LETTERS: Lay and clerical discord over Pugin window

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The Independent Online
From Mr Martin Harrison

Sir: "Glass Warfare at Sherborne" was an apt headline (Letters, 26 July) for the responses to James Fenton's concerns (24 July) about ecclesiastical exemption from planning controls, in general, and the removal of Pugin's stained glass window, in particular. The problem lies with the adversarial nature of consistory courts. Recent cases both at Sherborne and Lincoln have demonstrated that these courts are both divisive and seriously defective in establishing the facts.

The Rev Eric Woods, however, berates Mr Fenton for ignoring "the facts of the matter" and suggests he should have read the court's 69-page judgment. Since Mr Fenton described the judgment as "dreadfully argued" I, and I assume most of your readers, believed he had read it. His low opinion of it, no doubt, stemmed from the factual errors it contains, largely perpetrated by the parish's concerted attempts to denigrate Pugin and, ridiculously, to deny his authorship of a unique and comprehensively documented window.

Andrew Duff (letter, 26 July), who presumably would not countenance the removal of the Abbey's Norman, Early English, or Perpendicular masonry, does not want Sherborne to become a "museum for Victoriana". Yet the Victorian restoration of the church, equally part of its accretive history, was notably sensitive to the existing fabric - the current church guide admits that the Victorian restoration (begun by the architect R. C. Carpenter, who employed Pugin) was "conservative" and, though extensive, "saved the building from collapse".

Already some of the beautiful 19th-century painted decoration has been removed, but there has been a dogmatic refusal to appreciate Pugin's window within the overall architectural and historical context of the Abbey. The inhabitants of Sherborne are the fortunate custodians of an important part of our nation's heritage. Ironically, it was Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (whose failure to specifically praise the west window was cited as an argument for its removal) who described the view from the south of the Abbey as "quite a Puginian dream of a medieval town".

Yours faithfully,

Martin Harrison