Traditional Architecture for a Traditional Nation

By: Matthew Groves, BMS Blogger-in-Residence.

Like a poverty-struck aristocratic family, the British taxpayer is expected to fork out to maintain the great and rich architectural heritage of yesteryear.  Two iconic buildings, not only treasures in their own architectural right, but also closely entwined with British national identity are creaking and in need of urgent repairs.  Buckingham Palace has seen large chunks of masonry falling off, one narrowly missing the Princess Royal.  Meanwhile the Victorian Palace of Westminster is seeing subsidence from years of tube trains beneath its Victorian structure, so that the Elizabeth Tower is beginning to lean and crack.  Heating systems and fire prevention are also anachronistic.

While the politicians are refusing to support thecost of repairs to the Monarch’s residence great discussions and the setting up of working groups has taken place to deal with the comforts and accommodation of our elected and appointed representatives of Commons and Lords.  It is suspected that some politicians who yearn for a people’s republic see this as an opportunity to cast aside the rich heritage of Pugin and Barry and adopt something more modern i.e. functional and lacking in history and aesthetics.

There is also a squeamishness on the part of the political establishment to appear to be wasting money on the dignified side of the constitution.  Gothic architecture and the Palace of the Head of State are seen as being the last things money should be spent on in austerity Britain. Added to this is an underlying spirit of puritanical parliamentarianism that sees the efficient side of the constitution as being more important.  This leads to two consequences, the conclusion that taxpayers should not fund the accommodation of the Monarch and secondly that a modern, working Parliament is something that is owed to the taxpayer. It will be argued in this article that there should not be a conflict between maintaining our inheritance from Pugin and Barry and maintaining Buckingham Palace in a suitable state for the world’s greatest Royal Family. 

As would be expected in an article appearing in a British Monarchist Society publication, the view put forward in this article is that the Royal Family should be in a suitable residence.  What though is suitable?  Well the British Monarchy is not and never should be a Continental Bicycling Monarchy.  It has survived this long precisely because it has maintained its mystique and magic.  What republicans do not understand is that the splendour of our Royal Family, during austere times, does not cause envy, but rather adds magic to people having a tough and austere economic time.  Republicans think the worst of people if they believe that seeing our nation’s traditional pageantry only excites envy. It is to keep our spirits up that we need a glorious Royal Family, rich in tradition and pageantry.  The Roundhead may be vocal in the media, but time and time again the British public demonstrate that they want the full works with their Monarchy and that they believe the pageantry of Royal tradition is one of the things that makes this nation great. 

It is not just Republicans who must realise this.  Politicians and Royal advisers must remain aware that despite the voluble Roundhead discourse, the British public love the pageantry and do not want a bicycling Monarchy. It is therefore to uplift the morale of the public that Buckingham Palace must be maintained.  Of course it is a rich and opulent residence for one family, when millions live in houses too small of them.  However to shut down Buckingham Palace would not increase the material wealth of the British public, but it would diminish their cultural wealth.  We would all be the poorer in terms of tradition and history if Buckingham Palace were not to be maintained even, if necessary, out of the public purse. We know full well that much of the maintenance is paid for by the Queen, but if we truly believe in a Royal head of state, then we must put our money where our mouths are, as the saying goes.  The onus is on us to support our rich, Royal heritage.

It seems most British politicians are nervous about making the case for this, but are far more keen to argue that money should be spent on their own place of work – Westminster, the cockpit of our democracy.  Well, they are right to believe we owe it to all that Pugin stood for to maintain the Victorian Palace.  It may not be as old as what was once Buckingham House before the Hanoverians transformed it into a Palace, but the Nineteenth Century Gothic building is the dignified seat of the efficient part of the Constitution. 

It is a false dichotomy to say we should spend on one, but not the other.  Pugin was a strong advocate of the case that architecture should edify the nation spiritually.  He saw much Nineteenth Century architecture as Capitalist and based upon an industrial view of the world.  That is why he looked back to a Royal and Catholic nation when he drew up his plans for the new Houses of Parliament.  Just as maintaining Buckingham Palace is good for the spirit of the nation, so is maintaining a Gothic building for our politicians.By meeting within a Gothic building, politicians are constantly reminded that they are part of a great stream of history and that they owe their duty not only to the moment, but to past generations and to future ones. 

Were our politicians to be housed in a building designed along classical lines or – even worse – modern architecture, the atmosphere of Parliament would change.  The politicians would strut about centre stage in open, airy spaces.  History and tradition would seem irrelevant. However, we are not a people’s republic, we are governed not simply by Parliament, but by the Queen-in-Parliament.  Therefore it is only right that Westminster should be a palace and that its architecture should reflect the Royal nature of this nation.

So for as long as we are a Kingdom our public buildings should reflect this.  If our buildings remain traditional they remind us that what is important is not simply the current generation, but the generations before and the generations after.  It reminds us that government is not only functional, but is answerable to a higher and mystical authority.  This nation has a duty to guard its architectural heritage for generations to come.  Therefore our politicians should be courageous enough to make the case for spending public money on both historic buildings.  They are our national heritage and we hold them on trust for our children and our children’s children and on until Doom’s Day.