Victorian Visualisations of Rome – Lawrence Alma-Tadema

“A Roman studio”, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1874, oil on panel, 64 × 93.5 cm (25.2 × 36.8 in), Current location Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, The Bridgeman Art Library / Wikimedia Commons.

In Britain there is a long cultural and artistic tradition of visualising and “reconstructing” the past. In late 19th century England this was famously and influentially practiced by the painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema whose images of scenes from ancient Roman life captured the public imagination and have informed representations of Roman history in art, film, architecture and theatre ever since. As an example his paintings were used as source material by Hollywood directors in their vision of the ancient world for films such as D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916), Ben Hur (1926), Cleopatra (1934), and Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956). This was one of a number of aspects explored at a major exhibition of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s work, and that of his talented family at Leighton House Museum in London from July to October 2017. Entitled “At Home in Antiquity” the exhibition was curated by Professor Elizabeth Prettejohn, Peter Trippi, Ivo Blom and Daniel Robbins. Having previously shown at the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden in the Netherlands and the Belvedere Museum in Vienna this was the largest assembly of Almeda-Tadema’s work for some years and a unique opportunity to examine the practice of historical research through picture making by one of its greatest exponents. The choice of Leighton House as the venue for the exhibition was inspired as it transposed the atmosphere and domestic detail of Tadema’s studio-house in St John’s Wood (now lost) into the Kensington domicile of another high-Victorian celebrity painter: Alma-Tadema’s friend Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) later Lord Leighton. Leighton House Museum was begun in 1865 as a private house (designed by the architect George Aitcheson) and after extensive restoration now houses a permanent collection reflecting the house as the artist originally occupied it. Much of this collection was temporarily removed to allow the Alma-Tadema exhibition to take place and it did occupy virtually every available room and wall surface in the building, in light levels so low at times one had to peer closely to see. The effort was worth it.

Leighton House Museum, Kensington, London, the home of the Victorian artist Lord Frederick Leighton (1830-1896), and venue for the exhibition held from July – October 2017 entitled “Alma-Tadema – At Home in Antiquity.” No photography was allowed inside the museum.

“The Vintage Festival”, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1870, Media: oil, canvas, Dimensions: 77 x 177 cm, Private Collection, Wikimedia Commons.

Archaeological Authenticity

Alma-Tadema’s expertise lay in the archaeological accuracy of the artifacts and interior and exterior settings of his work, his realistic treatment of materials – in particular stone and marble and his capture of Mediterranean light and colour. He was very well read and amassed an enormous number of photographs from ancient sites in Italy which he used for the most precise accuracy in the details of his compositions. It was this commitment to veracity that earned him recognition but also caused many of his adversaries to take up arms against his almost encyclopedic works. His approach was in many ways architectural, focusing on the built context and upon artifacts. He drew heavily on his own houses (notably his studio house in St Johns Wood) which served in many ways as an actual stage set and source of inspiration for his historical compositions. How he arrived at this pre-eminent position in the Victorian art world is told in the exhibition at Leighton House, starting with his very earliest work as a young man beginning at the age of sixteen at the Royal Academy in Antwerp in Belgium and then as an assistant to leading history painters Louis De Taeye and later Henri Leys.  It was in these apprenticeships that the young Lawrence learned the value of historical research as a prerequisite for making convincing historical pictures. Much of these early works are romantic depictions of early medieval French and Belgian and earlier Frankish and Merovingian mythology. In this the subject matter was aligned with the broader cultural and intellectual National Romantic movements of the day, which in England began with the Gothic revival led by A.W.N. Pugin, George Gilbert Scott, Ruskin, Butterfield, the pre-Raphaelites and the rest and shaped a new sense of national identity based in Anglo-Saxon mythology rather than classical Greek and Roman.

Detail from “Spring / Primavera”, 1894, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Wikimedia Commons.

It is interesting therefore that in 1863 that he chose to honeymoon with his new bride Pauline Gressin in Italy for several months, staying in Florence, Rome and Naples and while there visiting the ruins of Pompeii. For an artist sensitive the importance of authenticity in historical visualization, Pompeii must have been an extraordinary experience, it certainly seems to have been, because from this point onward his work switches to Roman genre scenes and he returned to Italy and specifically Pompeii a number of times in later life. His paintings on their return to Brussels, started to explore themes drawn from Roman antiquity often in domestic interiors and scenes. Tragically, six years later in 1869 Pauline died and Lawrence, with by now two daughters decided to move to London. It was here he set up his studio, re-married and began in the 1870’s to progress from intimate domestic scenes of every-day Roman life to grander more spectacular and outdoor subjects of the imperial Roman world.

The Foreign Office, London by Sir George Gilbert Scott, 1861-73.

Victorian Classical Revival and the “Battle of the Styles”

Classicism in European architecture had always been present, sometimes the epitome of taste, sometimes seen as foreign and republican. Nations treated it quite differently, depending on the cultural lens through which they viewed it. In England it was (roughly speaking) one side of the famous ideological and architectural conflict called “the Battle of the Styles” which in the 1850’s revolved around the question of what was an appropriately English style of architecture. This came to a climax in the vitriolic debate over what style the new The Foreign Office in London should be built in. Architecture in Britain in the 1850’s was at a point of moral crisis, not just about which style to build in but in its attitude to religion, nationality, empire, history, modernism, truth, morality and gender. It led to public debates between Decimus Burton and Augustus W.N. Pugin and in France it led to controversy over the work of Violet-le-Duc. It was essentially the Gothic revival of the late 18th Century challenging the supremacy of Classicism for the embodiment of good taste. Ultimately in the end Sir George Gilbert Scott was obliged to abandon his original Gothic design for the Foreign Office in favour of a style which can be loosely described as in the Italian Renaissance manner sometimes called the ‘Free Renaissance’ but essentially classical in its derivation though much influenced by the Venetian palazzos.

Left – “An Audience at Agrippa’s” 1875, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Dick Institute, Kilmarnock, Wikimedia Commons. Right – “A Favourite Custom”, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1909, Wikimedia Commons.

A Model for Imperial Britannia

What the ‘Battle of the Styles’ did was release the floodgates for a much wide variety of architectural styles in the later Victorian decades, and it’s often difficult to find a label for them because they are so hybridized. It is easy therefore to entertain the idea that they were all variations to greater or lesser extent on the singular theme of an entrenched bipolar conflict between Republican ideals embodied by classicism and those of monarchy embodied by the “Gothic” in architecture. This would be to misunderstand the irresistible direction of ideological and social travel in the latter third of the nineteenth century in England. The experiment with the medieval as a source of inspiration became exhausted both intellectually and artistically for public buildings in the early 1900’s because Britain itself was changing, from a nation state with overseas ambitions to an imperial power with an overseas empire. The exemplar of Imperial Rome better fitted this direction of travel and it was offered up in education and architecture in England and through the work of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema among others in art as well. As British power approached its apogee, Alma-Tadema visualised through the painted image the ancient empire that was the model for Britain’s modern imperial adventure and in which the Victorians themselves were often the main protagonists in these visual dramas. Alma-Tadema’s technically adept presentations of the ancient Roman world, its myth and history were popular during his life-time because they were convincing in their detail and attractive to Victorian society in their morals and sentiments. This was to change after his death, along with attitudes to religion, nationality, empire, history, modernism, truth, morality and gender, just as they had done before and just as they continue to do. “At Home in Antiquity” as an exhibition prompts genuinely provocative questions about the role of art as a mirror to political and social ideals, even as a propagandist medium, but while one may agree or disagree with those ideals and the values they embody, it is hard not to admire the technical dexterity, scholarship and artistic bravura of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

“Expectations”, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Media: oil, canvas, Dimensions: 66.1 x 45 cm, Private Collection, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Ancient Greek Architecture, Archaeology, Art, Drawing, Drawing, Museum Installations, Museum Installations | Leave a comment

Measure Draw Build – Classicism, Craft and (the absence of) Computers

On show at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London is “Measure Draw Build, an exhibition of classical architecture and architectural drawings by the British architect George Saumarez Smith, a director of ADAM Architecture. It showcases architectural work from his student days at the University of Edinburgh through to recent classical buildings erected here in the UK and overseas by his practice. As the title of the exhibition suggests it focuses on his measured drawing work, presentation drawing work and completed built commissions.

The photographs of recently completed classical buildings designed by Saumarez Smith which one comes to last as one walks around the 3rd floor exhibition space at the RIBA have been photographed professionally. These faultless essays in classicism appear new, clean, bright and sunlit, without the patina of age. The Richard Green Gallery in new Bond Street, a variety of mixed use and residential buildings in Poundbury, villas like Brighton Grange, Hayes and extensions to Wudstone House, East Hoe Manor and Kilmeston Manor all exhibit classical architectural pedigrees, well-wrought and delightful to look at. There is even a very recently completed urban villa in Amrita Shergill Marg in New Dehli, in which Saumarez Smith has employed the architectural language and grammar of the Greek Revival (Doric Order), ideal for such a climate. While there are no overtones of Sir Edwin Lutyens per-se in this last example, the association of location hangs delightfully (and some would say provocatively) in the air.

The Drawings

In many ways the actual buildings are not the main event, attractive though they are. They are upstaged by the ample set of architectural scale drawings which form the main body of the exhibition. This is unsurprising since the drawings are operating in their intended “natural” habitat, an exhibition, while the existential reality of the buildings must be represented as best they can by two dimensional photographs – albeit finely wrought ones. Mostly executed in pencil and ink on tracing paper (often A1 or double elephant sized) the drawings are all about the creative process, beginning with measured drawings, some in cloth-bound sketch books and moving on to framed and wall hung scale drawings beginning with sketch designs and culminating in large presentation drawings. These are a tour de force. For those of us brought up in the tradition of the drawing board and working with pencil on tracing paper it is immediately obvious that there is a particular economy of means, technically proficient and a highly practiced effect in Saumarez Smith’s style of drawing. It is precise but fluid moving dexterously from broad pencil strokes for background and trees to fine detail in elevational compositions which allow the eye to move effortlessly and naturally across the drawing. The skiagraphy is precise and convincing and the use of tracing paper is traditional and practical. These aspects alone would justify the journey to Portland Place but it is the fact that they are being exhibited at all that is of importance here – because hand drawing of this type (pencil on tracing paper) in architectural practice is now a rarity – largely because of computers.

Why Hand Drawing Matters in the Digital Age

In 2010 I was fortunate to attend the “Three Classicists” exhibition held at the RIBA in London, a presentation of architectural work at that time by three up and coming classical architects based in the UK, Ben Pentreath, George Saumarez Smith and Francis Terry. In his introduction to the catalogue of that 2010 exhibition H.R.H. The Prince of Wales wrote, “…I have always placed enormous emphasis, both at my former Institute of Architecture and my Drawing School, on the continuing, timeless importance of drawing (of course, computer-aided design is an enormously useful tool, but should not be the measure of all things…) and I am particularly happy to see these three friends set such high personal standards of draughtsmanship….” I was struck firstly by how clearly correct the Prince of Wales’s statement was but also by the need to make it and the phrase he used to do so, “…the measure of all things.”

The use of digital technologies is now ubiquitous in producing buildings today because they are indeed very useful at an instrumental level. The technical information produced on computers and used to execute a building design can have a consistency, detail and manipulability which convey myriad economic, quality control and collaborative advantages. Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) and Building Information Modelling (BIM) are two of the most significant examples in this regard. But creating the building design in the first place, before this technical information for execution and maintenance is the essential first step and here the role of computers is much more ambiguous.

Traditionally architects design with a pencil in their hand, sketching and drawing quickly to evolve ideas in an active, iterative process of composition and experimentation, in much the same way that an artist or a musician might in their respective mediums. Through a series of subsequent episodes of design development and iteration often involving drafting, adjustment, repetition and re-appraisal these sketches are formalised into drawings following conventions of architectural representation. Importantly this process too is carried out by hand, often in pencil or ink on tracing paper, utilising the layering properties of this semi-transparent medium to explore and evaluate alternative design configurations. Hand drawing is used throughout, it just becomes increasingly formalised, but still retains the immediacy of a physical process, like crafting a wooden chair or carving a stone pinnacle. This is the process so clearly and elegantly displayed by Saumarez Smith at the RIBA, hand crafted designs rendered in hand crafted techniques. It is beautiful and increasingly rare.

Many parts of this process of design and design visualisation in architecture generally are now carried out on computers, indeed from its earliest inception Computer Aided Drafting has sought to integrate itself with this established process and in many ways has adopted it as its paradigm. From sketching on an iPAD to 3D modelling, drafting, texturing rendering, animating and even now 3D printing, computers can be used as tools to create fully develop architectural designs and to visually present them in ways which parallel the traditional hand-crafted design and visualisation process. But building designs created by extensive use of computers inevitably to a greater or lesser extent exhibit the tool-marks of their making and often their very essence, their form and appearance is changed. This is because digital tools can strongly lead and influence the architect.

The reasons for this are interesting. Digital technologies appear to convey increased design “power” to the architect, but in fact they essentially industrialise (in a division of labour sense) and mechanise (in a prime mover sense) the process of design. John Ruskin and William Morris would recognise the dilemma. Where they were concerned with crafted versus manufactured outcome of the design, today we are concerned with the crafted versus manufactured process of design.  The ethical issues implicit in how we choose to design when the power of digital technologies are at our disposal are all too familiar. Purposeful abuse of digital power in architectural design is as common as is its naïve adoption and misuse. Economic imperatives of business and competition forced architects from the 1990’s onwards to adopt digital technologies and now these technologies have become enshrined legislatively, professionally and by custom and convention in the education and practice of architecture. Thoughtful practitioners and educators are making valiant efforts to direct the power and consequences of the digital revolution in architecture in ways which strengthen rather diminish the traditional values and behaviours of good and long trusted forms of design. But there are others who gripped by naïve enthusiasm, straightforward venal ambition or egotism over-extend its form finding power in design, producing what the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in a parallel context called “hopeful monsters”, propositions that in reality are dystopian nightmares of frightening alienation, so malformed or out of tune with their environment that they are doomed to fail.

 

This is not the case with classical architectural design, which is essentially a process of hand-crafting buildings and cities with the human being as the central concern (humanism). It relies upon the skill and judgement of a human being (often an architect) using a highly flexible, structured architectural language to create an intelligible, articulate, sometimes witty or apposite statement in built form that is related fundamentally to the scale and needs of the human body and mind. Computers cannot design classical buildings in the way that human beings can because they cannot negotiate and innovate, make value judgements, make moral choices or balance qualitative criteria. These lie at the centre of Classicism as an approach to architecture.

So where does that leave architects like Saumarez Smith as a contemporary practicing architect? Interestingly it seems Saumarez Smith is also refreshingly pragmatic about computers. Some of the drawings have been produced by overdrawing onto computer produced light-line drawings. This is a natural point of intersection of old craft and new technology, over-tracing is a traditional technique, albeit in this case the underlay has been produced digitally rather than by hand. There is no sense of the two disciplines being at odds, in fact I had to look hard to see their combination after I read the small label below one of the drawings which perfectly honestly stated this aspect their production. Nothing could be more natural than this useful digital technology being co-opted sensitively into a traditional craft process. The classical approach to architectural design does not preclude the use of computers but does require – like the use of any other tool – reflection on where they are and are not used. This may seem perfectly prudent and uncontentious but if one accepts it as true then it quickly conducts us to a very much more important aspect of the theory and practice classicism that is not just about drafting and presentation but about the very nature of classical design itself and the regulating principles which underlie it.

Metiendo Vivendum

What is immediately apparent from Saumarez Smith’s work is that these are drawings not only of aesthetic persuasiveness but also of technical exegesis. This is obvious in the measured survey drawings – and measurement and drawing in the field quite rightly appears to have been a constant theme of the architect’s practice. Less obvious is the “technical” nature of many of the design and presentation drawings. In true classical tradition these have dimensions inscribed upon them too, either in feet, meters or modules. It is a simple matter to take out a pocket calculator or notebook and pencil and deduce from these figures the underlying proportional systems Saumarez Smith has used for his architectural compositions. The satisfaction derived from this small act of enquiry lends considerably to the overall enjoyment of the designs for anyone who understands the central role of proportions in classical architecture. Mathematics and geometry lie at the heart of classical architecture and in particular in the use of proportion and arithmetic because they retain not only an attractive (if at times somewhat mystical) historical legitimacy going back through the renaissance to the Aristotelian cosmology of antiquity but also a practical utility. Technical devices such as arithmetic and geometric armatures – invisible and abstract, mathematically coherent, adjustable, three dimensional frameworks or underlays upon which architectural features can be proportionally arranged with considerable creative flexibility in painterly composition remain useful design tools. In these and other respects it is sometimes said of proportion in architecture that low mathematics raises up high art.

So as unlikely as it may seem, computing in architecture and classicism in architecture have a shared provenance, rooted in Euclidian mathematics. The considerable differences which seem to separate them lie not merely in the tools used, computer chips or compass and rule but most importantly in the differing attitudes of mind and assumptions they seem to bring with them. It would for example be a mistake of the greatest magnitude to assume that the use of proportion in architecture is deterministic or robotic, quite the reverse, it is fundamentally open and flexible and requires human direction to succeed in its application. As A.S.G. Butler, wrote in 1926 “Proportion relies on the maintenance of scale and affects the whole disposition of the parts of a building in all their relations: it is less a rule for relative lengths and areas than a general instinct which propels the machinery of beauty.” Classical architecture, irrespective of its means of transmission is carried by mathematical genes and this along with its remarkable flexibility of expression and its basis in the human condition is the reason it has persisted. Computer aided design should indeed, “…not be the measure of all things…” but the reflective and careful use of computers and digital techniques to support both the mathematical theory and the architectural practice of classicism in the 21st century seems right in principle and forward thinking.

Given this and that Saumarez Smith’s exhibition makes clear that computers have been used to produce some of the under-lays for some of the otherwise hand-drawn pencil and ink on tracing paper drawings we are left to speculate on the extent, if any to which his practice uses the geometric and numeric advantages of computers in the actual design and composition of these classical schemes rather than just their presentation. They quite legitimately may not, which is fine, but one cannot help thinking that the tradition of classism shows that innovation within it tends to enrich it rather than denude it. For undecided young architects who might be searching for an idiom in which to work, this exhibition demonstrates the persuasive immediacy, sheer beauty and continued relevance of classicism. Let us hope that opportunities may be available for them to see the innovative potential within classicism as well the value of sublime recapitulation.

“Measure Draw Build” is on at the RIBA, Portland Place, London from 25th October – 26th November 2017. George Saumarez Smith is a director at ADAM Architecture. The paint scheme for the exhibition was by Edward Bulmer and the furniture was loaned by Jeremy Rothman.

 

Posted in Drawing, Events, New Classicism | Leave a comment

Cawdor Castle – No Trace of Lady Macbeth but Plenty of Palladianism

Cawdor castle lies 5 miles south-west of Nairn in the north east of Scotland. It was chosen by William Shakespeare as one of the principle settings for his play “The Tragedy of Macbeth” first performed in 1606 for King James VI of Scotland and I of England and loosely based on upon Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587) for the background history and the Daemonologie of King James I published in 1597 for accounts of witchcraft in Scotland. The facts as we know them today are that Macbeth was a real King of Scotland (reigned 1040-1057) who defeated the inept King Duncan I (reigned 1001-1040) who, after just surviving a crushing defeat in a retaliatory raid in or near Durham in 1039 by Northumbrians led an army the following year north into Moray, Macbeth’s domain, apparently on a punitive expedition against Moray. There Duncan was killed in action, at Bothnagowan, now Pitgaveny, near Elgin, by the men of Moray led by Macbeth, probably on 14 August 1040. Macbeth’s subsequent 17-year reign was mostly peaceful and ended when he was killed at the Battle of Lumphanan in 1057 by forces loyal to the future Malcolm III. He was buried on Iona, the traditional resting place of Scottish kings.

Let’s get Shakespeare out of the way

Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” is far removed from this historical version of events, it was written to appeal to the scholarly Scottish King James I of England who was Shakespeare’s patron and who was deeply familiar with and antagonistic to occult practices and their social causes and consequences in early modern Scotland. The early sources like Hollinshead have King Duncan being murdered by Macbeth at Inverness Castle, but Shakespeare has Macbeth murder King Duncan in Macbeth’s home at Cawdor Castle, thus in the eyes of a Jacobean audience violating medieval society’s deeply held notions of hospitality and sanctuary and further demonizing the leading protagonist. Although spurious it’s an association with Cawdor Castle which has stuck. The reality of this magnificent survival of late medieval Scottish fortification and early modern aristocratic life is far more interesting and it’s our focus here.

The Architectural Context

 In 1310 King Robert I (The ‘Bruce’) (reigned 1306 – 1329) granted William, Thane of Cawdor, a charter to the thanage and lands of Cawdor continuing a tradition of his predecessor King Alexander III (1249-1286) which may have been briefly interrupted by John Baliol (reigned 1292-96) and then by Scotland’s monarch-less interregnum between 1296 and the coronation Robert the Bruce in 1306. It is likely that some form of fortification existed on the site well before this and that the lower parts of the existing keep were in place at least as early as 1372 however the first documentary evidence of building comes from 1454 when William the 6th Thane of Cawdor was granted a license to crenelate the existing castle of Cawdor by James II of Scotland (reigned 1437-1460). The Keep that arose from this license is a severe, rubble-built rectangle about 10.4m x 13.7m and four storeys in height. Later 17th century battlements, bartizans, and a 16th century garret surmount possibly earlier corbels and at least one set of machicolations from the 15th century. The original entrance to the tower was a round-headed arch at first floor level on the east side which was blocked up in the 17th century when a programme of re-fenestration was undertaken. This entrance would have been reached by a removable wooden stair from the entrance courtyard. A chapel was founded in 1467 in the smaller, southern-most of two courtyards which surrounded the keep and the castle’s outer ranges were added in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1639 Robert and George Nicholson (Masons) added an attic to the hall and gallery block and rebuilt the kitchen creating a big, crow-stepped gable range. The building of the west range behind this block is undocumented but is likely about 1660-1670’s.  In 1699 John the 16th Thane engaged James and Robert Nicholson (Masons) to build a small tower and add the North Court’s East Range.

19th Century Barionalization

 It wasn’t until 1854 that any further major work was carried out when John Frederick the 19th Thane and 1st Earl of Cawdor employed Mackenzie and Matthews (Architects) to baronialize the building to give it a more overtly 17th century appearance. This kind of historical make-over was all the rage. Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe published in 1819, changed Victorian taste towards a popularisation of Medievalism at the beginning of the 19th century. Ivanhoe turned towards a new realism which depicted Medieval life. The vivid depictions of castles, banquets and tournaments contained in the novel captured the public imagination and generated a huge interest in all things Medieval, with tourists frequently visiting places mentioned in this and later texts – often with Scott’s books in hand. Scott’s own house, Abbotsford near Melrose in the Scottish Borders was one of them and was located on the banks of the River Tweed. By the year of Scott’s death in 1832, Abbotsford had been transformed into a turreted and battlemented exercise in the Scottish Baronial style that attracted tourists from all over Europe and America. It set the fashion and the 1st Earl, perhaps with the desire to make the somewhat neglected Cawdor Castle worthy of his new title of Earl (granted in 1827) followed this fashion. A plethora of crow steps, and turrets, dormers and a cap-house were added, windows enlarged and flat roofs replaced with pitched ones. A short crow-stepped block of offices was added to the south end of the west range. This process of Baronialization was continued in 1884 under John Frederick Vaughan the 20th Thane and 2nd Earl when Alexander Ross (Architect) added a wing south of the entrance which completed the configuration of this complex of buildings as we now see them. Although the architectural language of the exterior is medieval, it’s arrangement, particularly at the all-important entrance facade, is consciously near symmetrical and not medieval at all. This gives the visitor a clear signal that a rather different and more Neo-classical set of architectural and cultural ambitions are at work in this building – a fact which for the visitor becomes more fully apparent in the interiors.

The Drawing Room

Left – the 1684 fireplace inn the Drawing Room by masons James and Robert Nicholson. Right – The Drawing Room with a large portrait of Sarah Campbell holding a wreath or garland, painted by Francis Cotes in 1762.

 You arrive in the castle through the main gate with a drawbridge, pass through an outer and an inner courtyard and enter the 1639-43 gallery block to ascend a large scale-and-platt stair to the Drawing Room. This occupies what once was the Great Hall of the castle and in its present configuration dates from the 16th century but it has been frequently re-modelled. The beamed ceiling is a 19th century replacement and the fireplace is most likely one produced by masons James and Robert Nicholson in 1684. At the opposite end of the room from the fireplace is the minstrel’s gallery. There are a number of fine family portraits by Francis Cotes RA (1726 – 1770) an English painter, one of the pioneers of English pastel painting, and a founding member of the Royal Academy and a 1788 portrait of John Campbell 1st Baron Cawdor and 18th Thane by Sir Joshua Reynolds. There are other portraits by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, Gilpin, Reinagle & Barret, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Sir William Beechey and Frederick Say.

The Tapestry bedroom

Left – Detail of tapestry “Moses and the Israelites Crossing the Red Sea.”an Egyptian being consumed by the waters.  Middle – The four poster marriage bed of Sir Hugh Campbell and Lady Henrietta Stuart, 1662 (heavily restored). Right – Detail of tapestry “Moses and the Israelites Crossing the Red Sea.” Moses commands the Red Sea to close upon the Egyptians.

 Above the main hall and reached by a small winding staircase is the Tapestry Bedroom which was part of the 17th century renovations to the castle. It has heavy plaster cornices and is hung with Flemish tapestries (also known as Arras Hangings) depicting the life of Noah, the Flight into Egypt and Hunting Scenes all of which were imported from Oudenaarde in 1682 via Ghent, Bruges and ports in Scotland especially for this room. They are woven from wool and silk and are hung directly over un-plastered walls. For furniture there is the four poster marriage bed of Sir Hugh Campbell and Lady Henrietta Stuart, 1662,  a walnut and wicker day bed (of the period of Charles II), a Louis XV French marquetry writing desk made and signed by Hache in Grenoble and an English saddle seat chair in yew wood and elm of about 1760.

The Yellow Room

Left – The Yellow Room, the large landscape painting is of Dortrecht and attributed to Aelbert Cuyp c.1640. The 18th century cupboard in the corner contains a television set. Right – A large portrait of the 2nd Earl of Cawdor wearing a kilt painted by Frederick Say (1804 – 1868) who was a notable society portrait painter in London between about 1830 and 1860, though is little known now.

 Next to the Tapestry bedroom and again above the Great hall is the Yellow Room. This is a quaintly irregular sitting room with off-centre windows and fireplace which non-the-less has a cosy charm which is most inviting.

The woodcock Room

 The woodcock room is situated in the 17th century addition to the castle and dates from the 1670’s. Originally it was much larger and served originally as a sitting room, then around 1748 as a dining room, then in the 1860’s as “the young ladies bedroom” and around 1880 was partitioned into two to create an additional dressing room-cum-bedroom. The four-poster bed is a Sheraton and was Lady Caroline Campbell’s Marriage Bed from 1789. Her portrait by Sir William Beechey hangs over the fireplace. There is a large portrait by Francis Cotes RA of Eustacia Campbell and on the wall between the windows is a 1745 pastel portrait by William Hoare of Pryse Campbell which is particularly fine. Interestingly, before its partition the room was planned out with the proportions of the Golden Section (1 to the square root of 5 plus 1 divided by 2) and more recently the room has been returned to its original and very pleasing proportions.

The Pink Bedroom

Beyond the Woodcock room is the Pink Bedroom. Here there are two mahogany, four poster beds which are probably Chippendale and although not identical, one is slightly taller than the other, they form a reasonably well matched pair. The tapestries are part of the Don Quixote set, the rest of which appear in the family dining room and date from 1680. Next door is the Pink Dressing Room which apart from some family memorabilia has little of note to distinguish it and is used as an additional room to the Pink bedroom or individually as a single bedroom.

The Tower Room

 After the Great hall this is probably the most distinguished of the rooms at Cawdor. It’s located on the first floor of the old Keep, where the original arched doorway used to be. The windows were enlarged in a 17th century programme of refenestration and refurbishment but the old, narrow stone lintels can be seen from the drawbridge outside. In 1819 the room was gutted by fire and the plain white walls one sees today would have been oak panelled before this. On these walls are displayed Flemish tapestries depicting the Arts and Sciences, they date to about 1630 and are stylistically close to the school of Rubens. There is a charming seascape of “Evening” by Joseph Vernet, a landscape by Claude in the far window recess and above the Chinese Coromandel cabinet between the windows is a 1725 painting by Fermin Aguayo called “la Baigneuse.” For more modern tastes there’s also a very decent harbour scene with boats by John Piper above the door. The doorway to the right of the fireplace leads to a late medieval garderobe (toilet).

Colen Campbell (1676 – 1729) – Arbiter of Taste

Left – Stucco portrait of Colen Campbell (1676-1729) in ceiling at Compton Place, Eastbourne, East Sussex, England, c.1726. Right – Frontispiece to Volume 1 of Vitruvius Britannicus, 1715.

Sir Hugh Campbell the 14th Thane (1635 – 1716) made many of the large additions and alterations to the Castle but it was his nephew Colen Campbell who is architecturally more famous. Colen Campbell (1676 – 1729) was the son of a Campbell family love child and was a pioneering Scottish architect and architectural writer, credited as a founder of the Georgian style. He graduated from Edinburgh University as an advocate in July 1695, travelled in Europe, particularly Italy and is believed to be the Colinus Campbell who signed the visitor’s book at the University of Padua in 1697. He was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates on 29 July 1702 but it’s likely that at this point or shortly afterwards he studied architecture under James Smith (c. 1645–1731) a Scottish Palladian architect of considerable ability. Campbell owned several of Smith’s drawings and gives Smith considerable praise in the introduction to the book for which he is most famous and which forever changed the direction of British architecture – Vitruvius Britannicus (published in 3 volumes from 1715-1725). The 1720’s -1750’s in Britain are characterised architecturally by what is called the “rule of taste” a set of distinct ideas as to what was good in architecture that became widely held in Britain, and established standards, based on the acknowledged excellence of certain architects and authors, which were widely endorsed. The start of this new taste in architecture can be dated to the publication of the first volume of Colin Campbell’s Vitruvius Brittanicus in 1715, a collection of one hundred engravings of classical buildings in Britain. Volume 2 appeared in 1717 and a supplementary volume in 1725. He was also a practicing architect and built a number of influential, large private country houses including Wanstead House, Essex (1714–15) demolished (1822), Burlington House, London, south front, and west wing (1717), Houghton Hall, Norfolk (jointly with others) and Mereworth Castle, Kent (1722–23), all of which appear in the book. Together with a translation by Nicholas Dubois (c. 1665-1735) of Palladio’s ‘I quattro libri dell’ architettura’, in two folio volumes the first in 1716, with plates specially redrawn by Giacomo Leoni (1686- 1746) and engraved in Holland, Vitruvius Brittanicus proved most influential. It provided, at exactly the right moment, something unprecedented at the time – a catalogue of built and un-built designs for English country houses which were considered architecture. The book was planned by Campbell not only as a manifesto for the new style but as a tour de force of self-promotion, with himself as the doyen of this style in England. In the book right at its psychological summit – just after the preliminary parade of new churches and Inigo Jones masterpieces – is a house by Colen Campbell himself: Wanstead House in Essex, just then approaching completion for the heir of an East Indian fortune, Sir Richard Child. Campbell managed to use the work to display himself as the author of the purest, most classical house of the day and, with one or two exceptions, the largest. If Colen Campbell had built nothing other than Wanstead House he would still be marked as an innovator. But no less consequential than Wanstead was the house he designed for Sir Robert Walpole the Prime Minister of England and which was built on Walpole’s family estate at Houghton, Norfolk, in 1722, Houghton Hall. It would be no exaggeration to say of Colin Campbell that between the years 1715 and 1724 he set up the models upon which the whole of Palladianism in England was to depend. His achievement was twofold. First, at Wanstead and Houghton he took late seventeenth- century conceptions of the great house and remodeled them in the light of Palladio and Jones. Second, at Mereworth, Stourhead, and elsewhere he took Palladio’s own conceptions and exhibited them as prototypes of what was to become the English villa.

It is hardly surprising that Sir Hugh Campbell the 14th Thane reputedly found his precocious and ambitious nephew somewhat tiresome. Together with his wife lady Henrietta of Darnaway from 1684 onwards (Colen was only 8 years old at this stage) it was Sir Hugh who was responsible for turning a grim medieval fortress into a generous mansion with large windows, handsome fireplaces, splendid beds, books, architectural detail and tapestries. Sir Hugh clearly had a sense of style and was alert to architectural fashion and Palladianism, and what is more seems to have been able to adapt it to a Scottish context and a less than accommodating pre-existing medieval building. By 1702 Sir Hugh had successfully finished his works to the Castle and could now entertain guests in suitable style and comfort. This was thirteen years before the publication of his nephew Colen’s Vitruvius Britannicus and the same year that Colen was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates after his return from Italy. It is intriguing to speculate that along with the Scottish architect James Smith perhaps it was his uncle Sir Hugh Campbell the 14th Thane’s “Palladian” building programme and interest in architecture at Cawdor Castle which first captured the young Colen Campbell’s imagination, steered him from the law to architecture and gave eighteenth century British Architecture one of its most influential and talented exponents. 

 

 

Posted in Jacobean Architecture, Medieval, Military Architecture, Scotland | Leave a comment

Cragside – “The Palace of a Modern Magician”

 William George Armstrong (1810-1900) a scientist, technical innovator and one of the most successful industrialists of his generation was born into a respectable middle class farming and merchant family in Newcastle and was eventually to be client for one of the most remarkable late Victorian houses in England – Cragside – designed by the Architect Richard Norman Shaw. The young George (later Lord Armstrong) trained as lawyer but his real interests were in science and mechanics. He was admitted as a fellow to the Royal Society for his discovery of the “Armstrong Effect”, the production of static electricity from the release of high pressure steam and he moved into manufacturing in 1847 when he bought land at Elswick by the river Tyne and founded W.G. Armstrong & Company. He invented the hydraulic accumulator, a means of increasing water pressure (and so power) which made it unnecessary to have a high head of water to create very high hydrostatic pressures. This key technology unlocked a range of engineering innovations from swing and lifting bridges, to dockside cranes and passenger and goods elevators. He also successfully developed barrel-rifling and breech loading for large calibre guns and by doing so halved their weight, increased their range threefold and reduced the propellant required by a half. He also built warships from 1868 in conjunction with the firm of Charles Mitchell & Co, of Low Walker on Tyneside with the two firms merging in 1882 and this side of the business was eventually run by his collaborator Sir Andrew Noble. The success which flowed from his industrial empire allowed him to build first a house at Jesmond at the edge of old Newcastle and later Cragside which at first was intended just as a small holiday home. A long overdue holiday in 1863 (he hadn’t had one for 15 years) took him and his wife Margaret Ramshaw (married 1835) to his boyhood haunt of Rothbury in Northumberland and on impulse he bought some land in the Debdon Valley to build a small house to use on fishing holidays. This over time became the focus of the couple’s building and landscape design activity and soon afterwards they moved there permanently. More land was purchased and Cragside became the centre of a large estate stretching from Rhothbury to Upper Coquetdale. They had no children but collected the work of contemporary British artists such as Millias, Henry Nelson O’Neil, Lord Leighton, Edwin Landseer and Peter Graham and the house became a showcase for this magnificent collection and for Lord Armstrong’s inventions.

Left – Sir William George Armstrong (1810–1900), 1st Baron Armstrong of Cragside, in the Inglenook at Cragside, painting by Henry Hetherington Emmerson (1831–1895 – Photo Credit: The National Trust, Cragside. Right – Richard Norman Shaw (1831–1912), RA, portrait by John Callcott Horsley (1817–1903) – Photo Credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums. Both images from Art UK.

Richard Norman Shaw RA – Architect

From 1869 to 1885 the British Architect Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912) was employed by Armstrong to re-shape and substantially expand the small villa Armstrong had originally established at Cragside in 1863. Shaw was a London architect and had to adapt his southern style to the more robust and rugged masonry building traditions of Northumberland. Shaw was born in Edinburgh and trained in the London office of William Burn (a pioneer of the Scottish Baronial style) with that great practitioner of the Gothic Revival George Edmund Street. While there Shaw attended the Royal Academy evening classes and received a grounding in classicism and won silver and gold medals. In 1854 at the age of 23, he won a travelling scholarship to the Continent, where he drew Gothic cathedrals and churches, and later published “Architectural Sketches from the Continent” (1858). Shaw explored two separate architectural directions: the Gothic Revival of the Ecclesiological Movement, and the picturesque domestic style of the English vernacular. In 1859, after working for two years with Anthony Salvin (1799-1881: an architect and medievalist), Shaw became principal assistant to his one-time fellow employee G. E. Street in Street’s own architectural practice. In 1862, having set up his own architectural practice Shaw went on a sketching holiday in Sussex with his friend William Eden Nesfield, with whom between 1866–69 he developed an “Old English” style of architecture. It was this approach and style which he so usefully employed over a period of fifteen years at Cragside. Shaw’s early country houses like Cragside avoided the academic styles and Neo-Gothic and sought to revive vernacular materials like half-timber and hanging tiles, with projecting gables and tall, massive chimneys with “inglenooks” for warm seating. Although with this style of architecture Shaw helped to shape the architectural direction of the 1890s Arts-and-Crafts movement he was not of it, he was an architect of the preceding generation. It was to be his pupils, those of the next generation like Sidney Howard Barnsley, W. R. Lethaby, E. S. Prior, E. J. May and Ernest Newton who all worked in his office that would form the bedrock of the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain. His real artistic heir however was Sir Edwin Lutyens on whom Shaw’s influence becomes apparent from about 1900 onwards. Shaw’s “Old English” work is still imitated today, in stockbroker Tudor mansions and suburban housing from the UK to the US.

Floor plans of Cragside as it is today. Left- Ground Floor Plan, Right – First Floor plan, Inset, Second floor / Attic plan. National Trust.

The Development of Cragside

The choice of Cragside as a site for his house was significantly influenced by its potential for creating hydro-power, its topography and watercourses were ideal. Water could be distributed from the five small lakes on the estate by a network of pipes which led to various devices of which more later. The original Cragside of 1863 was architecturally unremarkable with little relationship to its landscape context. Over a period of fifteen years Shaw gradually encouraged Armstrong to extend the house piece by piece into something perhaps four times it original size. Shaw’s genius was that he used this piecemeal approach by the client to create a compositionally coherent whole that derived much of its appeal precisely through the impression of antiquity it gave of a building which had evolved and grown over centuries rather than just a few years. Cragside is a unified architectural masterpiece precisely because of this. It is unlikely that that it would have been so had Armstrong given Shaw carte-blanch and a blank chequebook and required a house of the final size all in one go. Shaw transformed a small unremarkable villa into a remarkable evocation of England’s “manorial past” and in doing so gave the later Victorian period one of its most architecturally iconic private homes.

Lighting in the Library

Completed in 1872, the library was an important component of Shaw’s first phase of building at Cragside and Professor Andrew Saint, Shaw’s biographer considers it is “Shaw’s greatest domestic interior.” Originally it was used as the drawing room – it lay adjacent to the dining room – but when the new dining room was completed in 1884 (see below) this room was re-purposed as a modest library. There are not in fact that many books and with its large windows, good views and comfortable furniture it was the most used family room of the house. The library has truly magnificent stained glass windows supplied by Morris & Co., the outer four panels are designed by Edward Burne Jones and show authors; Homer, Aeschylus, Virgil and Horace, Dante and Chaucer. Authors Spencer and Milton are designed Ford Madox Brown and the six middle panels showing St George and the Dragon were designed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The library was the first room in the house to be lit with filament light bulbs, invented by Sir Joseph Swan (1828-1914 – British chemist and physicist) and this was the first installation of electric light in any house other Swan’s own – anywhere in the world. Swan’s own house Underhill at Low Fell, Gateshead, was technically the world’s first to have working light bulbs installed in 1879 and he personally supervised the installation of his vacuum incandescent filament bulbs at Cragside in December 1880. Lord Armstrong later wrote to the editor of the “The Engineer” on 17 January 1881; “The Library, which is a room of 33 feet by 20 feet with a large recess on one side, is well lighted by eight lamps. Four are clustered in one globe of ground glass, suspended from the ceiling of the recess, and the remainder are placed singly in globes, in various parts of the room, upon vases….These vases, being enamel on copper, are themselves conductors, and serve for carrying the return current from the incandescent carbon to a metallic case in connection with the main return wire. The entering current is brought by a branch wire to a small insulated mercury cup in the centre of the base, and is carried forward to the lamp by a piece of insulated wire which passes through the interior to the lamp on top. The protruding end of this wire is naked, and dips into the mercury cup when the vase is set down. Thus the lamp may be extinguished and relighted at pleasure merely by removing the vase from its seat or setting it down again.” Although later than the original installation of Swan’s electric light bulbs, the very fine hanging lampshades supplied by Lea Sons & Co. of Shrewsbury (electrical engineers) before 1895 are of interest. The firm’s catalogue which shows these shades is still extant and demonstrates the speed with which manufacturers took up the practical and decorative challenges of incorporating incandescent electric lighting into domestic interiors.

Left – Swan Carbon Filament Lamps of the general type installed in the Library at Cragside in December 1880 by Sir Joseph Swan. The Discovery Museum Newcastle. Right – The Library at Cragside showing the large bay window with stained glass panels supplied by Morris & Co. designed by Burne Jones, Ford Madox Brown and Rosetti and the ornate metal hanging lampshades for incandescent electric light bulbs supplied by Lea, Sons & Co. of Shrewsbury before 1895.

The furniture is typical for the period and status and only a set of ebonised mahogany ‘Queen Anne’ style chairs with cane seats and gilded leather backs made by Gillows of Lancaster stand out. The oak panelling and Walnut panelled, beamed and coffered ceiling are all carved by James Forsyth (1827 – 1910) in a confident and assured hand. Forsyth was born in Kelso, Roxburgh-shire (his father was an architect) and his brother William Forsyth was a sculptor of note as well and they are most famous for the their renovation and embellishments at Witley Court and Church in Worcestershire. James had studios after this in Hampstead where he worked until about 1907 and it is likely that this is where much of the decorative woodwork at Cragside was made. The cornices of the Library are decorated with painted foliage set on a gold ground. The fireplace is an unusual concoction of a red marble trim surrounding an onyx fascia possibly bought when Lord Armstrong was in Egypt in 1872. The bright blue figurative tiles in the fireplace itself are by Alfred Stevens circa 1853. There is a particularly fine Pre-Raphaelite painting the “The Italian Girl with Doves” 1866 by Raphael Sorbi which was purchased by Lord Armstrong in 1869 for 40 guineas and is a notable survival from his art collection at Cragside. Many of the most famous works of art once in Lord Armstrong’s collection were sold at Christie’s in 1910 by his great-nephew and heir, William Watson-Armstrong, when the family hit hard times. Among the paintings sold were two by the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Sir John Everett Millais: Chill October (now in the collection of Lord Lloyd Webber) and Jephthah’s Daughter (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff).

The Gallery

Left – Gilnockie Tower, Dumfriesshire in 1530, a painting by H.H. Emmerson, 1880. Middle – The Gallery. Right – Part of Armstrong’s natural history collection still on display in The Gallery.

 The gallery formed the most significant room of Shaw’s second architectural campaign (1872-77) at Cragside. It formed a large part of the new south front and was originally intended (and used as) a sitting room until the third campaign (1883-1885) provided the present drawing room. It was the first room to be lit by electricity – using an early form of arc lamp in 1878 but these did not give a suitable quality of illumination and were replaced two years later with twenty of Joseph Swan’s incandescent bulbs. When first built the Gallery was called simply the “museum” and was intended for Armstrong’s scientific, geological and natural history specimens. At that time it gave access only to Gilnockie Tower and Armstrong’s observatory (the tower had a telescope dome which has now gone). Most of the pictures on the walls of The Gallery are by Henry Hetherington Emmerson (1831 – 1895) who specialised in local historical, sentimental and mawkish scenes popular with a Victorian audience. Typical are “Faithful unto Death” of 1874 a scene of a local shepherd, dead in a blizzard, his face grey with frost while his faithful dogs crouch and howl but will not leave. “Orphan of the Storm” from 1875 shows an orphaned lamb turning its head towards the viewer plaintively, clearly left vulnerable to the bleak winter weather as its dead mother lies in the snow. Lord Armstrong was not unaware of the power of art as a subliminal or sometimes literal show of ancestral legitimacy. In search of ancestry, Lord Armstrong claimed some kinship with Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, a notorious border reiver, or bandit, whose exploits were immortalised in Sir Walter Scott’s ballad of ‘Johnie Armstrang’. Johnnie was executed, along with other members of his ‘gallant companie’, on the orders of James V at Hawick in 1530. In Cragside’s Gallery Emmerson shows in his painting “Gilnockie Tower” commissioned by Armstrong the triumphant reivers returning to Gilnockie Tower in Dumfrieshire, rather than depicting their fate at the gallows. Cragside’s own Gilnockie Tower (which terminates the south front) was designed by Richard Norman Shaw in the early 1870s in imitation of the original building and lies at the end of the gallery.

The Drawing Room

Completed just in time for the Prince and Princess of Wales’s visit in 1884, the Drawing Room is Shaw’s last and largest extension to the house (the 1883-1885 Campaign). Here we can see that after fifteen years Shaw’s tastes and ideas are changing, the style is becoming that of the Italian Renaissance rather than English Tudor or Jacobean. The stylistic change may have two causes, first by now he was employing as chief assistant the talented William R. Lethaby now best known as author of “Architecture, Mysticism, and Myth” (1891) and architect of the Arts and Crafts icons Melsetter House in Orkney (1900) and All Saints Church, Brockhampton-by-Ross, Herefordshire (1902). At this time (1884) Lethaby was only 27 years old and was fully engrossed in historical architecture and the values of traditional craftsmanship – something quite new in Victorian thinking. That same year 1884 he co-founder the Art Workers Guild with Edward Prior, Ernest Newton, Mervyn Macartney and Gerald C. Horsley. The second reason was that the grandeur of a large space like the Drawing room required a grand architectural style, the twee domesticity of Shaw’s “Domestic Revival” style was to the Victorian mind unsuitable for majesty. Lethaby therefore designed the Chimneypiece which extends across the south wall in an early renaissance style. It was carved by Farmer and Brindley a firm of architectural sculptors and ornamentalists based in London, founded by William Farmer (1825–1879) and William Brindley (1832–1919). They also worked for Alfred Waterhouse (Natural history Museum) and George Gilbert Scott and after Farmer’s death Brindley turned to writing, collaborating with Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema on “Marbles Their Ancient and Modern Application.” Their rendering of Lethaby’s fireplace is a magnificently confident piece of work, visually muscular with a constrained energy (and literally massive – it is ten tons of Italian marble). The space beneath is sufficiently capacious for a dozen adults to stand comfortably. The rest of the room is so well top-lit that there is no sense of oppression rather a magnificent sculptural presence.

The Dining Room

The Dining Room was part of Shaw’s first campaign of alteration to Cragside between 1870-1872. It is one of the finest surviving Victorian domestic interiors and has been little changed. The inglenook fireplace is the lies in an arched, masonry recess and the design of apron screens, checked into one another is borrowed from the medieval kitchen at Fountains Abbey. There are settles on each side of the fireplace are probably again the work of by James Forsyth, Shaw’s favourite woodworker. Henry Emmerson painted the seated portrait of Lord Armstrong in the left hand settle by the fireplace in 1880 and this painting is in fact hung in the Dining Room. It shows Lord Armstrong reading the newspaper, with his dogs at his feet, and a fire blazing in the background. He is consciously depicted as a man of Victorian domesticity rather than an industrial magnate. The stained glass in the inglenook fireplace was designed by William Morris and fitted in 1873 and has images of four young women representing the four seasons. Armstrong had already used Morris wallpaper in the original Cragside and it’s clear that Armstrong liked the products that Morris and Co. produced, there is more Morris glass in the upper stairs and Gallery, as well as the Library.

The Turkish Baths & Heating Systems

If one turns down a set of steep stone stairs outside the Library of all places one arrives at the lowest part of the first phase of the development of Cragside which houses the Turkish Bath (completed May 1870), these are below the library. They are a suite of rooms containing a steam bath, a cold plunge, a hot bath and a shower as well as a W.C and a changing room. In fact the baths were part of Lord Armstrong’s innovative provision of central heating for Cragside, they are situated between two plant rooms or chambers containing water-pipe batteries which are heated from boilers to the north where cold air was inducted and pre-heated for circulation around the house for space heating. In these chambers 4 inch cast iron heating pipes are arranged in multiple rows, to form heater batteries which supply heat energy to these plenum heating chambers to raise the temperature of the incoming cold fresh air before it enters the ventilation system. The heater batteries in the two chambers also directly warm the stone walls on opposite sides of the bath suite thus giving steady, radiative heating within the bathing space. This warm air heating system was the first of two to be installed at Cragside and is in the rooms of the original part of the house (1863 – 1872) and relies upon a network of air ducts, all of which have been built into the structural fabric of the building and lead to floor gratings arranged around the perimeter of the rooms and gratings or grilles fitted in the floor outside the entrance doors or in the skirting.  The second heating system dates from Shaw’s work at Cragside (1872 – 1885) and is a piped, low pressure hot water heating system supplying a variety of different Victorian cast iron box-ended pipe coil heaters, including “Princess” sectional pattern radiators manufactured by what later became The Beeston Boiler Co. All of the radiators are contained within decorated wooden enclosures with removable front screens, which must reduce their efficiency to some extent but were considered necessary for aesthetic reasons.

The Kitchens and Servants Quarters

Left – The Butler’s Pantry, Right – The Kitchen.

Unlike many large country houses of the period, Cragside had hot water and forced air space heating, was warm , secure and many of the inventions Lord Armstrong had installed in the house were intended to reduce the labour required of the servants and so improve their efficiency. A Barkers Mill (same principle as a rotating lawn water-sprinkler) turned the meat spits in the kitchen cooking range, a ‘dumb waiter’ lift could transport stores, equipment and food from the kitchen to the upper floors and there was even an early form of dish-washing machine. There was a much larger hydraulic lift intended for carrying coal to all the upstairs rooms. Running water was available in some parts of the house and for those without, the hydraulic lift was used for transporting sanitary ware containing hot and cold water as well as for moving bed linen and laundry. Together the lift meant that very little needed to be taken up and down stairs. There were electric bells to call the servants to where they were required and an electric gong to summon guests to dinner. The Scullery, larders and cellar storage stretched underneath most of the courtyard, and alongside these were the boilers and their fuel stores which supplied the central heating system. The kitchen itself had large north facing windows and a high ceiling, features which according to Robert Kerr author of “The Gentleman’s House” published in 1864 were intended to keep the kitchen as cool as possible.

The Stair Hall

The Stair Hall is an inner extension of the Entrance Hall in roughly the same place as the stairs of the first house, but enlarged, panelled and decorated with portraits and hunting trophies.  The crouching beasts on the newel posts had some of the original light fittings with curled tops – rather light fishing rods under tension. The present ragged staffs (held by lions) supporting beacon baskets with electric lights were added before 1895.

A Technological Showcase

Armstrong was aware that his home could be an effective “shop window” to show the usefulness of his technology to his guests, many of whom were clients, often from overseas and it is clear that Cragside played this role in selling British expertise and goods. The services in the house were technologically advanced for the time, so such so that they attracted a visit from the then Prince and Princess of Wales and their family who stayed for three days in August 1884. As well as a hydraulic lift and automatic turnspits in the kitchen, hot and cold running water, two types of central heating, a Turkish bath and of course electric lighting there were electric gongs and an internal telephone system instead of the traditional bell-pull system found universally at the time in larger houses with servants.

Armstrong later in life also added a small ‘electric room’ where he could carry out experimental work without disturbance and the initial choice of the Cragside site for its hydro-power potential was important to Armstrong. While a hydro-turbine still powers the estate sawmill, originally a hydraulic engine also pumped water to the house and on the surrounding estate farms a range of machinery was equipped with hydraulic pumps to provide water or with a turbine to do mechanical work. However what really captured visitors’ imagination was the hydraulic-turbines producing hydro-electricity for the house. It was at Cragside that hydro-power was first used to provide domestic electricity in 1878 employing Sir Joseph Swan’s new filament light bulbs. Geoffrey A. Irlam writing in the Industrial Archaeology Review states that “In 1878 Armstrong installed an arc lamp in the picture gallery at Cragside. Electricity was generated by a Siemens series wound, bipolar, horizontal dynamo with a drum armature and a single magnetic circuit. It was housed in a saw-mill at the foot of the dam forming Debdon Lake and was belt-driven by a six horsepower Williamson [hydro] turbine supplied with water from the lake. It was probably the first hydroelectric plant in Britain……Shortly afterwards, Armstrong’s friend Joseph Swan perfected the incandescent lamp and by the end of 1880 forty five of the new lamps had been fitted at Cragside. This was one of the first installations: Swan himself referred to it as the ‘first proper installation’” In 1886 demand for electricity at Cragside had become so high that the first phase of the Burnfoot Powerhouse was built to house an early hydroelectric plant for Swan’s incandescent lighting. The Powerhouse expanded over the years and new generating units were installed to meet growing electrical demands in the house and estate. These have now been restored by the British Engineerium  to illustrate to today’s visitors the story of electricity supply on the site and the importance of Cragside to the history of hydroelectricity and electric lighting.

Cragside Today

Cragside was passed to the British government’s Treasury in 1977 in lieu of death duties (taxation) and then transferred to the National Trust through the National Land Fund with the financial assistance of the 3rd Lord Armstrong. After restoration partly financed by the Historic Building Council the house was opened to the public in 1979.

 

Posted in Arts & Crafts Architecture, Victorian | Leave a comment

Wightwick Manor – Aestheticism and Pre-Raphaelites

The architect Edward Ould (1852–1909) designed Wightwick Manor just west of Wolverhampton in the English West-Midlands in 1887 and then added to it 1892-93 for Theodore and Flora Mander and their family. The Manders were long established owners of a successful paint, ink and varnish manufacturing company in Wolverhampton. Theodore saw himself as a scientist and industrialist rather than a country gentleman and rather than being planned as a country house at the centre of a vast estate Wightwick was planned as a family home. The house and contents were given to the National Trust in 1937 by their son and his wife Geoffrey and Rosalie Mander when it was still less than 50 years old, but the family continued to live there. It was their work as pioneering collectors of Pre-Raphaelite art in partnership with the National Trust which today helps to make the house’s interiors unique and the National Trust continues to make acquisitions to add to these important interiors.

Left – The inglenook in the Great Parlour with Kempe decoration, Dutch tiles and victorain sofas covered in Caucasian Sile carpet. Right – the ceiling in the Great Parlour, designed to look like a roof (1893).

Architectural Context

In the second half of the 19th century English architects wanted to express sentiments of cosy and romantic domesticity and comfort rather than make grandiose statements of ecclesiastical self-belief, English nationalism and imperial ambition, ideas which had attached themselves to the Neo-Gothic styles developed in the first half of the 19th century. As early as 1850 the young architect George Devey had been pioneering what came to be known as the vernacular revival, looking to traditional, regional, smaller buildings for a new language of architecture. The emphasis was on giving the architect the widest aesthetic freedom while drawing on local building traditions and rooting the building in the landscape. William Morris’s Red House in Bexleyheath in Kent built in 1859-60 by Philip Webb cemented this idea in the creative consciousness of British aesthetes and prompted a continuum of development from other architects like Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912), who introduced “Free Styles” into domestic architecture, eclectic mixes of architectural features deriving from one or more stylistic and historical sources. Shaw and contemporaries like Philip Speakman Webb (1859-60) and Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857-1941) looked for a an architecture that did not carry the ecclesiastical and military Gothic baggage that had clung to High Victorian Gothic since Pugin, they were looking for a gentler, more domestic variant that reflected the desire of newly wealthy industrialists and business-men for houses which appeared ancient, secular and homely. They looked to the half-timbered building tradition of England – English Tudor, Early Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture as an exemplar of native structural honesty and expression in what became known as the “Domestic Revival.”

Left – The porch and entrance facade. Right the inglenook fireplace in the entrance Hall.

Romanticism and Modern Conveniences

It was within the Domestic Revival style that Edward Ould created Wightwick Manor for the Mander family. The Manders tastes ran to a deep appreciation of the Romantic, a vital theme of historical and moral idealism that runs right through the Victorian period but they also appreciated the benefits of modern technology in conveniences such as electric lighting, central heating and piped hot and cold water.

Cragside, Northumberland, 1870-85 by Richard Norman Shaw for the British arms manufacturer Lord Armstrong of Armstrong Vickers Ltd. It was the first house in Britain to be equipped with electric lighting and is now owned by the National Trust. It was a direct influence on Edward Ould’s designs for Wightwick Manor which was started in 1887.

Modern conveniences at Wightwick Manor – Electric lighting, flushing lavatories and indoor plumbing with hot and cold running water – even in the servants’ quarters. Wightwick had electricity throughout by 1893. The original light fittings are still used. There was a generator in the stables untill Wightwick was connected to the mains in 1904.

Cragside in Northumberland, designed by Richard Normal Shaw for the British arms manufacturer Lord Armstrong (of Armstrong Vickers Ltd) had just been finished in 1885 and was the first house in Britain to be equipped with electric lighting and had a number of other innovations including a passenger elevator designed by its inventive owner, central heating and full hot and cold running water. Cragside was undoubtedly a model for Ould’s designs for Wightwick, and like Shaw at Cragside Ould at Wightwick studiously avoided the Neo-Gothic and the academic styles, instead reviving vernacular materials like half-timber and hanging tiles, with projecting gables and tall massive chimneys with “inglenooks” for warm seating. The result at Wightwick was free and fresh, not slavishly imitating his Jacobean and vernacular models, yet warmly familiar, a parallel with the emerging Arts and Crafts movement.

Left – The Acanthus Bedroom with Morris & Co. ‘Acanthus’ wallpaper designed in 1874, Middle – The library with an armchair upholstered in eastern carpet, Right – The Maids’ bathroom.

Wightwick is not however an Arts and Crafts house, Ould’s interests in traditional materials connects with the Arts and Crafts movement but in the 1870’s and 80’s he was chiefly interested in the picturesque qualities of materials, an approach common to the Aesthetic Movement. This was a late nineteenth century movement that championed pure beauty and ‘art for art’s sake’ emphasising the visual and sensual qualities of art and design over practical, moral or narrative considerations. Theodore and Flora Mander furnished their new home from Morris and Co. whose founder William Morris (1834-1896) was one of the greatest Victorian designers and a supporter and business partner of the Pre-Raphaelite artists Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones and the architect Phillip Webb. The Manders used Morris & Co. Wallpaper and fabric on the walls, Morris & Co. machine woven carpets and rugs on the floors and Morris & Co. ‘Sunbury’ wing chairs and rush seated ‘Hampton Court’ chairs.

Left – Willow Bough wallpaper, Morris, 1887. Middle – Rare Morris & Co. silk and wool wall fabric in the Drawing Room from a redecoration in 1893, Right – hanging fabric in the Indian Bird guests bedroom.

A programme of Morris & Co Acquisitions

From 1937 and its acquisition by the National Trust (partly for its Morris & Co. decoration) the Manders and the Trust started to acquired more Morris & Co. furnishing, extending the Morris decorative programme more fully through the existing fabric of the building than it had been originally. This was in order to create a more complete and immersive experience and to reflect most aspects of William Morris’s work as he had intended it be used, and also in the same way work of his collaborators and contemporaries. Pieces include hand-made carpets, cushions, furniture printed and woven textiles, tapestries, drawings, books, ceramics, metalwork and stained glass. They also acquired a large quantity of blue and white Chinese and Japanese porcelain, very much in the Aesthetic Movement taste, antique English and European furniture and fabric wall hangings (which were quite different from Morris’s designs) from the 17th – 19th centuries and fine eastern rugs and carpets both for use on the floor and for upholstering arm chairs and settees. The result is a uniquely eclectic series of interiors wholly in keeping with the overall aesthetic ambition of Morris. This however is a backdrop to a unique collection of pre-Raphaelite art collected after the house had been passed to the National Trust.

Pre-Raphaelite Collecting

When originally built, Wightwick had been furnished by Theodore and Flora Mander in a conventionally middle class Victorian style with family portraits and European scenes by artist who are little known today. In the 1930’s work by the Pre-Raphaelites, like much Victorian art was terribly unfashionable, the artists were long dead and their work could be collected relatively inexpensively if anybody wanted it. The direct connection between the Pre-Raphaelites and William Morris and the relatively intact, though not entirely consistent programme of internal decoration using Morris and Co. products made starting to collect Pre-Raphaelite art-works to appropriately extend and strengthen the interiors a logical move for Geoffrey and Rosalie Mander. Their first acquisition was a portrait of Jane Morris by Rosetti, completed by Madox Brown and bought for £14 in 1937 which would be about £900 in today’s money. Collecting the pre-raphaelites became a shared interest for them. They knew several of the descendants of the Pre-Raphaelites which helped in acquiring painting and furniture. The Manders were more interested in the Pre-Raphaelites as people and individuals and their approach to collecting was more biographical than definitively visual. The focus was on stories and personal associations, rather than style or medium. Beyond the eclectic context of the architecture and interiors this is what makes the pre-Raphaelite collection at Wightwick fascinating – the narrative links with the artist and their families.

Burne Jones’s “Love Among the Ruins”, 1893-4 but based on an earlier version. One of Burne Jones’s later works, in his mature style influenced by Italian Renaissance art it represents the transitory nature of youth and love

 

Posted in Arts & Crafts Architecture | Leave a comment

All Saints Brixworth – Anglo-Saxon Church Architecture

All Saints Church at Brixworth in Northamptonshire is one of the best examples of Anglo-Saxon church architecture in England. Pevsner (1985), Parsons (1988) and Cooper (2010) give a date of C675 for its foundation, probably as a timber building which was later replaced by masonry one in the late 8th or early 9th century The basis for this date is the interpretation of the chronicle of Hugh Candidus, a C12 monk of Peterborough, (admittedly writing 500 years after the event) who in reference to the appointment of Sexwulf as the Bishop of Mercia, mentions the foundation of new monasteries by monks and abbots from Sexwulf’s congregation in a number of locations including Brixworth. The first masonry church at Brixworth has been grouped architecturally with Canterbury Cathedral, Cirencester Abbey, and the Minster of St Mary in Wareham which are thought to be of the same period. The building has been added to substantially and is unusual in having a crypt with an apsidal ambulatory below ground level at the east end. The purpose of the ambulatory was to give proximity and access to the crypt housing preserved relics – possibly those of St Boniface.

Examples of the Roman bricks used in the arches of All Saints. The workmanship of their use seems imperfect and to indicate an overall understanding of the form but not necessarily of the detail of the original Roman practice.

It’s widely accepted that All Saints Brixworth was dedicated to St. Boniface, an 8th century missionary thought to have originated from the south west of England. An alternative view is that its present dedication may indeed be the original and an early instance of the cult of All Saints. If the dedication to St Boniface is correct the architectural value of the dedication is of more importance than it may initially appear. A connection with St Boniface gives the church a continental context and similarities have been drawn between All Saints and the monastic church of Fulda (central Germany and resting place of St. Boniface) have been drawn by both Parsons and Gem. The importance of these similarities is that it links the Anglo‐Saxon and Carolingian churches and also the Roman influence of their designs.

Left – the “Original” Ground Plan of All Saints showing the Porticuses along the nave and semi-circular barrel vaulted ambulatory around the crypt below ground level at the east end. Right – An eighteen century plan of the church as it exists now with the aisles (porticuses) removed, a new south aisle added as well as rectangular chancel (later removed).

This is most immediately apparent in the round Romanesque arches which originally formed Porticuses (side chapels) lining the nave and in the large arch separating the sanctuary from the nave. These arches have all been formed using reclaimed Roman bricks which may have originated from a nearby roman villa and / or may have been transported from Lactodurum (Towcester) and Ratae Corieltauvorum (Leicester) where there were large civic buildings from which to reclaim them. Similarities in architectural design have been drawn between Brixworth and the architecture of Carolingian and Ottonian France and Germany especially with semi-circular ambulatory outside the crypt below ground level which are thought to have become feature around c. 820 before reaching a peak of popularity on the continent in the 10th and 11th centuries. Not only is this the only Anglo‐Saxon crypt known to have taken this form (Parsons, 1988) but it is also thought possible (according to Pevsner) that it predates its Continental cousins since there are neither records nor examples of greater age on the Continent. In the 10th century the narthex at the west end was replaced with a tower and turret stair which still survive – one of only four in England to do so.

Left –the 8th-9th century form of All Saints with the subterranean barrel vaulted ambulatory going around the crypt at the east end and the porticuses forming “aisles” down the north and south sides and wrapping around the west end to form a narthex. Right – a section through this hypothetical reconstruction showing the narthex at the west end and entrances to the porticuses on the north side of the nave. Images by Daniel CR Wallage.

The C8th – 9th establishment of the church using the Roman  bricks would have been an unusually large church building for the time and it is possible that All Saints at Brixworth was used for ecclesiastical Synods in the 8th and 9th centuries.

Left – View from the south west showing the 10th century addition of the bell tower and turret stair which replaced the Anglo-Saxon narthex at the west end. Right – A section showing how that stair and tower may have been configured in the 10th century. Images by Daniel CR Wallage.

Posted in 3D Digital Modelling, Anglo Saxon, Churches and Ecclesiatical | Leave a comment

Stoneywell Cottage – Arts and Crafts Ideology and Contradiction

Banner 1The City of Leicester is well-known for its connections to the Arts and Crafts movement for instance with the Leicester School of Art and the Dryad Cane and Metal works. The purchase by the National Trust in 2013 of Stoneywell Cottage and its subsequent opening to the public in February 2015 has brought an important Leicestershire Arts and Crafts building linked to this history more fully into the public domain. Built in 1897-9 by the architect and furniture designer Ernest Gimson  (b.1864 d. 1919) and the architect Detmar Blow (b.1867 d.1939) for Gimson’s brother Sydney, this small house, set in the rolling hills and woods of the Charnwood forest north of Leicester is a tour de force in the craft of building by hand.  Both Gimson and Blow were influenced by Ruskin and William Morris, Morris famously stayed with the Gimson family in Leicester after giving a rather tedious lecture on ‘Art and Socialism’ at the Leicester Secular Society but none the less he and young Ernest hit it off immediately. After an excellent training at the Leicester School of Art at the age of 21 Morris introduced the young Ernest to the architect John Dando Sedding who had offices next to Morris’s showrooms – Morris & Co. in London. Gimson worked for Sedding (the ‘Free-Style’ architect of Holy Trinity Sloane Street) for 2 years, learning more of the business of Arts and Crafts architecture, involving himself with SPAB and through the Art Workers Guild learning practical skills of making, particularly in furniture and plaster-work. After travel abroad and then working with eminent Arts and Crafts designers in England, in 1893 he moved with friends to Sapperton in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire to live closer to nature, where he remained for the rest of his life and became known for his furniture designs and his workshop there. Banner 2 While Stoneywell was not his first built project in Leicestershire (there are a number of houses in the Leicester’s Stoneygate for which he was responsible) it was an early and very clear signal by an English architect of the real extent to which the means of production and aesthetic ambition of a vernacular “closeness to nature” could be expressed in contemporary building. Constructed and furnished entirely by hand using traditional techniques, Stoneywell cottage is remarkable firstly for the way it appears to emerge from the ground into the landscape (almost from below) and secondly for the integration of its materiality, interiors and furniture. This appearance of  ‘growing’ out of its site, organically and naturally (decades before Wright mastered the idea) is mirrored internally in the sequence of spaces and their interconnection which give this same impression. Arts and Crafts rubric holds that these are both a function of its means of production. Country Life (September 23 2015 p40) puts it thus, “The sum of the Arts and Crafts house is not only what it is made of but how it is made. With Ernest based for at least some of the time in Gloucestershire, the all-important process of building the house was entrusted to the head mason, the young, ideologically impeccable Detmar Blow….[as a young aspiring architect] he was introduced to John Ruskin…On learning that Blow wanted to become an architect, the white-bearded sage delivered his theory of the profession – which was that it should be avoided. Honest handiwork was the thing. Physical labour not only dignified the individual…but the involvement of men like Blow could help revive the old ways, which gave the builder a creative role in his craft – a tradition snuffed out by the tyranny of architects drawing plans that had to be followed in every detail.” While both Gimson and Blow subscribed to this ideal, exactly how far the use of preformationistic methods of plans and sectional drawing were actually avoided is perhaps questionable. The building has changed  relatively little in the intervening years  though originally sporting a thatched roof an early fire in 1939 caused it to be replaced with one of fine Swithland slate which does it no harm. So what we see now of the building fabric was much as it was intended. Banner 3 The setting beyond the house is equally important, the grounds and gardens are a delight, conceived as a naturalistic series of groves and woodlands in an undulating geology, they entice the visitor to walk through bluebell filled glades and sun-dappled clearings, following a circuitous path around the site. But here’s the rub. Stoneywell Cottage was only ever intended as a summer house for the son of a Leicester industrialist and his family, a place to escape a Midlands manufacturing city that was a couple of hours ride away or a 9 mile walk. Like the Arts and Crafts movement itself the concept of Stoneywell is riddled with contradictions on the one hand between an ambition for the dignity of labour and socialist ideals in life and work shaping buildings and artefacts and on the other hand the reality that it was only the wealthy who could afford both the time and money that such hand crafted works of art and architecture required. As an antithesis of machine production Stoneywell cottage has a modern emblematic significance of extreme romanticism (some would say even a fairy-tale quality), but even though one may be acutely aware of this one cannot also help reflecting again on the question which prompted its creation, why should not everyone who wishes it have a little Stoneywell to retreat to? There is no doubt there remains an undercurrent of leisure demand for self build and kit retreats which address this very question, even “shed-working” has been a trend but I would suggest that only rarely do we see the passion and craft of the hand-made in architecture (and all that implies beyond instrumentalism) such as we see at Stoneywell. That is why it is important today. Banner 4 The National Trust have gone to considerable lengths to preserve the quietude of this remarkable building and its grounds. Visits must be pre-booked, and visitors are conducted by a shuttle bus to the property since no cars are allowed and must be left at a visitor facility about a mile away. As one expects from the National Trust, these support arrangements are up to their usual high standards (the scones are particularly good at Stoneywell). For more of Ernest Gimson’s creative work there is an excellent special collection of his furniture and other artefacts at Leicester’s New Walk Museum and there are others collections at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, Rodmarton Manor and Owlpen Manor . stoneywell Plan exploded sketchBanner 5

Posted in Arts & Crafts Architecture | Leave a comment

Merlin Works Roman Bath House – Leicester

Merlin works baths 30092009 croppedIn the summer of 2007, colleagues at the University of Leicester Archaeological Services Unit (ULAS) discovered the remains of what may be a Roman bath house on Bath Lane in Leicester (see excavation plan below left – courtesy of ULAS). They were on the site of what had later become the Merlin Dye works and so the remains were christened the Merlin Works Baths. As with so much urban archaeology, their discovery was as a consequence of the site being prepared for development, in this case residential tower blocks on the banks of the river Soar.  These were not the first Roman baths to be found in Leicester, Dr. Kathleen Kenyon had excavated the more well-known Jewry Wall baths in the city between 1936-38 in insula XXI and revealed the ambitious scale and extent of this form of civic architecture in Leicester along with the Basilica and Forum in insula XXIIa. She dated the Jewry Wall Baths to 125-130AD, the time of Emperor Hadrian’s tour of Britain.

Left: Excavation Plan of Merlin Works Roman Baths, courtesy of ULAS. Right: Merlin works plan with a possible room arrangement conforming to an axial reflected linear arrangement (from right to left) of Palaestra, Apodyterium, Frigidurium, Tepidarium and Caldarium (in red) [Diagram by Ian Ritson, De Montfort University].

Left: Excavation Plan of Merlin Works Roman Baths, courtesy of ULAS. Right: Merlin works plan with a possible room arrangement conforming to an axial reflected linear arrangement (from right to left) of Palaestra, Apodyterium, Frigidurium, Tepidarium and Caldarium (in red) [Diagram by Ian Ritson, De Montfort University].

The Romans were in Ratae Corieltavorum (Leicester) by 45AD, probably with the establishment of a small fort in or adjacent to the pre-existing Iron Age settlement at a principle crossing point of the river soar. By the late 2nd Century AD Ratae seems to have become a busy prosperous trading centre, rebuilt as a planned settlement on a typical Roman grid-iron layout within a defensive wall with gates and ditches and with new public buildings like a Forum and Basilica as well as the Jewry Wall baths. The Merlin Works Baths align very closely with the street grid which suggests that it was built sometime after the Roman fort became a Roman town but possibly before the Jewry Wall Baths were built. The Merlin Works Baths predate the Jewry Wall Baths by about 50 years (c. 75 AD) but appear from the partial remains revealed to have been more or less identical in plan form and size to the later Jewry Wall Baths built nearby.

Left: Plan of Roman Leicester showing the location of the Merlin Works Roman Baths. Right: the position of the Merlin Works baths (in red circle) in relation to the town walls and the Jewry Wall baths in Insula XXI and the Basilica and Forum in Insula XXIIa.

Left: Plan of Roman Leicester showing the location of the Merlin Works Roman Baths. Right: the position of the Merlin Works baths (in red circle) in relation to the town walls and the Jewry Wall baths in Insula XXI and the Basilica and Forum in Insula XXIIa.

This raises questions about why the Merlin Works Baths were abandoned and what they looked like. They occupied a site of partially reclaimed ground on the east bank of the river soar, convenient for a constant water supply and waste water discharge. But the riverside was also rapidly developing at the same time as an area of high status villas because of its desirable riverside location. It may be that that as Roman Leicester transitioned from a garrison cum trading settlement to a planned regional administrative centre, the land values on this river frontage and the site of the Merlin Works Baths proved a tempting prospect, prompting the town leaders to rebuild the baths away from the river frontage perhaps also as part of grander scheme of civic improvement. As Seneca tells us in his letter to a friend, bath houses were noisy and public and they would have produced smoke from wood fires for water heating and there would have been substantial customer and supply traffic in and out of them. It wouldn’t be surprising if well-to-do local residents wanted the bath house moved and there is evidence such as the Blackfriars floor mosaic that around the time of the completion of the new Jewry Wall Baths c.145AD the area along the river bank was gaining substantial high status villas.  Whatever prompted the abandonment of the Merlin Works Baths their position in the town plan appears to suggest that they had an importance in the very earliest phase of Roman Leicester. Placed axially at the end of an East –West Street their façade would have been visible from the other side of town framed by the other buildings that lined it.

Comparative plans of the Merlin Works Bath House superimposed upon; Top Left –Vindolanda; Top Right – Silchester; Bottom Left – Wroxeter; Bottom Right – Jewry Wall Leicester. The close fit of the Merlin Works Caldarium (in red) to that of the Jewry Wall Baths (bottom right) is notable.

Comparative plans of the Merlin Works Bath House superimposed upon; Top Left –Vindolanda; Top Right – Silchester; Bottom Left – Wroxeter; Bottom Right – Jewry Wall Leicester. The close fit of the Merlin Works Caldarium (in red) to that of the Jewry Wall Baths (bottom right) is notable.

It is possible that the Merlin Works bathhouse had an open air palaestra, later Roman bathhouses in Britain had indoor exercise halls. Again the early date means that the bathhouse could have had a military style layout, with the room layout in a linear form, like Silchester for example, opposed to the later imperial forms seen at Jewry Wall or Wroexter. In the suggested plan arrangement shown above the entrance is based on the baths at Silchester, the outdoor palaestra (exercise yard), is also based on the one found at Silchester. The apodyterium is equal in size to the changing rooms found at Silchester, Wroexter and Jewry Wall in Leicester. The Walls of the frigidarium (cold room) and tepidarium (warm rooms) are based on the walls found at the excavation site. It may be that further excavation and new evidence will show that the layout of other parts of the building (as yet unexcavated) was different or in fact the building was not a bath house at all, but based on the current evidence it seems likely.

Banner 2 interiors

Posted in 3D Digital Modelling, Archaeology, Roman | 1 Comment

Ellys Manor, Lincolnshire – Laser Scanning Late Medieval Allegory in Architecture

Ellys Manor Banner 2Ellys Manor is a small, privately owned and well preserved English wool-merchant’s house dating from the late fifteenth century whose design has been substantially influenced by European Hanseatic merchants’ houses. It is important in understanding the Northern Renaissance’s influence in England and is remarkable for the extent and preservation of a schema of internal wall paintings executed in a vibrant, verdure style on lime plaster. Stylistically these derive from fourteenth and early fifteenth century continental tapestries and pattern books and they extend through several rooms. The upper east chamber is of particular interest being extensively decorated with scenes from Aesop’s fables which are framed within a clearly architectural arrangement of pillars, cornices and crenelated dados.

Composite photograph of the paintings on the north wall of the upper chamber at Ellys Manor taken for this study by De Montfort University's Robin Moran

Composite photograph of the paintings on the north wall of the upper chamber at Ellys Manor taken for this study by De Montfort University’s Robin Moran

Section AA from Laser Scan (small)

Lateral section through a the laser scan data of Ellys Manor, the apartment with the murals is on the first floor in this image.

Section GG from Laser Scan (Small)

Longitudinal section through the laser scan data, the chamber containing the murals addressed in this project is on the first floor on the extreme left of this image.

This remarkably complete survival of a late medieval, domestic, decorated interior attempts an illusion arranged around all four walls of one being in a roof-top loggia overlooking a single panoramic landscape. In 2016 our research project examined the design of this room within its overall architectural context to better understand the motives, influences and design practices of the patrons and their artists. Colour laser scanning undertaken by our student Robin Moran was used to create a highly detailed 3D digital model of the entire building, including the east, upper chamber and new photography was undertaken to record the wall paintings. Along with documentary evidence these are being carefully used to inform the development of a new 3D digital reconstruction of the furnishings and room configuration of the upper east chamber as they may have originally been conceived. This process is being extended to a new architectural capriccio model, created to examine the spatial and allegorical intentions behind the illusionistic loggia structure. It is intended that the results of this study will demonstrate a previously undocumented degree of informed artistic ambition in the room’s conception as well as high degree of design integration between furnishings, wall paintings and architecture. Section Through the Chamber

Posted in 3D Laser Scanning, Medieval, Tudor | Leave a comment

Celtic Monasticism and Benedictine Architecture on Iona

IMG_0453 smallThis month we were afforded the marvellous opportunity to visit the early Celtic Christian site of Iona Abbey on the west coast of Scotland. It was founded by St Columba who was a scion of the ruling Uĺ Néill family in County Donegall in the northern part of Ireland and he is the first historical figure in Scottish history whose life is reliably documented. He was well educated, influential and founded several monasteries before he left Ireland because of a political controversy. St Columba arrived on Iona in 563AD with twelve others (some of them from noble families) and founded a monastery when Argyll and its islands were part of Dál Riata. This was a small kingdom incorporating roughly what is now Argyll and the Inner Hebrides, closely related to the Irish kindreds in Antrim. He stayed with and was later gifted the island of Iona by Conall mac Comgall, the king of Dál Riata. Far from being a remote outpost on the west of Scotland it was centrally located on the water-borne route-ways that made long distance communication around the British Isles possible and so was an excellent position from which to exercise influence, while still being independent. The buildings of the monastery would have been timber, turf and reed thatch but little survives of these other than in a very few places original base courses of stones and the vallum or earthwork ditch that surrounded the complex. IMG_0367 small

From the outset St Columba’s monastery was a centre of Celtic learning, art and scholarship, he was himself a gifted writer and illuminator and after his death in 597AD his personal history (Vita Sancti Columbae or ‘Life of St Columba’) was written by one of his monks Adomnán who was Abbott for 25 years in the late 600’s. By that time and probably before this the monastery had a scriptorium for the production of Christian texts used in worship. It became famous for the artistic quality and originality of its illuminated manuscripts and the magnificent Book of Kells (now in Trinity College Dublin) was written there in about 800AD. Traces of large-scale metal working, wood working, leather working and waste from glass making have been found on the site indicating that it was it was a very active farming and crafting community as well as a spiritual one. In 634AD the Northumbrian king Oswald invited Ionan monks to found a monastery on Lindisfarne. The monastic rites and leadership of Iona were respected throughout much of Scotland for centuries after this and its leadership in theological scholarship was a beacon of civilisation in Western Europe. While much of the artwork and illuminated manuscripts that characterised this outpouring of creativity have been lost, there remain a large number of stone crosses, beautifully carved which hint at the full force of this creativity. Some of these are still outside the abbey and others are in the abbey’s museum. Beautifully and evocatively displayed and interpreted. Iona Banner #1

In 1200 Ranald, Lord of the Isles invited Benedictine Monks ‘Black Monks’ to Iona to revitalise the community under his patronage and at the same time established a community of Augustinian nuns. They (the Benedictine’s) started a programme of rebuilding of the Abbey, probably completed around 1450. The plan followed a normal Benedictine monastic layout, with the new church occupying the site of the previous one. The chapter house with its Romanesque arches and the Michael chapel date from the earliest phase of Benedictine occupation with later phases developing in architectural style as one would expect. Iona Banner #2

By 1250 the presbytery had been extended to the east, creating space for the choir stalls to extend beyond the crossing tower and a subterranean crypt was added under the high altar to house some of Columba’s relics. In the late 1200’s work began to greatly enlarge the south transept, adding three vaulted side chapels, the outline of which can be seen in the grass to the south-east of the church. In the mid 1400’s the nave was widened to the south and a new west front was constructed. The north aisle was reduced in size and converted into a sacristy. In 1560 the Reformation meant the abandonment of the abbey but in the mid 1600’s there was a failed attempt to restore the eastern part to serve as the Cathedral of the Isles. By 1874 the abbey buildings were derelict and ruinous apart from the east end of the church and its tower. The 8th Duke of Argyle commissioned the Scottish architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson to consolidate the ruins and in 1899 he transferred the ownership of them, the Reilig Oran and the Nunnery to a newly established Cathedral Trust. The restoration of the church was completed (with some historical controversy) under the direction of the architects Thomas Ross, John Honeyman, and P. Macgregor Chalmers and completed in 1910. The restoration of the monastic buildings was begun in 1938 and finished in 1965 and in 2000 the Iona Cathedral trust gave the abbey, Reilig Odhrain, St Ronan’s Church and the nunnery into the care of Historic Scotland. Iona Banner #3

What the visitor now sees is a real working community with a constant flow of tourist visitors providing an income to the economy in much the same way that pilgrims would have done in centuries past. It is a busy place of Christian worship and many of the visitors arrive there for that purpose.

Iona Banner #4

Posted in Churches and Ecclesiatical, Medieval, Museum Installations, Pictish / Insular Art | Leave a comment