Risk to ancient marbles
SIR – We are concerned as members of the Society of Dilettanti about the proposed dispersal of 100 marbles from a collection of ancient Roman sculptures formed by the 18th-century connoisseur, Henry Blundell.
For 300 years, these could be seen in the spectacular settings built for them between 1780 and 1810: the Pantheon and Garden Temple in the grounds of Ince Blundell Hall, Merseyside. The importance of these marbles cannot be exaggerated. The collection is rivalled only by the Townley marbles at the British Museum, and the Weddell marbles at Newby Hall, Yorkshire.
We have learnt that English Heritage has raised no objection to an application before Sefton council for listed building consent for these marbles to be removed, presumably with the intention that they be sold. As justification for this proposal, English Heritage cites conservation problems and the danger of vandalism.
As far as we are aware, no attempt has been made to establish the cost of conservation in situ or to explore other ways of keeping them in their original setting. We urge Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage, urgently to reconsider this decision, which amounts to the desecration of that most rare thing – an intact collection of classical sculpture in its original 18th-century setting.
The 100 marbles embedded in walls at Ince Blundell are part of a collection, of which 500 pieces were given to Liverpool Museums by the Weld family in 1958. By allowing these 100 to be removed, English Heritage is in violation of its duty to ensure that historic fixtures and fittings are not removed from listed buildings. It would be an unwelcome precedent, and destroy any chance of reinstating the entire collection in the Pantheon and Garden Temple.
We call on English Heritage to reverse its advice to Sefton council and to work with interested bodies, including this society, to find a way of keeping this collection intact.
Joint Secretaries, Society of Dilettanti
Sir Nicholas Bacon
Sir Jack Baer
Sir Richard Carew-Pole
Marquess of Cholmondeley
Marquess of Douro
Lord Charles FitzRoy
Sir Nicholas Goodison
Earl of Gowrie
Marquess of Lansdowne
Sir William Proby
Marquess of Salisbury
Sir Simon Towneley
Sir Humphry Wakefield
Lord Waldegrave of North Hill
The letter as it appears on the Telegraph website