FIFTY years ago the late John Betjeman added his voice to a national outcry about the removal of an enormous Victorian screen from Hereford Cathedral.

Designed by the great Gothic Revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, and a major star of the 1862 International Exhibition in London, the massive screen in iron, brass and copper was installed in the cathedral, where it remained until 1967.

This was the year when Ian and Gill Smith married in St Mary’s Church, Pembridge, and in this anniversary year the couple have been to London, where a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum revealed Hereford’s long- lost treasure in all its glory.

“It is in a very prominent position at the museum,” said Gill, a retired teacher and churchwarden at St Mary’s in Pembridge.

“We wanted to see the screen, which is permanently on display at the V&A.”

The eight-ton screen had been dismantled and removed from Hereford at around the time of Gill’s marriage to Ian, a former head boy at Lady Hawkins’ Grammar School in Kington.

A retired teacher, he was headmaster at Bridstow school for many years, and continues in his work as a lay reader.

Interested to learn more about the former cathedral screen, they have been doing their own research.

By the 1930s Hereford’s Dean and Chapter had become concerned about the “obtrusiveness” of the Hereford screen. While the Illustrated London News had described it as the “grandest, most triumphant achievement of modern architectural art”, by the 20th century it was seen as “ugly and incongruous” in a medieval building, and a barrier between congregation and chancel.

The proposed removal aroused strong protest from former Poet Laureate John Betjeman, and scholar of British architecture, Nikolaus Pevsner, who claimed the screen added “a sense of mystery and length” in the cathedral.

But exactly 50 years ago the screen was sold for display to a Coventry museum.

Proving too costly to mount, it was passed on to the V&A museum, where it was put in store and only discovered by a conservator in 1983.

Estimates for restoration work ranged from £750,000 to £2 million.

A bid was made to the National Heritage Memorial Lottery Fund (NHMF) in 1997 for half of the lower amount.

The museum agreed to match any forthcoming amount, and went on to receive the largest NHMF award for conserving a single object.

Now it holds a place of honour in the V&A where it is much admired.

While Gill and Ian will be celebrating their golden wedding anniversary with a family party, including their two daughters, Marie and Helen and five grandchildren, seeing the impressive Hereford screen has been the icing on the cake.