English Heritage has blocked an application by the Augustinian Canonesses of the Mercy of Jesus to remove and sell Greek and Roman marbles from its home in Ince Blundell Hall in order to raise funds for renovations.
The Sisters, who have run a nursing home at the hall for 50 years, have applied to Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council for Listed Building Consent to remove the embedded marbles from their Lancashire home, which are deteriorating due to climatic conditions.
The application before its planning committee is to remove, conserve and replicate these artefacts with the aim of selling them to a public buyer.
Any funds raised will be used to renovate two listed buildings in the grounds – the Old Hall and the Stable Block – which are near the top of the Heritage At Risk Register, and are used to provide nursing care.
Initially English Heritage gave its support to the application, but then imposed conditions, to which the Sisters have agreed. However, English Heritage has now refused the application.
The Sisters bought Ince Blundell Hall in 1959, and converted the house into a nursing home. The hall had been the ancestral home of the Blundell family, and still housed a collection of 600 Roman and Greek marbles acquired by Henry Blundell during the 18th century.
In 1959, the Weld-Blundell family and the Sisters arranged for Liverpool Museum to take the marbles, and the museum removed 500 pieces between 1959 and 1961. About 70 bass reliefs embedded in the walls of the buildings were left behind with a few minor pieces in the grounds, most of which have since been stolen.
A spokesman for the order said: “The Sisters are fully aware of the significance of the remaining heritage items and have done their best to preserve and protect them. They are distressed to witness the progressive deterioration of the artefacts from a combination of vandalism, theft, pollution and extremes of climate.
“The reliefs are now in danger of deteriorating to the point that it will no longer be possible to conserve them. Those on the outside of the Pantheon are crumbling and their condition is so poor that they ‘sugar’ on touch.”
In July 2011, English Heritage commented that the Sisters had been “excellent custodians” of the Hall: “It is evident that the Sisters have successfully utilised the building as a nursing home whilst still retaining its character and heritage. Ince Blundell is still a fine historic house and the Sisters have proved themselves to be excellent custodians. English Heritage is reassured by that.”
The Sisters say they intend to continue with the application.