SPAB puts its foot down on floors

This is one of SPAB's Top 20 floors. It is an Elizabethan flagstone floor in the kitchen at Canons Ashby. SPAB is running a campaign to increase the recognition of the importance of floors as part of the historic fabric of a building to prevent them being lost.Photo: National Trust Images – Andreas von Einsiedel

SPAB (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) has started a campaign, called History at your Feet, to protect the floors of heritage buildings.

SPAB has a statutory right to be consulted over changes to historic buildings and it has become concerned at the way the preservation of old floors is being left out of improvement plans and upgrades.

It wants people to engage on Twitter using the hashtag #lookdown

 to send it pictures of floors.

It says its caseworkers regularly report being involved too late in discussions about works involving historic floors. By the time they are asked to comment on plans or proposals, pivotal decisions have already been made or are being actively pursued.

So it is putting its foot down. In churches, cathedrals and other ancient buildings all over the country floors have been removed to allow the introduction of heating solutions or to create a level floor that better meets health & safety requirements. Another major driver in terms of interventions is the need to create a more flexible space. Although laudable in intention, these projects can lead to the destruction of ancient fabric.

It’s not just about physical loss. SPAB is also interested in the intangible. The Society believes that floors contribute enormously to the ‘spirit’ of a place. The patina of time caused by centuries of wear and tear, daily use and gradual settlement are essential components of a sense of presence, unique atmosphere and acoustic quality of a space.

The floors of old buildings are often worn, discoloured, and out of true. Yet these imperfections can make their own important contribution to the interest, beauty and historic value of a structure. This is just as true of exterior ‘floors’ (paving) set in the historic landscape.

SPAB says floors are where we make a direct physical connection to a space, following in the footsteps of those who have gone before in centuries past.

Obliteration of ancient fabric is happening with worrying frequency. Brutal work is being carried out under the guise of ‘improvement’ with little or no regard for the aesthetic or historic significance and interest of a floor and its importance to the integrity of a building or place. 

With the help of conservationists including Kevin McCloud, Jonathan Foyle, Loyd Grossman and Dan Cruickshank, SPAB has put together a quirky list of the UK's Top 20 Historic Floors. They are from all parts of the UK and include simple floors as well as grand or stately ones. 

The campaign and Top 20 list goes live today (7 June). You can see the Top 20 floors here.

There is also a comprehensive free download giving advice on the best ways to care for old floors of all types. You can donload the guide here.

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