A paper read by Mr. Nigel Bond, Secretary of the National Trust, at a meeting of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, to which paper the writer is indebted for the subsequent account of the proceeding’s of foreign governments with regard to the preservation of their ancient monuments.
We do not suggest that in England we should imitate the very drastic restorations to which some of the French abbeys and historic buildings are subjected. The authorities have erred greatly in destroying so much original work and their restorations, as in the case of Mont St. Michel, have been practically a rebuilding.
The Belgian people appear to have realized for a very long time the importance of preserving their historic and artistic treasures. By a royal decree of 1824 bodies in charge of church temporalities are reminded that they are managers merely, and while they are urged to undertake in good time the simple repairs that are needed for the preservation of the buildings in their charge, they are strictly forbidden to demolish any ecclesiastical building without authority from the Ministry which deals with the subject of the fine arts. By the same decree they are likewise forbidden to alienate works of art or historical monuments placed in churches. Nine years later, in 1835, in view of the importance of assuring the preservation of all national monuments remarkable for their antiquity, their association, or their artistic value, another decree was issued constituting a Royal Commission for the purpose of advising as to the repairs required by such monuments. Nearly 200,000 francs are annually voted for expenditure for these purposes. The strict application of these precautionary measures has allowed a number of monuments of the highest interest in their relation to art and archaeology to be protected and defended, but it does not appear that the Government controls in any way those monuments which are in the hands of private persons.
In Holland public money to the extent of five or six thousand pounds a year is spent on preserving and maintaining national monuments and buildings of antiquarian and architectural interest. In Germany steps are being taken which we might follow with advantage in this country, to control and limit the disfigurement of landscapes by advertisement hoardings.
A passage from the ministerial order of 1884 with reference to the restoration of churches may be justly quoted:—
“If the restoration of a public building is to be completely successful, it is absolutely essential that the person who directs it should combine with an enlightened aesthetic sense an artistic capacity in a high degree, and, moreover, be deeply imbued with feelings of veneration for all that has come down to us from ancient times. If a restoration is carried out without any real comprehension of the laws of architecture, the result can only be a production of common and dreary artificiality, recognizable perhaps as belonging to one of the architectural styles, but wanting the stamp of true art, and, therefore, incapable of awakening the enthusiasm of the spectator.”