Thursday, 19 July 2012

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau architecture is not something that England is overly familiar with. If I were to ask you to go through the architectural history of the country from the Tudor period onwards, I bet many of you would bypass this form.

This is not overly surprising (I'll admit, I have only even discovered it!!) as the general period only lasts two decades and it was overshadowed by its more popular sister Art Deco a decade later. Originating from the Arts and Craft Movement by William Morries, it’s main hold was over European cities such as Paris and Brussels, with the Winter Garden at Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Waver.  Where natural and feminie designs were swept up in all forms from fashion to architecture.

Scotland, Glasgow especially, is possibly the only main part of the Uk where Art Nouveau has had a lasting effect.

The Glasgow School of Art, built by Charles Rennie McIntosh, was built between 1897 and 1909 and is the epitome of this architectural design. Although the building itself is rather domineering in its large symmetrical fa├žade, the iron work that flows through both the internal and external front follows organic, natural designs that flow into smooth shapes. The shapes include, flowers, women, birds etc.

Canada House in Manchester (1909) and the Edward Everard Building in Bristol (1900 -01) are other examples throughout the Uk.

Canada House, Cheptsow Street, Manchester - Grade II

The Edward Everard Building, Bristol - Grade II*

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Gloucester Blackfriars

I felt rather lucky yesterday, part of my job sometimes is to wander round historic buildings making sure what we think is there, is actually there. Very tedious, I know!!

Well, yesterday just happened to be one of those days. The building in which I was lucky enough to visit was Blackfriars Priory in Gloucester. It is owned by Gloucester City Council and will soon be open to the public, available for weddings, conferences and gatherings or just a jolly old nose around.

Blackfriars was originally a Dominican Priory; a Roman Catholic Religious order whose uniform of black cloaks over their white habits gave them the name "black friars". There are also Greyfriars and Whitefriars. Please don't ask me the diferrence apart from their clocks, as it becomes very confusing.

After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII from 1536-39, the priory was bought by Thomas Bell in 1542 who turned the northern range (which seems to have been the church!) into his residential dwellings. This is not as uncommon as it sounds. At the time of the dissolution, monastic sites were some of the richest in the country, owning land, titles, and various levels of expensive objects handed over by the aristocracy throughout the centuries. There are other examples of urban monastic conversion in Exeter, Coventry and London. The lack of space compared to the rural monastic conversions meant that owners became original in their use of space.

Within Blackfriars, quite surprisingly, Bell did not use either the prior’s lodgings or the dormitory for his new home, which were the more common areas for conversion as they already hosted comfortable furnishings.

The picture below shows some of the ways in which Bell converted the monastic fabric to fit his needs. He divided the northern range into three floors, through the addition of windows (at the very top) and then fireplaces on the ground and first floors.

The cloister still exists, though the covering has long gone and the western range has been replaced by Georgian terraced housing.

The southern range (yellow building) is the original Scriptorium and is thought to be the country’s oldest library. Inside on the upper floor, many individual cubicles run along the walls where the monks would sit and scribe from manuscripts. The windows are designed specifically for right-handed people with a slight lean right in order to make the most of natural light. If you were left-handed – sorry you just had to cope.

During the 19th C this part was used a bottling factory and “clutch clinic” for old cars.

It is an absolutely fantastic building hidden away in the centre of Gloucester, whose external and internal fabric is still very much intact. I highly advise a visit to this gem of the site that will transport you back 500 years.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Vernacular Spectacular

As I have not been doing much travelling lately, I thought I would just show you a collection of vernacular housing types throughout the country.

Vernacular basically means "local". Before the industrial era and the invention of steam/railway i.e. the ability to mass produce material and then transport large numbers from one place to another, buildings were made of whatever the builders could get their hands on quickly and easily.

Consequently, houses were built to rules of thumb and were limited by the size and strength of the available materials.

Windows were small, hard to form and glass was very expensive.

Styles were common to regions, each one having it's own distinct style. This can be seen in cottages from:

Devon, to

Norfolk, to the


External colours were also based on local materials. The aggregate of the lime render would be a mixture of various substances particular to that area. Giving them an individual apperance unique to each region. For more information on lime read here.

Here are just a few examples throughout the country, covering various periods of vernacular architecture:

These beauties can be found in Lincoln (though make sure you are prepared to climb Steep Hill, the name is not an exaggeration!!) The one at the top is the old Norman House and the one below is the Jew's House.

Both are perfect examples of palimpsests, buildings that have been added too and changed throughout their life. Both are made of local, course stone and are medieval (12th C) in origin.

The Jew's House is one of the earliest known houses in England. The original romanesque doorway still exists under the chimney, which belongs to the fireplace upstairs. Two windows of the same period also still exist, though these have been filled in with later sash windows. The roof is also a later addition.

Similarly, the Norman House also has the remains of romanesque architecture over the door and window. The protrusion of the upper floor section with the later sash window suggests a change to the facade/internal layout.

If you are a fan of tea/coffee, you will LOVE this shop. it's shelves are filled with the most romantic concoctions that you will ever find, and the aroma is to die for.

This treasure can be found in Litchfield, near the Cathedral quarter. From it's wonky walls and roof lines. I am inclined to say the timber frame is original to the building, but the wattle and daub panelling has been replaced with brick.

It was the windows that attracted my attention.  I love their qurikyness and it looks as though the one on the first floor in the right hand corner is a filled in timber mullion window. Their shape and style make me lean toward later tudor insertions in a medieval framed building, but that is only a very basic guess.

This is again a timber framed, jettyed building that has been got at by the Georgians. If you look closely, the walls and levels are not straight but have a slight lean to them. In addition, the windows are not current to the building and have been inserted. This is possibly again tudor in origin and can be found in Cambridge on a small street running off from King's College.

This rather wonderful turret is also Cambridge, and as you can read, the street sign says it was the old Corn Exchange. This is a fantastic example of an oriel window/turret with a copper roofing. From the brick I would say this is a building belonging to the Victorian/Edwardian period. The use of stain glass in the upper story is stunning and begs the question of what was the room originally used for? Any ideas?

Friday, 6 July 2012

St Andrew's Church, Castle Combe

I was looking through my photos the other day, reminiscing over the excitement of my university days, and came across these images of St Andrew's Church.

This cute little church belongs to the village of Castle Combe in Wiltshire. The village itself has played staring roles in quite a few Hollywood films throughout it’s years; Rex Harrison’s Doctor Doolitle (1967), Stardust (2007) and War Horse (2011) just to name a few.

The church is Norman in origin, with the chancel belonging to the 13th C. The nave is a little later in date and was built during the 14th C, and work on the bell tower began in 1434. A chapel was built during the 15th C and the Lady Chapel during the 16th C.

However, during the 19th C the church was found to be in poor condition and it’s foundations in an even worse affair. So quite remarkably, the church was taken down and replaced brick by brick (hopefully with better foundations) to the original design and floor-plan.

You can still see the change in phases throughout the building, though obviously, it does have to be questioned how true they are, through the different use of material throughout the church; from smooth style in the upper clerestory to the more rubble style of the chancel with its quatrefoil and norman style windows.

Inside, it has predominantly late Romanesque (norman)/early gothic arches, with the one at the east end being more intricately decorated than then the aisle ones. I can’t tell you what with, as my picture is of rather bad quality.

There is also a petite, but beautiful fan vaulted ceiling in the bell tower that is Perpendicular in style.

King’s College in Cambridge is the most famous example of a fan vault style ceiling. The style is attributed to Gloucester Cathedral which was built during 1351 and 1377 and has the earliest known example in its cloister walk.

                                                      King's College Chapel, Cambridge

                                                                    Cloister Walk, Gloucester Cathedral

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Merchant Taylor's Hall, York

Lying next to the historic city walls, this Guildhall is one of seven guilds within the city that existed from the 13th century onwards. Only three now remain. Originally built by the Fraternity of St John the Baptist, it belongs to the Merchant Taylors, as in tailor, and would have been a meeting place for all men working with the cloth within the city.

I pointed out in my last blog some features which can show the chronology of a building......can you see any in the picture above?

The first reference to tailors within York are in the 1387 registers and ordinances. The Merchant Tailors played an important role within the city, both socially and economically and would have discussed everything from individual prices to city wide practices.

The whole building would have originally been timbered with plaster boards as you see on the end gable, but it was re-covered in brick in the 18th C either as a fashion statement or due to structural issues....or both!

The Great Hall, where all the main meetings would have taken place, is the largest room within the building and the earliest fabric dates to 1415.  It currently stands at 60ft in length and 30ft in width, with a 30 ft ceiling. This was to house the 130+ members that made up the guild at the time. 

 The Little Hall is a bit later and was first built in timber from 1446 - 1503.

In 1702, with the accession of Queen Anne to the throne, Henry Gyles (revivor of the art of glass painting) painted two stain glass windows that exist within the little hall.

The building is still used by the Taylors today, but can also be hired out for functions and weddings! It is a beautiful setting, set right in the centre of the city and would be an impressive place to hold business meetings, conferences, and of course to hold your special day.

Just incase you were interested, there are two other guildhalls located around the York: The Merchant Adventurers and The Guildhall.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Ledeston Hall

We visited this rather fabulous building on one rather cold and dreary day for our MA degree.  This was the second attempt to reach this building. The first was during the winter of 2010 where Yorkshire, along with the rest of the country, experienced large amounts of snow. I have to say I am quite glad we didn’t make it the first time round, it was still freezing in March!

Ledeston Hall is Grade I listed and located 10 miles east of Leeds. It was also once on “Most Haunted Live”, though we didn’t meet any of its pearly white inhabitants when we visited.

Although it looks like one complete building, it is in fact a palimpsest of five phases.

It was originally built as a grange and chapel by the monks of Pontefract Priory around 1200. There is a 1500 extension and after the dissolution in 1539 it was acquired by the Witham Family who incorporated the monastic remains into a courtyard style house in c.1560. 60 years later it was bought by Thomas of Wentworth who added the south wing and then in 1660, Sir John Lewis (not related to the addictive but rather expensive shopping giant) added a northern extension to the main range and the north wing.  Finally in the 18th century Lady Betty Hastings made some stylistic alterations to the principle facades. 

Today, one wing has been sub-divided into flats, but the rest has unfortunately been left to decay; making it a perfect stomping ground for students to practice their ever growing amount of architectural and condition knowledge. 

                                 The roof had fallen in throughout the winter due to heavy snow fall.

                          Inner courtyard which illustrates the successive transitions. Late 18th C on the left, earlier possibly 16/17th  on the right, with what looks like a coach house door on the ground floor. 

                       Unfortunate condition of the interior - I did say it had been left to it's own devices!!

We dated this room completely wrong, trusting the date sign. We were told it is actually a Victorian replica of their idea of a Tudor room. Crucial lesson No 1 - do not always trust date signs!!! they lie people. 

                                                           Some dust anyone? 

This is the effect of cement pointing. I will not bore you with too much detail, but unfortunately, throughout it's history the lime pointing has been replaced by cement. This is not good news. Traditional lime pointing acts as a sacrificial layer, it's strength is less than that of the stone around it, then when the stone gets wet, due to rain, internal moisture, etc, the water can escape through the pointing and into the atmosphere. The pointing then only needs to be touched up instead of replaced completely. However, modern cement pointing is stronger than the stone around it and impermeable, so instead, the stone becomes the sacrificial layer, eroding away internally and combusting due to trapped moisture until it starts to look like picture 2.

Ledeston Hall is a fabulous building, not only due to its layers of history, but also for revealing aspects of building decay. However, sadly it is buildings like this one that are in line to be lost forever due to the lack of funding. The EH Buildings at Risk register is growing steadily longer with cases just like this. These buildings are not cheap, so if anyone has a a spare few million, please let me know!!