I watched the awful pictures of flames consuming Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, and was reminded of the – for Westonians, equally awful – day a bit more than a decade ago when our Grand Pier burnt down.
Oh, I know the Pier wasn’t a globally-famous example of medieval architecture, like Notre Dame. But it mattered to us and, it turned out, to a lot of people beyond Weston too. Everyone watched the TV pictures of the flames as they reduced a much-loved local landmark to rubble and ash. And just as Parisians have found sympathy and support from every corner of the globe, so did we. It turns out that historic buildings are more than just bricks and mortar, or glass and stone. They’re part of a community’s body and soul. Notre Dame doesn’t just belong to the Parisians, and the Grand Pier wasn’t only Weston’s either: they’re both bigger, wider and more important than that.
Thankfully there’s quite a bit of Notre Dame still standing, damaged but unbowed. Now Paris must rebuild. I doubt they’ll match the Grand Pier for speed; I cut the ribbon to reopen it less than two years after the disaster, and replacing medieval stonework will take a bit longer. But the excitement will be just as strong: I was nearly mown down by the rush of people charging in to see the new Pier and, while I’m sure cathedral visitors will be a bit more restrained, I bet the new version will have even more people wanting to see it than before.
So, from one town scarred by a dreadful fire to another, we get it. And we know that even the worst damage can be fixed. All you need is enough people to love and care about it, and everything else, from money to stonemasonry, will follow.