The draft Scheme
On 4 December 2017, the Church Commissioners of the Church of England published a draft Scheme providing for the demolition of the original St Elisabeth’s Church in Eastbourne, home to the mural Pilgrim’s Progress by Hans Feibusch. If approved, the Scheme will allow the Church to go ahead with the demolition, irrespective of whether the mural is still in situ. The Scheme contains a provision that demolition will not go ahead until 1 September 2018 or until the ‘proposed recipients’ of the mural ‘have secured adequate resources’ to remove and relocate the mural – in other words, unless someone other than the Church of England provides the money for the mural’s relocation before September 2018, the mural will be destroyed along with the building.
Complete documents relating to the draft Scheme can be downloaded here.
Objections to the draft Scheme must be received before 8 January 2018, so there is not much time to act!
Hans Feibusch was a Jewish refugee who fled Germany for Britain in the 1930s, his work sufficiently despised by the Nazi regime to be included in the now infamous Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition of 1937, alongside artists such as Chagall, Kandinsky, Klee and Mondrian. He became a member of the London Group, which had been founded by artists including Walter Sickert and Jacob Epstein and went on to include most of the key names in twentieth-century British art, and found his niche fulfilling commissions to paint murals in churches and other public buildings. It was through this work that he came to the attention of Charles Reilly, the renowned professor of architecture, and George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, who provided him with the rare opportunity to create a mural of his own design and conception in the crypt at St Elisabeth’s in 1944.
Feibusch chose the allegory of Pilgrim’s Progress as a vehicle for his own story, depicting a refugee fleeing the evil and chaos of Nazi Germany and his eventual acceptance and redemption not in the Celestial City but in 1940s Britain. As well as being an extraordinary feat both in terms of its scale and its mastery of form and colour, Pilgrim’s Progress is also a deeply personal project unlike any other of Feibusch’s work, and an important artefact in twentieth-century social history. Descendants of concentration camp detainees who have seen it say that those depicted in the mural bear the unmistakable facial expressions of Holocaust survivor guilt. The mural is a registered War Memorial, and is unique, we believe, in being dedicated to civilian casualties of war. As we embark on the twenty-first century, it acquires new resonance in the context of mass displacement of people into Europe by conflicts further afield.
You can see more pictures of the mural here. Members of the press are welcome to email firstname.lastname@example.org for higher resolution images.
How to object
Objections to the draft Scheme must be received before 8 January 2018. Communications received after that date will not be treated as a valid representation.
Objections can be sent in hard copy to: Representations, Closed Churches Division, Church Commissioners, Church House, Great Smith Street, London SWIP 3AZ or sent by email to email@example.com.
Assuming that at least one objection to the draft Scheme is made, the views of the Bishop of Chichester will be sought, who will look to weigh up representations both against and for the Scheme. It is important therefore that as many informed and reasoned objections as possible are made before the closing date of 8 January 2018.
In making a representation, you should indicate whether you are also requesting the opportunity to speak at any public hearing that is subsequently held.
It is our understanding that the Twentieth Century Society, a great supporter of Feibusch and his work, will be creating a petition as part of a campaign to save Pilgrim’s Progress. Please do support this, but please do not send or sign petitions as an alternative to written objections, as only the first signatory of any petition will be regarded as having objected.
Rationale for objections
Objections might draw attention to the following shortcomings of the proposals:
- The importance of the mural has not been adequately appreciated. A widely held view is that there are multiple examples of Feibusch’s work throughout the diocese and the UK, and that Pilgrim’s Progress is not technically the best of these. While arguably true, this ignores the fact that Pilgrim’s Progress is unlike all other examples, in that it was a non-commissioned, personal project with personal and artistic meaning above and beyond Feibusch’s more usual biblical subjects. Furthermore, Feibusch’s importance as an artist is now considerably enhanced compared with how his work was viewed when the demolition of St Elisabeth’s was first contemplated in the mid-1980s, augmented by, for instance, the discovery of the boarded-up mural in St Mark’s, Coventry, which was recognised as historically important by English Heritage as recently as 2013.
- Not enough time and effort has been given to finding a suitable destination for the mural. A very brief search in 2016 resulted in a shortlist of four locations, which was quickly whittled down to just one: a community arts organisation in Eastbourne. Between November 2016 and December 2017, the only progress made was to establish that this organisation does not have the money to fund the cost of removing and relocating the mural, which is estimated at some £300,000. The Church has indicated that they would still be open to approaches from organisations motivated to rehome the mural who have the means to do so, but no obvious efforts have been made to find such an organisation. Throughout, both the search for a new location and the advancement of the demolition process have been characterised by a lack of meaningful public engagement.
- The project of relocating the mural has been negatively impacted by the Church’s unwillingness to commit funds towards the cost of this process. As the custodian of a culturally and historically important work of art, the Church arguably should not be given permission to destroy the mural as an alternative to relocating it. Once the church building has been demolished, the site is likely to be sold for housing development, at which time any costs incurred in the saving of the mural will more than be recouped. Given that St Elisabeth’s Church was gifted to the people of Eastbourne by local benefactor Eliza Watson, and was not built with the Church of England’s own money, it seems reasonable that at least some of the considerable sum likely to be paid for the site should be diverted to preserving the mural as a consequent gift.
- Other sources of funds to pay for the removal of the mural have been inadequately explored. While it is understood that an application for Heritage Lottery Funding has been rejected, as far as we know there has so far been no attempt to access other public funding sources, nor has there been any attempt to explore the availability of corporate or philanthropic giving or other options such as crowdfunding.
- There has been inadequate exploration of the possibility of saving the church crypt in its entirety, which is a plan that was at one time discussed with parishioners (who have meanwhile been conducting worship and church business in the community building next door to the condemned church). The mural would not need to be removed at all if a careful demolition of the upper levels of the church building were carried out, preserving the crypt and mural as the basis for a new place of worship or community building at the heart of the residential community that arises from the subsequent development of the site. A variation on this this idea might involve removing the mural to a place of safety and replacing it in a newly built location on the site, either as a place of worship, as a community building, or as a tourist attraction. As far as we know, no formal study into either of these options has ever been carried out.
- Inadequate consideration has been given to the touristic value of the mural, particularly if kept on the existing site or resited locally. The mural complements a range of other important artistic sites locally, for example: the Bloomsbury murals at St Michael’s and All Angels, Berwick and other Bloomsbury connections at Charleston and Monk’s House; the Lee Miller archive and work by other important artists at Farley Farm; the John Piper window at St Peter’s, Firle and tapestries at Chichester Cathedral; the Chagall windows at Chichester Cathedral and further afield at All Saints’, Tudeley, etc. In contrast to proposals for St Elisabeth’s, the purchaser of the redundant St Wilfrid’s in Brighton, which is home to a Feibusch Nativity and has now been developed into a retirement community, is making arrangements for separate access to ensure the public will be able to enjoy the mural for posterity.
There is little doubt that demolition of the St Elisabeth’s building is both necessary and inevitable eventually. By voicing objections to the draft Scheme at this stage, we buy time to explore other possible locations for the mural and other options for funding its relocation.
PLEASE VOICE YOUR OBJECTION TO THE DRAFT SCHEME BEFORE MONDAY 8 JANUARY 2018 TO GIVE US THIS CHANCE.
If you have any questions or comments about the mural or the Representations process, please email me, Alex Grey, at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be answering email throughout the Christmas and New Year period and will be happy to provide information or advice, as needed.