On the Road – Architectural History and Student Field Trips

DBHG MA Album Cover Country #1 smallIt’s the beginning of another exciting academic year with the Digital Building Heritage Group at De Montfort University and we have a great programme of field trips which is now under way for our LSA MArch Architecture students to historic houses and sites in the East Midlands of England and beyond. This term we have a late medieval and Tudor theme, examining great halls, brick-making, kitchens, moats and renaissance influences on early modern English architecture. A long day last week saw staff and students driving up to Lincolnshire with a morning stop at the National Trust’s Tattershall Castle to see the extraordinary early Flemish brickwork of the donjon and the sheer scale of Ralph, 3rd Lord Cromwell and Treasurer of England’s architectural ambition between 1430 and 1450. At a time when the English nobility were aspiring to more comfortable, continental modes of living but were still part of an unstable society where civil warfare was the norm, Tattersall was the epitome of a powerful noble house that was both more comfortable than an earlier medieval fortification and yet still defensible. Importing Flemish brick-makers and building techniques (but with English masons carving the fireplaces in stone) it was also fashionably advanced, and set a style that would be copied over the next 100 years. Brick had an aesthetic appeal but had practical advantages over stone in speed of construction and availability in areas where good building stone was in short supply. A brick kiln or clamp of the period could fire 100,000 bricks in a week, and a couple of months of firing over the winter could keep a summer crew of masons and bricklayers occupied for six months on a large project like this.

Tattershall Banner #1 smallIts real glory is the peristyle on the roof, which immediately suggets a very English version the cortille of an Itallian renaissance palazzo. Although very heavily restored in the 1920’s the possibilities of this are historically intriguing.

In the afternoon the destination was English Hertitage’s Gainsborough Old Hall, via the ancient city of Lincoln, to see the mid 15th century Great hall, original kitchens and private rooms in near as-built condition as it’s possible to experience in England. As with any survival of this kind Gainsborough Old Hall has been added to and changed over the years but its th fact that there is so much that has survived from its original form that is interesting, such that’s it’s relatively easy to appreciate how it would have looked in 1460 when it was built by Sir Thomas Burgh. This is particularly true of the kitchens which are a very rare survival, complete with roof, lantern, fireplaces and ovens. One of the nice things about English Heritage’s treatment is the furnishings and exhibition of clothing and tableware. This really does lend much to the atmosphere and makes it far easier to imagine the place inhabited. Of course accretions like this are never a snapshot in time but an amalgam of various periods but if one accepts this the overall impression is generally convincing, informative and dare one suggest, entertaining.

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About Douglas Cawthorne

Reader in Digital Heritage at De Montfort University.
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