Can the Bristol Royal Infirmary Chapel Be Saved From Demolition?

In this day and age, it seems we ignore the little insights that history has to offer. We throw away art, fail to teach relevant stories about the past, and we even knock down important works of architecture that offer us a teasing glance into worlds that are now long gone. Bristol, a city in the United Kingdom, plans to demolish the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) Chapel in order to free up enough space for 715 flats for students to use. This chapel happens to be the last surviving piece of the Bristol Byzantine architectural style, and so a campaign has been launched to save it.

The architectural style took inspiration from Italian gothic, Roman, and local aesthetic influences of the time period. SC Fripp was the architect behind its construction in 1859, which itself marked the very beginning stages of this architectural era.

Why the city’s government hasn’t already spared the building from demolition and abandoned what many see as an unnecessary new project for living space is in question. Flats can always be built elsewhere. Why isn’t architecture such as the BRI Chapel considered important enough to preserve? The past is part of the city’s charm, and adds to centuries of culture.

The architectural style isn’t all the building has to offer. There are a number of memorials dedicated to World War I on site, and a stained glass window decorating not only the soldiers but the nurses who died in 1911. Architecture is one thing that a lot of people might not mind seeing thrown away in order to embrace the new, but bypassing remembrance of fallen soldiers is a different thing entirely.

Part of the reason the building is still slated for demolition is bureaucracy. Historic England is in charge of deciding whether or not to protect old forms of architecture or allow their destruction. Not long ago, a structure built on Small Street was graced with a ceiling around 400 years old. Conservations called upon Historic England to intervene, just as they have in the case of the BRI Chapel. Builders demolished it a single day before the organization had planned to inspect the building.

Timing, it seems, is everything.

There was an earlier campaign aimed at preserving the entire BRI building instead of just the chapel, but it failed. Those who inspected the rest of the building decided that the interior had been altered too much to fall under historical protection. The BRI has not been altered, and so there is still a chance it might be saved from demolition.

Even so, the deadline for doing so is approaching fast. Historic England has only until council planners make their final decision on whether or not to accept the application for demolition in November.