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Victorian Society acts to save font

15 January 2016

trish steel/commons

THE Victorian Society won an appeal in the Court of Arches of Canterbury against a decision of the Chancellor of Winchester, who had granted a faculty to replace a Victorian font (pictured) in St Peter’s, Shipton Bellinger, with a new, smaller font made of Purbeck stone.

The church is Grade II listed, and the font was designed by R. J. Withers, who undertook a restoration of the church in 1879. The font rises about four feet above floor level, and is approximately three feet square. The Victorian Society described it as “a handsome fixture”. Pevsner’s Buildings of England, fourth edition (2010), described the font as “outsize, showy High Victorian . . . by Withers in top gear”.

The Chancellor specifically rejected the arguments relating to the deleterious effect of removing the Victorian font on the special character of the church, and said: “This is not a ‘nationally important’ building.” He said that he was “well aware of the significance of a listed building”.

The Court of Arches said that it was “not clear what the Chancellor regarded the significance of a listed building to be. . . His awareness plainly did not include an understanding that all listed buildings are, by definition, of national significance . . . because national interest is a key element in listing.”

The Chancellor had said that he was “very doubtful whether [the font’s] removal would cause any harm to the significance of the church as a building of special architectural and historic interest”.

The Court of Arches said that, without a proper analysis of what the special architectural character or historic interest of the church was, no sound conclusion could be reached about whether the removal of the Victorian font would cause harm.

The Victorian Society said that the listing description specifically mentioned the “elaborate font” as part of the “Victorian interior”; but there was no indication, the Court of Arches said, that the Chancellor had seen, or requested to see, the listing description.

The Court found that the Chancellor had erred and acted unfairly, and that his judgment on the merits was flawed by several errors of law. His judgment, and the resulting faculty, were set aside.

The usual course was that when the Court of Arches quashed a faculty decision, the Court then proceeded to an immediate redetermination. The Victorian Society needed the opportunity to present its full case on the merits, however, and the Court of Arches did not have enough material to be able to conduct a redetermination itself. Accordingly, despite the additional delay and expense, the matter was remitted to the Deputy Chancellor for a complete redetermination.

If, in the Deputy Chancellor’s opinion, there were reasons why he should recuse himself, then the diocesan bishop would have to appoint another person, preferably a chancellor from another diocese, to carry out the redetermination.

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