William Morris Built the Foundation for Historic Preservation

Kelmscott Manor

Morris preserved his beloved summer home, Kelmscott Manor, using non-invasive techniques.

Did you know that May is National Preservation Month? We can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to recognize the work of William Morris (1834-1896), one of the pivotal figures in the early preservation movement in the West. Many people know Morris for his role as a designer, printer and socialist, but this opinionated Englishman was also a preservation activist, founding the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in the UK in 1877.

Morris began his crusade to protect old buildings after observing the invasive restoration techniques in use by architects and restorers of the 19th century. He held restorers responsible for what he called the “reckless stripping” of buildings resulting in the destruction of their original characteristics. The SPAB came to be called “Anti-Scrape” for its insistence that historic structures be preserved without altering their original structures. Of course, restorers themselves thought they were improving structures by replacing decaying elements with new materials.

For Morris, beautiful, authentic architecture provided a benefit to society. He felt that individuals had a responsibility to preserve these structures without changing them. Do you believe we have a social responsibility to save historic buildings? If so, do you approve of Morris’s no-change approach, or are you in favor of the restoration approach?

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