Thursday, March 26, 2009

Owning a place

Lucinda Lambton is one of my favourite ... now what to call her? If I say a writer, that excludes her effervescent television presentation, and the photographs in her books which are such a big part of her appeal.

Anyway, in her "A-Z of Britain", I have just read the following which struck me:

"In 1901 at Plas Newydd in Wales, the 5th Marquess of Anglesey had the audacity to convert the Gothic fan-vaulted chapel of 1809 into a private theatre. He called it 'The Gaiety' and, having enriched it with plush drapes, quantities of palm trees and statuary, installed a gilded stage in place of the altar."

At first I found this very funny. Then it reminded me of the closure of the chapel in Brideshead Revisited ("They have taken Him away").

It makes me wonder about several different things. How much does the architectural integrity of a building depend on its presentation and use for its original purpose?

How sacred is a place whose sacredness is lost on its owner?

If something is in private hands, how much say should outsiders have on its treatment?

6 comments:

Dave King said...

The answer to all your questions is: I don't know - but you've certainly set me thinking, and that can't be bad!

EB said...

Hello Dave, - good, that's the main thing really. I had loads more to say in this blog but it got mroe meandery than I liked so maybe the rest will appear later.

I loved your blog, especially the prose post about the meeting in the sculpture room. I admire the shape and the flow of your sentences.

Alice Kytler said...

I think it depends on the nature of the monument and how much historical significance it has. I mean if it's one among many hundreds of examples of architecture from that time I don't think anyone should interfere. But I suppose if something is unique, or very rare, and holds a special place in the history of that area, then I think it becomes a matter of public concern. That is if the person means to alter it's historical facade. I don't tend to think holding theatre in an old chapel would damage the place too much. I think our culture has come to place too much distinction between the sacred and profane realms anyway.

EB said...

I strongly agree with you about the gulf between the sacred and the profane, Alice. Personally I recognise no such difference, but monotheistic religions often seem to place huge stress on it. I must go back to your blog about places too - I found it fascinating.

jaywfitz said...

Hi, I enjoy your conversations. I thought I'd invite you to participate in our discussions at http://sensiblesimplicity.lefora.com/forum/ as your perspective and location is something we currently lack and we'd enjoy it!

Jay

David J said...

I think it depends on the building, too. Some small parish churches seem to ooze an atmosphere of spirituality, which might be spoiled by some alternative uses; others less so.

Our ancestors were often less fussed about a lot of this actually - most parish churches were originally much more multifunctional than they are today, as schools, courts and places of administration.

One church I have visited had a row of spikes on the chancel gates to stop people riding up to the altar on horses (implying it was otherwise OK to enter on horseback). That's rather like me riding in on my motorbike. That would certainly make for an interesting experiment!

As to Plas Newydd, I've always thought the idea of "Private Chapels" a bit odd anyway - it seems something of a contradiction in terms.