Colin Amery has written the Bookend column in this week’s issue of the Spectator. Here it is for readers of this blog:
It may have been first published in 1973, but reading it again in Persephone Books’ elegant re-print, Adam Fergusson’s The Sack of Bath remains a real shocker. The fury of his polemic against the powers in Bath that seemed hell-bent on destroying everything except a few grand Georgian set- pieces in that beautiful city still has a terrible relevance today.
Looking at the photographs of acres of modest stone houses being reduced to rubble to be replaced by unbelievably low grade ‘comprehensive redevelopment’ is utterly depressing. Even more lowering is Fergusson’s account of the elevated and titled collaborators who advised the city that to build the ‘new’ and ‘iconic’ was morally superior to repair and restoration.
The ‘sack’ did change things. Conservation groups are now more empowered, and protective legislation has been strengthened. But the argument of the book remains highly relevant. As Fergusson says: ‘The threat to beauty is endemic and continual and when one form is suppressed it seems to mutate like a viral disease.’
This slim volume exposed exactly how aesthetically uneducated planners and architects were some 40 years ago and they still are today. We now have to deal with a blind bureaucracy of conservation officials, often more concerned to protect their own employment than the beauty of the past. Just look around you.