To restore or not to restore

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Mike-Davis-wHELENSBURGH Heritage Trust's 2011-12 winter session of talks started on September 28 with a thought-provoking presentation from Michael Davis, the Trust's first and only honorary life member.

Although his subject was 'Castle Restorations', the talk covered a much broader field. This became apparent from his very first slide which was entitled 'A Restoration Tragedy', and which contained further wording in the style of a Victorian melodrama in three acts and with a prologue!

Mike dealt in a thorough and individualistic manner with the subject of buildings at risk, and in particular castles.

What could or should be done with them? Should they be demolished, should they be preserved as ruins, or should they be restored? If they should be restored, what form should the restoration take?

Many buildings are adapted over the years to suit the desires of their owners. So should the restoration aim to make the building appear as near as possible to what it was when first built, should the restoration take the form of a later phase in the building's life, or should it attempt to forget the building's past and restore it in the form of a habitable modern home?

If one goes for one of the first two alternatives, how authentic should the restoration be made — and how does one determine what constitutes authenticity in the first place?

Given Helensburgh's building heritage, all these questions are of relevance to the town's residents, particularly in view of what has happened to some buildings in the past — such as Ardencaple Castle — and what may happen to some of the town's prominent buildings that are currently at risk.

These and many other questions Mike dealt with in his usual highly entertaining and enthusiastic manner. His audience was forced to think, and to realise that there are no easy answers as far as buildings at risk are concerned.