Forty Years of the Victorian Society

Rebecca Daniels celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the Victorian Society, which set out in 1958 to save nineteenth-century architectural gems from destruction.

‘Oh it’s only Victorian’ was the usual, scornful, response in the 1950s to justify the destruction of another nineteenth-century building. Deeply worried by this situation, twenty-eight people, among them John Betjeman and Nikolaus Pevsner, gathered at a meeting hosted by the Countess of Rosse in February 1958 to found the Victorian Society, which this year celebrates its fortieth anniversary.

The impetus for the Society to launch itself as a serious architectural pressure group followed its valiant, but ultimately unsuccessful, fight to save Euston Station and Arch, and Bunning's Coal Exchange from destruction. The media attention and public exposure these cases received broadened support for the Victorian Society and, by the time the buildings were demolished in 1962, public taste had shifted significantly in favour of Victorian architecture. The extent of this revived interest was apparent when plans were unveiled to demolish St Pancras; the general feeling was that after the loss of Euston this had to be avoided.

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