Proposed so-called Restoration


Church of the Holy Trinity




Copy of a letter published in the (London) Times newspaper,
30 January, 1888 ;  re-printed for circulation in the
United States.



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Heading: 'To the Editor of the Times.' Published size 7.2cm wide by 0.5cm high.

IR,—The respected Vicar of Stratford-on-Avon is surely a little unreasonable in complaining of the English public, as he does in The Times of yesterday, for not sending their thousands in aid of the so-called restoration of his most deeply interesting Church, a project which is assumed, on more than doubtful grounds, to be certain to contribute to the honour of England's illustrious son. So far from the public being censurable for their hesitation in this matter, they will be much to blame if they support, without examination, a scheme which involves one of the few acts of Shakespearean Vandalism that remain to be perpetrated in the poet's native town—a scheme, moreover, that will most probably lead to other disasters. Those who have studied the history of the edifice may be excused for thinking it possible that the irremediable mischief which accrued through local management on previous occasions may now be repeated under similar conditions.
      It is not likely that the full extent of that mischief will ever be ascertained. No details p.4 / are extant of the extensive alterations made in the chancel in the closing years of the last century, and, strangely enough, no particulars are recorded of the deplorable metamorphosis of the interior of the entire building that was effected so recently as 1835. I sadly fear, from what I am told by the surviving relatives of the architect who was engaged on the latter occasion, that none of his drawings or notes have been preserved ; and I have exhausted without success every possible means of discovering copies of either the specifications or the builder's accounts.
      We know, however, that in 1835 the interesting remains of Thomas à Becket's Chapel were ruthlessly discarded. A number of those remains coming into my possession about the year 1860, I gave them in behalf of the Church to the then Vicar, and they are, I believe, still to be seen in the churchyard. Whether it would be desirable or even practicable to restore them to their ancient position I am not competent to say, but the subject is at all events one that deserves investigation.
      We know also that at one or other of these so-called restorations the stone that had originally covered the poet's grave was replaced by another p.5 / purchased from the yard of a modern stonemason. This fact has been weakly disputed on the strength of a supposititious tradition ; but whoever will take the trouble to compare the present tombstone with that on the grave of the poet's wife, and with others that have clearly not been tampered with, will be satisfied that it cannot be that which was modelled in the reign of James I.
      There is neither hope nor guarantee that the Church will fare at all better under its present rulers. The Restoration Committee commenced with the obviously judicious removal of the modern galleries, but after that operation the Rubicon of safety was passed. It is clear from their subsequent proceedings that they have not taken the slightest pains to make themselves acquainted with the history of the edifice they are altering. It is almost incredible, but it is nevertheless a fact, that they entered on an extensive series of repairs without even incurring the very small labour required for the preparation of a protective schedule of the monuments affected by those repairs. Then, again, owning myself by far the largest and most important collection of drawings of the Church any- p.6 / where to be found, including some of the earliest known to exist, I thought it my duty to offer the Committee the use of them ; but a polite acknowledgment was all that emanated from the offer, and it was, of course, outside my province to move further in the matter. All this exhibits an apathy that is altogether inconsistent with an anxious desire on the part of the Committee for the execution of a legitimate restoration.
      It is, then, no wonder that the scheme of the Committee includes the proposal for a serious piece of Vandalism, no less a one than the removal of the ancient charnel-house crypt to make way for a modern addition to the northern exterior of the Church—an excrescence that, however skilfully contrived, could not possibly harmonize with the mediæval work. This crypt, partially underground, and its basement reached by a flight of steps, was entered from the chancel through a doorway which, although now blocked up, is, with its curious hoodmould terminations, one of the most interesting relics of the older Church. Unvarying tradition tells us that it was the contemplation of the contents of this crypt, used throughout the p.7 / Shakespearean period for a charnel-house, that elicited the poet's request for the public expression of his wish that his grave might never be disturbed. It is situated but a few feet from that grave, and the tradition is well supported by the recently ascertained fact that the poet knew that, as a titheowner, he would necessarily be buried in the chancel. The charnel-house is now concealed, and opinions differ as to the extent of the remains of the crypt, but they are certainly considerable, and it will be a pity if the public does not insist upon a definite withdrawal of the scheme for their destruction before they contribute another shilling to the restoration fund.
      When the present restoration scheme was first promulgated it was announced that no alterations were to be made without the sanction of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. Surely no such Society could authorize the demolition of the mediæval crypt, but of late the restoration prospectuses contain no indication of any sort of deference to outside criticism. The hat is sent round to the world in the name of Shakespeare, but the claims of Shakespearean association are practically p.8 / ignored, and the poor world is to have no voice in the expenditure. The plain fact is that any one who dares to call in question the infallibility of the local judgment is considered at Stratford "most tolerable and not to be endured," and if any of your readers have a fancy to witness a revival of the pillory I will give them due notice of my next visit to Warwickshire. But, presuming that Mr. Henry Irving is correct in a recent assertion—and no one can have better opportunities of judging—that there is a daily increasing interest in the details of Shakespearean biography, then the Stratfordians for their own sakes will, if they are wise, support those who would jealously guard the absolute integrity of every vestige of Shakespeare's town—that is to say, of the town as it existed from 1564 to 1616—instead of encouraging designs that promote its obliteration.
               Your obedient Servant,
    Hollingbury Copse,
               Brighton, January 24.