Jump to content

The Victorian Society

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Victorian Society
NicknameThe Vic Soc
Headquarters1 Priory Gardens, London, England
James Hughes
Chair of Trustees
Professor Hilary Grainger
The Duke of Gloucester KG, GCVO
Griff Rhys Jones
Key people

The Victorian Society is a UK charity and amenity society that campaigns to preserve and promote interest in Victorian and Edwardian architecture and heritage built between 1837 and 1914 in England and Wales. As a statutory consultee, by law it must be notified of any work to a listed building which involves any element of demolition or structural alteration.[1]


The society, a registered charity,[2] fights to protect Victorian and Edwardian heritage from demolition or careless alteration. As a membership organisation, the majority of its funding comes from subscription fees and events. As one of the National Amenity Societies, The Victorian Society is a statutory consultee on alterations to listed buildings, and by law must be notified of any work to a listed building which involves any element of demolition.[1]

The society:

  • Provides advice to churches and local planning authorities on how Victorian and Edwardian buildings and landscapes can be adapted to modern use, while keeping what is distinctive about them.
  • Advises members of the public on how they can help shape the future of their local Victorian and Edwardian buildings and landscapes.
  • Provides information to owners of Victorian and Edwardian houses about how they can better look after their buildings.
  • Helps people understand, appreciate and enjoy the architectural heritage of the Victorian and Edwardian period through its publications and events.



The society's foundation was proposed in November 1957 by Anne Parsons, Countess of Rosse at her preserved Victorian home at 18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington (Linley Sambourne House), with the intention of countering the widely prevalent antipathy to 19th- and early 20th-century architecture.[3][4][a] From the 1890s into the 20th century, Victorian art had been under attack, critics writing of "the nineteenth century architectural tragedy",[6] ridiculing "the uncompromising ugliness"[7] of the era's buildings and attacking the "sadistic hatred of beauty"[8] of its architects. The commonly-held view had been expressed by P.G. Wodehouse in his 1933 novel, Summer Moonshine: "Whatever may be said in favour of the Victorians, it is pretty generally admitted that few of them were to be trusted within reach of a trowel and a pile of bricks."[9]

The first meeting was held at Linley Sambourne House on 28 February 1958.[10] Among its 30 founder members were the first secretary John Betjeman, Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Nikolaus Pevsner, who became chairman in 1964.[11][4]


Peter Fleetwood-Hesketh was secretary from 1961 to 1963. Former Bletchley Park codebreaker, Jane Fawcett, managed the society's affairs as secretary from 1964 to 1976.[12] Christopher Costelloe took over as director from Ian Dungavell in 2012.[13] Joe O'Donnell succeeded Costelloe as director in September 2020.[14]


The society helped to save St Pancras Station from demolition.

The society has worked to save numerous landmark buildings such as St Pancras Station,[15] Albert Dock in Liverpool, the Foreign Office and Oxford University Museum.[4] Its campaigns have not always been successful, notably its failed attempts to save the Euston Arch from demolition in 1961.[16]

Examples of the society's work with churches include making complaints against proposals of church PCCs to use upholstered chairs during renovation,[17][18] and appealing against proposals to raise money by selling original features.[19]

In 2015, the society launched a campaign to preserve Victorian gasometers, after utility companies announced plans to demolish nearly 200 of the now-outdated structures. Costelloe, the society's director at the time, commented: "Gasometers, by their very size and structure, cannot help but become landmarks. [They] are singularly dramatic structures for all their emptiness."[20]

The society publishes an annual list of the Top Ten Most Endangered Victorian or Edwardian Buildings in England and Wales.[21]

The Victorian magazine[edit]

Published three times a year since 1998[4] for the members of the society, The Victorian magazine contains book reviews, society news and events, casework reports, and interviews.[22]

Victorian Society in America[edit]

The Victorian Society has a sister organisation in the United States, the Victorian Society in America, founded in 1966 in New York City, by such champions of historic preservation as Brendan Gill, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, and Margot Gayle; it was borne from the outrage they felt at the 1964 destruction of New York's Pennsylvania Station. As of 2017 the Victorian Society in America is based in Philadelphia with 12 registered chapters,[23] mostly in the Eastern United States.

Counterpart bodies[edit]

The counterpart organisations to the society for the protection of the heritage of earlier and later periods are the Georgian Group (for buildings erected between 1700 and 1840) and The Twentieth Century Society (for post-1914 buildings).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Timothy Mowl, the architectural historian, records that Anne Rosse's house, with its decoration by her grandfather Linley Sambourne, had "the most stunning and completely unaltered Victorian interiors" in London.[5]


  1. ^ a b Department for Communities and Local Government (24 March 2015), Arrangements for handling heritage applications Direction 2015, Gov.uk, retrieved 5 August 2015
  2. ^ "The Victorian Society, registered charity no. 1081435". Charity Commission for England and Wales.
  3. ^ Heald, Henrietta. "Parsonstown: The genius of the Parsons family: London Links". Parsonstown website. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d Filmer-Sankey, William (1998). "History of the Victorian Society". The Victorian. 1. The Victorian Society. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  5. ^ Mowl 2000, p. 147.
  6. ^ Turnor 1950, p. 111.
  7. ^ Turnor 1950, p. 91.
  8. ^ Clark 1983, p. 191.
  9. ^ Harries 2011, p. 569.
  10. ^ Harries 2011, p. 573.
  11. ^ Harries 2015, p. 33.
  12. ^ "The deb who sank the Bismarck". The Economist. 4 June 2016. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
  13. ^ "New chapter for Victorian Society as director announces his departure | Victorian Society".
  14. ^ "Joe O'Donnell appointed new Director of the Victorian Society | Victorian Society". victoriansociety.org.uk. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  15. ^ Jenkins, Simon (9 November 2007). "Not just a building, but a joy to behold. Ken Livingstone must hate St Pancras". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  16. ^ Harries 2011, pp. 621–3.
  17. ^ Bingham, John (22 August 2016). "Not the comfy chair! Parishioners given Spanish Inquisition by church court over cushions". The Telegraph. Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  18. ^ "Re Holy Trinity Long Itchington ECC Cov 7". Ecclesiastical Law Association. Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  19. ^ "Historic font saved after landmark ruling by church court". Victorian Society. 19 March 2009. Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  20. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (14 June 2015). "Gasworks wonders". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  21. ^ "2018 Top ten endangered buildings". The Victorian Society. 8 October 2018. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  22. ^ "The Victorian". The Victorian Society. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  23. ^ "About Us". The Victorian Society in America. Retrieved 19 December 2017.


External links[edit]