverpool’s Albert Dock, the Foreign Office and the much-regretted Euston Arch.

Using archive photographs and material from the society’s 50 years of fighting for historic buildings, a new exhibition in the Floral Hall of the Winter Gardens celebrates the successes and defeats of an organisation, which has done so much to change public attitudes towards the best of 19th-century architecture.

The society was set up in 1958 in response to the growing threat to fine examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture.

The aim was simple “to make sure that the best Victorian buildings and their contents do not disappear before their merits are more generally appreciated”.

It singularly failed with the demolition of the Euston Arch in 1962. But although it lost that battle, it could be said it is winning the war, which goes on to this day.

The gloriously gothic-looking St Pancras Station would never have been so spectacularly revived as the International Eurostar terminal with the allied hotel (so similar in appearance to Manchester’s Midland) brought back into use if the society hadn’t taken up the cudgels against proposed demolition back in 1966.

It also campaigned to save the Albert Dock in Liverpool, today one of the region’s principal cultural assets.

Such examples are on display in Saving A Century, open daily from 11am to 3pm, in the Floral Hall, and it’s already attracting interest from locals and visitors alike.

Young Emma James Johnson, of Bolton, six, who has just visited North Pier – Blackpool’s best and most beautiful – points to a picture of Clevedon Pier.

“Blackpool’s is prettier,” she says, and it’s hard to disagree, although the Somerset pier is one of the most graceful in the country.

The society, and influential supporter Sir John Betjeman, championed Clevedon’s cause, after a partial collapse led to demolition threat. A preservation trust was formed which saw off the threat after triumphing at a public inquiry in 1980. The structure’s since been restored by national grant aid.

If there’s one criticism of the exhibition, which is touring the country, there doesn’t appear to be one picture of Blackpool within it.

“That’s because it’s all around,” says Dr Ian Dungavell, director of the Victorian Society.

“You could say Blackpool is one of the best examples of a town which has shown great vision and imagination with its beautiful buildings.

“There’s a huge appreciation of heritage there, and the realisation that it can feed economic regeneration, too. The council has been singularly courageous in taking ownership of the Tower and Winter Gardens.

“Blackpool values what is distinctive and particular – and people are rediscovering the heritage on their doorstep and also becoming a lot less snobbish about what constitutes the seaside.

“It faces the usual challenges of seasonality but it does so with an arsenal of magnificent buildings at its disposal.

“The unimaginative way in which people dealt with historic buildings has changed – just look at the success a mass market brand such as Travelodge has had in converting historic buildings into contemporary hotels rather than pulling them down.

“What Blackpool still lacks is promotion of just how much has changed there.

“It’s been talked down so much that it needs talking up.

“The withdrawal of party conferences should be tackled – if the Government really is committed to the regeneration of seaside resorts, it should be making sure that kind of patronage is dispensed.

“Meantime, Saving A Century tells the extraordinary story of battles that have shaped our towns and cities.

“Without these campaigns, many of our most famous places would be different today.

“It is a testament to the energy and vision of the early members of the society and a sobering reminder of the way that public opinion and tastes change.”