During the Dissolution of Monasteries King Henry VIII’s men demolished the Nave of Pershore Abbey taking down significant walls and structures in the process. It meant that the people of Pershore had to construct a new section of exterior wall to enclose the quire and create a new, smaller parish church for their use. The history behind the loss of the nave is significant and hugely interesting, and it is the Abbeys decision as part of the Development plans to mark out and identify the footprint in an exciting and informative manner.
If you look carefully at the stonework on the external wall of the south transept, you can see clear evidence of a former chapel that was part of the Abbey church in medieval times. The chapel was and is an important part of the building. It was dedicated to St Edburga, a Saxon saint who died in 960 in Winchester. She was reputed to have healing powers, and when some of her relics were given to Pershore Abbey, the chapel received many pilgrims, which created a welcome and successful income stream.
Taking into account the outcomes of the Government’s Taylor Review on the sustainability of churches where it particularly sets out to encourage all PCC’s to be visionary in the search to drive sustainable avenues of funding development. All with a view to long-term benefits and the potential to share with others the journey. It, therefore, seems appropriate that we seek to enclose and centrally identify the 1000 years of history in one place, a space that once was St Edburgas chapel and in doing so capture the significant historical past while addressing the economic needs of the future.
The Abbey plans to undertake an architectural competition to enclose this valuable piece of history, which lends itself to such a strategy. By doing so, it will create three significant and differing parts as economic drivers for the Abbey through tourism and community engagement.
Almost all other key civic buildings, such as town halls, schools, hospitals and social housing, have a tradition of being commissioned through competition. Indeed the careers of many emerging architects are launched by entering a competition for a civic building. Surprisingly few church developments are commissioned through competitions. Why is this?
There are, of course, exceptions. Liverpool Cathedral was the product of a competition run in 1902, which Sir Giles Gilbert Scott won at the age of 21 – the original emerging architect. So too was Sir Basil Spence’s winning scheme for the new cathedral in Coventry arising around the devastated ruins of the building destroyed during the second world war.
Churches are unusual in having their own planning procedures and either an inspecting architect or, in the case of the most important, such as Pershore Abbey, their own appointed architect. Great committee structures surround even modest building work including diocese committees and fabric committees. The Anglican Church has subtly different ways to engage with new design work and permissions. England and Wales’ planning procedures differ from Scotland’s and enfolding all of this are the mechanics and regulations of listed buildings and ecclesiastical exemption.
Why undertake an architectural competition is the question the PCC wrestled with the idea: that it would be an extra layer of work for already over-stretched volunteers; it would highlight any skill gaps; it would be difficult to set the guidelines, and it means a longer lead-in time to the project. The benefits outweighed these. The PCC realised that the shared wisdom together with a process of true consensus-building gave value to the decision. During the judging period, the jury would hear reports from quantity surveyors on potential construction costs, on how the projects complied with local regulations, and an assessment of the projects’ application of sustainable development principles. There would also be critical outcomes on various design principles giving clarity on our own needs for the future, and an understanding of both the heritage quality and the technical features and state of the current Abbey buildings was priceless to the team before going forward.
Our architect has been exceptional through all the myriad of processes and projects that have been undertaken over the years by the Abbey and is recognised as a leader in heritage practice. He acknowledges there are some valid reasons for conducting an architectural competition under his guidance as the Abbey’s Architect. He developed with the Abbey the ‘Statement of Need” and has underpinned all the permissions with his due diligence and by him acting as the Executive Architect, we believe that we get the best of both worlds. We could invite another architect known for his work with other ecclesiastical buildings but why would we do that with our in-house expert.
The third and by far the most interesting selection process is to run a competition arranging it to attract and engage emerging talent and smaller practices which will keen to optimise our brief and our budget. We believe that this will produce something of rare quality and long-lasting value, perhaps even outstripping our expectations.