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‘To Live is to Change’: Tradition, Narrative and Community in the Conservation of Church Buildings

Walter, Nigel (2017) ‘To Live is to Change’: Tradition, Narrative and Community in the Conservation of Church Buildings. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

Living things change. From Ruskin onwards, reference has been made to historic buildings as ‘living’, and current guidance in England defines conservation as ‘the management of change’; in practice, however, conservation processes often appear to resist change. While acknowledged in legislation, the difference between historic monuments and living buildings that remain in active use is often blurred; for the latter, the demands of the present and future necessarily play a more prominent role than for the former. In pre-modern cultures it is the dynamic processes of an ongoing tradition that safeguards this balance of past, present and future. Tradition is characterised by temporal continuity rather than the radical discontinuity proclaimed by modernity and assumed by much conservation theory, and is essential for a ‘balanced heritage’ of people and place. In this thesis English parish churches are used to explore the relationship between communities of tradition and their historic buildings from two angles – firstly, a critique of the permissions process through an examination of key documentation and, secondly, the lived experience of five communities who have attempted, with varying results, to change their medieval church building. From this it is argued that conservation cannot deal responsibly with the objects of tradition without a thorough understanding of the creative workings of tradition itself, and that narrative is the associated cultural form by which continuity through temporal change becomes intelligible. Finally, the practical application of a tradition-centred narrative framework for conservation is explored in three ways: firstly, through issues of concern to practitioners; secondly, through the polemic of a new conservation manifesto; and, thirdly, through a booklet for church communities introducing the conservation landscape. As a whole, this project demonstrates the necessity and productivity of a critical engagement with theory, which conservation has hitherto tended to avoid.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
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Keywords: Conservation theory, conservation philosophy, living buildings, church, heritage, continuity, narrative, change, community, tradition, medieval
Academic Units: The University of York > Archaeology (York)
Depositing User: Mr Nigel Walter
Date Deposited: 09 Apr 2018 11:22
Last Modified: 23 Mar 2019 01:18
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/19500

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