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

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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.

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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

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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

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Radicalism and Architecture in Tudor England

Left - Portrait of Thomas Tresham, 1563 at Boughton House; Middle - Rushton Triangular Lodge 1593-1597; Right - 3D digital model of Rushton Triangular Lodge created by the DBHG at De Montfort University, England

Left – Portrait of Sir Thomas Tresham, from 1563 and now at Boughton House; Middle – Rushton Triangular Lodge 1593-1597; Right – 3D digital model of Rushton Triangular Lodge created by the DBHG at De Montfort University, England

Rushton Triangular Lodge is one of the most curious buildings of the late Elizabethan period. Built between 1593 and 1597 by Sir Thomas Tresham who was father of one of the Gunpowder Plotters, Francis Tresham its located on his familay estate near Rushton, Northamptonshire, England about 23 miles south of the Digital Building Heritage Group’s offices at De Montfort University in Leicester. It is a monument to Catholic faith in the face of political oppression and in particular to the Trinity with the number three being used throughout both in the overall form and in the decoration of the building. There are three floors, three walls 33 feet long, each with three triangular (trefoil) windows and three triangular gables on each side. Many of the texts, dates and inscriptions have numerological significance with the number three. Even Sir Thomas Tresham’s name was imbued with significance. Over the door, beneath Tresham’s coat of arms, is the Latin inscription: Tres testimonium dant , which can be read as “The number three bears witness” or “Tresham bears witness.” Tres was the pet name his wife used for Tresham in her letters.

Detailed 3D modelling of the interior and exterior of Rushton Triangular Lodge by the Digital Building heritage Group at De Montfort University, England.

Detailed 3D modelling of the interior and exterior of Rushton Triangular Lodge by the Digital Building heritage Group at De Montfort University, England.

It’s been a regular destination for our MA and MArch student field trips for a number of years because quite apart from its inherent beauty and curiosity, its geometric and textural complexity makes it a challenging building to represent from a digital heritage point of view. Recently we’ve been looking more closely at the social history of buildings like Rushton Triangular Lodge and the way that the contested nature of interpretation of radicalism in 16th and 17th century historic buildings can be innovatively explored using digital interpretation. Part of this examination is to see how digital models can be manipulated in various ways to “reveal” the hidden, allegorical, semiotic and numerological associations behind the histories and designs of the buildings they represent and in doing so illuminate the motives of the people involved with them, the social and cultural context in which they lived and the relationships of these to our preoccupations today.

Rushton Triangular Lodge is a Grade I listed building on the National Heritage List for England, is in the care of English heritage and is open to the public.

Rushton Triangular Lodge Banner #3 small


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The Borders Textile Towerhouse

Textile Towerhouse Banner #1A recent visit to Hawick in the Scottish Borders was an opportunity to visit the oldest building in this charming county town of Roxburghshire. The Black Tower as it once known was built by James Douglas of Drumlanrig in the 1550’s when he became warden of the Middle March and Baron of Hawick. It was an L-shaped tower and was possibly an enlargement of an earlier rectangular structure. A barrel vaulted ground floor supported at least two further floors above with chambers, in the normal Scottish towerhouse manner. The tower later came into the hands of the Scott family and in 1703-08 Anne Scott, Duchess of Buccleuch extended the old tower by filling in the “L” to create a comfortable town-house. In 1773, the building became the “Tower Inn” a local watering hole, a mail coach stop and centre for political discussion, and social gatherings. Textile Towerhouse Banner #2

The building is now the Borders Textile Towerhouse, opened in 2009 celebrating the Borders’ textile industry. Textiles, garments, artefacts, paintings and documents describe 200 years of innovation in textile production in the local knitwear and tweed industries. There is also a temporary exhibition space which shows the best of the Scottish textile artists, historical and contemporary costume, fashion and design. In the barrel-vaulted ground floor there’s a small exhibition of the tower’s history. Running on a single display monitor is a ten minute documentary on the development of the building’s architecture and the social and political context in which it grew. There are a few artefacts including some 16th century cannon breeches and also an architectural scale model of the building representing the period in the mid-16th century when it was being constructed. This a remarkably useful model since it is big enough to represent real detail and appears to be architecturally accurate. The use of physical architectural models to explain historic buildings should not be underestimated, they have particular advantages of longevity and low maintenance that are often absent in digital or virtual forms of representation. They also become artefacts in the own right in due course and are permanent and tactile reminder of previous generation’s interpretation of their history.

An architectural scale model of the "Black Tower" now the Borders Textile Tower House, showing it as it probably looked when under construction in the mid 15th century.

An architectural scale model of the “Black Tower” now the Borders Textile Tower House, showing it as it probably looked when under construction in the mid 15th century.

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Reconstructing St Mary’s Vicarage at the time of Leicester’s “Riot” in 1524

Last year (2016) the DBHG undertook a large digital reconstruction of the Newarke area of Leicester, looking at its development since the Late Medieval period. This extensive animated reconstruction is now on show in De Montfort University’s Heritage Centre  which is open to the public. The Newarke is the area which now forms De Montfort University’s campus and was fist established by the Dukes of Lancaster in 1330 with a hospital named after the Holy Trinity for the care of the elderly and infirm. It was subsequently enlarged by them with a chantry church for their dynasty and made a collegiate foundation dedicated to St Mary from at least 1360. As a hospital college it would have been a seat of learning as well as (to couch it in today’s parlance) a source of primary health care. It had a large number of other buildings within its high walls as well at the church and hospital themselves, everything from gate-houses, kitchens, bakery, brew house and guest lodging to houses for the Dean, twelve Canons, and twelve Vicars, six choristers and servants for all of these, a chapter house, refectory, stables, lavatories, laundry, treasury, library and store-houses as well as other ancillary buildings. The only above ground remains of these buildings are the chapel of the Trinity Hospital, some of the arches from the main hospital hall and what is now known as St Mary’s Vicarage, a diminutive single story stone building on the corner of The Newark and the Gateway.

St Mary’s Vicarage: Left - as it is today, now called the “Chantry Building”, it’s used as the offices for DMU Global. Right – as it was at the end of the nineteenth century, with two additional storeys, the top-most is probably a later addition) - Courtesy of Leicestershire County Council Record Office.

St Mary’s Vicarage: Left – as it is today, now called the “Chantry Building”, it’s used as the offices for DMU Global. Right – as it was at the end of the nineteenth century, with two additional storeys, the top-most is probably a later addition) – Courtesy of Leicestershire County Council Record Office.

This was once a house for a Canon and Vicar of the Collegiate Church of St Mary of the Annunciation (they lived in pairs) and was probably built no later than the mid fifteenth century, the exact date is uncertain. There would have been at least twelve such houses within the Newarke, probably of two storeys in height built-in well-dressed stone, with twin chambers above, a stone stair up and kitchen / store and reception room below. They had indoor toilets, large fireplaces and were well-lit with glazed windows. They were high quality houses much better than those in the rest of Leicester out with the Newarke which were generally less durable and less fire-proof timber frame with lath and plaster walls.

It was in all probability in one or more of these well-built stone houses in the College precinct of the Newarke that Mary 4th Baroness Hungerford and her second husband Sir Richard Sacheverell lived in the early 1500’s. Sir Richard had been receiver-general to Edward Hastings, 2nd Baron Hastings, who died in November 1506: less than three years later Sacheverell married his widow, Lady Mary. He thus became the senior representative of the most powerful family in Leicestershire. He was later to be a Member of Parliament (MP) for Leicestershire in 1523 and 1529. Described as a “wealthy West Country heiress,” Mary Baroness Hungerford shared her late husband Edward, 2nd baron Hastings dislike of the Grey family of Bradgate, the two families of the Greys and Hastings were rivals at court and at home with both families having extensive landholdings in Leicestershire and elsewhere in England. By 1517 and probably before this date Lady Mary and Sir Richard lived in apartments within the College of St. Mary in the Newark. The best of these apartments would have been houses like St Mary’s Vicarage, if not this building itself, a possibility that has prompted our historical and architectural interest. Having recently reconstructed in some detail the ecclesiastical buildings of the college, the opportunity to reconstruct a small residential building like St Mary’s Vicarage to show how the people of the college would have lived was an attractive option. Fortunately there is good evidence on which to start a reconstruction. In 2005 Neil Finn, at that time with University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) carried out an archaeological survey of the building in advance of De Montfort University’s conversion of it into offices and an audio studio. Neil’s published report on his investigation provides an interesting insight into the now hidden parts of the interior but as with many ancient buildings raises questions of interpretation because of ambiguous or missing evidence. Neil very graciously agreed to talk us through his up-to-date understanding of the evidence he found in 2005, insights which are now helping the Digital Building heritage Group inform the development of a 3D digital reconstruction of the building.

An initial “body-map” drawing by the DBHG’s Ahmed Hassan who is studying for an MA at DMU of St Mary’s Vicarage, Leicester as it was in 1524 based purely on the written evidence in the 2005 ULAS archaeological report. This configuration was used as a starting point to develop though expert discussions further evidence sources and interpretations which have altered a number of aspects of this initial configuration.

An initial “body-map” drawing by the DBHG’s Ahmed Hassan who is studying for an MA at DMU of St Mary’s Vicarage, Leicester as it was in 1524 based purely on the written evidence in the 2005 ULAS archaeological report. This configuration was used as a starting point to develop though expert discussions further evidence sources and interpretations which have altered a number of aspects of this initial configuration.

The current form of St Mary’s Vicarage belies the fact that it has undergone a number of transformations in the last five hundred years not least of which was the demolition of its upper two storeys, the removal of several windows and chimney breasts to the point where the current external is very different indeed from the original. Fortunately the position of original windows and doors were still partially visible from the stripped interior during the 2005 survey. There is also some evidence of wooden mouldings on surviving floor beams and stone mouldings around windows and doors. There are of course examples of other priests’ houses in colleges in England from around this time many of which appear close in design to the form suggested by the evidence at St Mary’s Vicarage. There were some surprises, not least of which was a decorative and large chimney on the west face of the building which is now completely absent.

Some of the sources of similar buildings being used for reconstruction of St Mary’s Vicarage, Leicester. Left – Vicars lodgings at Wells cathedral, in particular the large and ornate chimney, evidence for a chimney of similar size was found at St Mary’s Vicarage. Right – Rupert’s Gateway, one of number of similar structures built at the same time as St Mary’s Vicarage which used to form part of the defensive boundary wall around The Newarke. Many of the window and door details are similar to those found in St Mary’s Vicarage.

Some of the sources of similar buildings being used for reconstruction of St Mary’s Vicarage, Leicester. Left – Vicars lodgings at Wells cathedral, in particular the large and ornate chimney, evidence for a chimney of similar size was found at St Mary’s Vicarage. Right – Rupert’s Gateway, one of number of similar structures built at the same time as St Mary’s Vicarage which used to form part of the defensive boundary wall around The Newarke. Many of the window and door details are similar to those found in St Mary’s Vicarage.

We hope to be able to use this reconstruction to tell a more complex and detailed story about a series of events in the late 1490’s and early 1500’s in the town and county of Leicestershire which reflected at a very immediate level the power politics being played out nationally and internationally at the court of King Henry VIII. In Leicester these focussed on the Grey and Hastings Families. The Greys were based at Bradgate where they built an extraordinary new minor palace, Bradgate House and the Hastings were based in Ashby de La Zouch Castle which they substantially expanded but they also controlled the town of Leicester with their headquarters here in the Newarke. Mary 4th Baroness Hungerford and her second husband Sir Richard Sacheverell took up residency in the College in the early 1500’s – it is not clear how but would most likely have involved inheritance or a significant bequest. It seems as if they treated the college and its precinct of the Newarke as their own fiefdom, that is until the appointment of the Lord George Grey as Dean of the college of St Mary of Annunciation in the Newarke from 1517-1530. This appointment of one of the leading sons of their most antagonistic rivals the Greys to a position of highest authority in the college precipitated a decade of what started as petty squabbles but eventually led to deadly quarrels between the two families in Leicester. Lady Hungerford, according to Mary L. Robinson’s essay, “Court Careers and County Quarrels,” let her dogs run free in the chapel, organized bear-baiting on the grounds, and allowed her servants to be rude to Grey’s supporters. Both factions retained more men in arms than the law permitted and in 1516 Cardinal Wolsey himself intervened by summoning the principals to appear in the Star Chamber in London to give bonds for good behaviour. Early in 1519 he ordered the parties to discharge their forces and to avoid the county courts and quarter sessions which were occasions for lawlessness. This had little real effect, there was an action by the Greys for murder against Sacheverell’s servants and the rivalry grew so heated that by the spring of 1525, Lady Hungerford and her husband took an armed escort of nearly two hundred men whenever they travelled outside of Leicester. Lady Mary and Sir Richard retained scores of liveried servants who in July 1524 were involved, along with hundreds of Leicester townsfolk in a “riot” with Grey supporters at the high cross in Leicester, a town traditionally loyal to the Hastings, at which several of Lord Thomas Grey 2nd Marquis of Dorset’s men were forcibly ejected. Lord George Grey (Thomas’s brother and the Dean of the College of St Mary in the Newarke) accused Sacheverell of profiting from the sale to the college of the manor of Ashley in Wiltshire and of obtaining leases without fine in the dean’s absence. The matter was taken to the Council but its settlement was remitted to Bishop Longland of Lincoln: the judgement is lost but Sacheverell and his wife appear to have gone on living in the College until their deaths. Lady Mary died sometime between 30th June 1530 and 10th July 1533 and Sir Richard died on 14th April 1534. They were laid to rest in tombs in the collegiate Church of St Mary of the Annunciation under a pillar in a chapel off the south transept.

This colourful period of Leicestershire’s history has more than local relevance as the dynastic rivalries acted out in the town and county also played out at a greater scale in the Royal Court of Henry VIII in London with Mary’s son George Hastings, 1st Earl of Huntingdon (whose wife Anne was the Henry VIII’s mistress in 1510) battling it out with Lord Thomas Grey 2nd Marquis of Dorset and master of Bradgate House for power in court and abroad. We think that a reconstruction of one of the houses that formed the backdrop to these events in Leicester and further afield, the interiors in which the politics, power and personalities were discussed, where plans were made and history was played out might be of interest to a wider audience and this is what we hope to achieve with the St Mary’s Vicarage reconstruction.

Posted in 3D Digital Modelling, Archaeology, Medieval, Tudor | 3 Comments

Stirling Castle – Jacobean Fortification & Renaissance Palace

0Stirling Castle is lies at the most the strategically important location in Scotland, guarding the main north south route between the highlands and the lowlands and the east west route from the Clyde valley to the Forth estuary and controls the main crossing of the river Forth to the East. Fortifications had existed on this site and as a royal residence long before King James the IV of Scotland decided to begin the replacement of the older timber, earth and rubble fortification with a new and enlarged stone one that befitted his status as a European prince. The “forework” or fortified entrance (see above) was the main outward face of this re-building and was originally 5 storeys high with 4 towers capped with conical roofs and was designed to impress. This led into the outer courtyard or “Close” around which King James IV and James VI created  a sumptuous royal complex of buildings, the Kings old building, the Great Hall, the Palace and Chapel Royal. In doing so they departed from previous royal building in adopting continental renaissance ideas. James V’s French queen was Mary of Guise and it is largely due to her influence that artisans and craftsmen came over from the continent to create what James wished people to view as a “Palace of Princelie virtue”, a demonstration of his culture, erudition and power written in stone and wood. 3

The palace, which contains the Royal Apartments is decorated externally with statues which were at their inception revolutionary in scale and subject in Scotland. They represent an elaborate tableau of allegorical and mythical figures intended to celebrate virtues endorsed by the King. In the castle’s visitor’s centre there is a good audio-visual reconstruction of the how these sculptures would originally have been polychrome and the building covered in stucco, presenting a very different and much more colourful aspect than it does today. 6

The interiors of the main apartments have been lightly restored with a focus on the decorative schemas of ceiling and wall paintings, tapestries, bed-hangings and some replica furniture. Together they convey in the parts where they are more complete an indication of the vernacular sumptuousness of the sixteenth century Scottish Royal apartments. James the V died in 1542 and may never have seen his Palace fully completed. The subsequent turmoil of the minority of his son James VI and invasions by King Henry VIII of England meant it probably took several years for the apartments to be fully completed and so the partial or light restoration they exist in the moment is intended to reflect this period in the 1540’s when they were still being worked on. The exception is the ceiling of the Kings Inner hall, where the famous “Stirling Heads” have been copied and replaced in situ. They were commissioned by James V in about 1540 and were carved in the new Renaissance style by French craftsmen at the time of his second marriage to Mary of Guise. Several different carvers executed the heads, some of them more skilled than others and it is thought that local carvers may have worked under a French master, Andrew Mansioun. 2

The original “Stirling Heads” have their own gallery and museum on the upper floor of the Place and are very well presented under low light conditions. Fully coloured reproduction copies assist in places in understanding the artistic intention of the artists and craftsmen and the whole exhibition is set out in such a way that the beauty and history of the originals are equally revealed. 5

Opposite the Palace on the other side of the inner courtyard is the Chapel Royal. This was built in 7 months in 1594 under the orders James VI on the site of a previous a chapel. It reflects the aesthetic preferences of the new protestant religion, relatively plain and day-lit, designed for hearing the word of scripture rather than observing the mysteries of the Catholic faith. The doorway and widows were inspired by classical Renaissance designs and it’s believed that the ceiling was decorated with gold leaf and the walls were embellished with baptismal scenes. The chapel fell into disuse when James the VI became James I of England and moved the court to London in 1603 but it was redecorated by Valentine Jenkin in 1628-9 for Charles I’s coronation visit to Scotland in 1633. The painted frieze around the upper parts of walls is best preserved along with a trompe l’oeil window painted on the west end. 4

The castle also has a visitors centre housed in some enclosed embrasures near the entrance. In it you can see reconstructions of a man and woman probably killed in battle and buried beneath the floor of the old chapel probably in the 1300’s. The man appears to have come from the south of England and this may date from the period when Stirling Castle was captured by Edward III in 1336 and its defences improved. It was retaken by the Scots in 1342. Other artefacts such as artillery and other arms are of interest as is a large model of the castle which gives a useful overview of its overall contemporary form and layout, which is sometimes difficult to grasp when inside it. Overall this a well thought through and engaging visitor experience. It is not dumbed down and on the other hand it is not too esoteric. The presence of costumed staff in character adds much to the experience and one comes away with the sense that real history and real historic architecture and interiors have been glimpsed.



Posted in Jacobean Architecture, Military Architecture, Museum Installations, Tudor | Leave a comment

The 14th Century Master Mason John Lewyn and the Durham Episcopal Throne

durham-banner-0a-smallA recent visit to Durham was a welcome opportunity to re-examine its Cathedral, one of the finest early Norman buildings in England. Much has been written about its seminal place in the development of English medieval architecture but it was Bishop Hatfield’s tomb which was of interest on this visit because it is also the Bishop’s throne or cathedra. The episcopal seat at Durham Cathedral is unique amongst ecclesiastical memorial monuments in Britain in that it combines both a throne and a tomb. It is located in a prominent position on the south side of the quire between the choir stalls of the convent to the west and the high altar and tomb of St Cuthbert to the east. Even in the late mediaeval period it was described as “sumptuosissime construxit” and stands out as an unusual and highly decorated survival of medieval architectural design. At 12.2m high it is squeezed between the Romanesque piers of the quire and nearly touches the arch of the nave arcade. The fact that the tomb survives at all is because it was largely spared the renovating predations of the 18th century architect James Wyatt but it did not escape modification by others entirely. There was originally some kind of vertical termination to the steps up to the throne at the east end, this was removed at an unknown date, replaced with a copy in the 19th century that included a decorated balustrade (now absent) and had new lower steps, the upper ones are the original medieval. hatfield-tomb-banner-1-small

It’s also probable that the upside down angels on the open cusping of the tomb’s south façade are not original either, but other than these changes the rest of its form is much as it would have been at the end of the 14th century (it was built sometime between 1362 and 1381). As Tracy and Budge note in their “Britain’s Medieval Episcopal Thrones” (Oxbow Books) The tomb comprises three main parts: 1) the tomb chest with the recumbent effigy of the occupant, 2) The canopy with associated wall paintings and 3) the outer façades to the choir and the south choir aisle. These façades are all highly enriched with “Pinched” ogee trefoils (which appear similar to those at the reredos of the Lady Chapel at York Minster) and plentiful crocketting, double cusping, marvellous foliate decoration, heraldry and arms. There are also a number of similarities in the Bishops tomb to micro-architecture at Beverley Minster e.g. the canopies of Beverley’s Sedilia from the 1330-40’s, but while of the same design, those canopies over the Bishop’s tomb are most probably not by the same hand, they are less dextrous in execution. Above the tomb chest is a lierne vault with substantial foliated bosses and the walls of the vault were originally decorated with figurative paintings of Christ, angels and a representation of the soul of Bishop Hatfield. The top of the tomb vault is a flat platform 7 ft x 11 ft in size, which supports the bishop’s throne or Cathedra – in this case comprising a canopied screen of three vertical parts. The whole screen is keyed into the Romanesque round piers on either side. Much of the detail of the screen is reminiscent of the East front of York Minster and it’s possible that one or more York masons were responsible for its execution. However it is significant that the tomb and the screen share few similar decorative characteristics which raises the question – was Bishop Hatfield’s tomb and screen the work of one architect who could design in two different styles (a relatively common skill in architects of the 14th century and later) or was it the work of two architects, one on the tomb, one on the screen? img_9325-banner-5

We can look to another Screen at Durham for an insight on this. The magnificent stone reredos, known as the Neville Screen, divides the sanctuary from the feretory. It is placed a little to the east of the centre of the easternmost bay of the quire. It was a bequest of Lord John Neville, 3rd Baron Neville de Raby (c.1337 – 17 October 1388). Despite the loss of the 107 alabaster sculptures that originally adorned it, it remains intact but without its polychromy. The second and third bays of the south aisle form the Neville chantry and here is the monument of the benefactor Lord John Neville (d. 1386), and his wife Maud Percy (d. before 18 February 1379); the tomb has canopied niches with weepers, all round, separated by trefoiled panels containing shields which bear alternately the Neville saltire and the Percy lion rampant. The screen was made in London between 1372 and 1380, probably by Henry Yevele and was shipped to Newcastle by sea and thence by cart to Durham. It has much in common with the Hatfield throne screen, e.g. the sloping vaults of the weeper canopies and the squared trefoil heads, but is profoundly different in overall design and detail from the diapering and ogee-arches of the Hatfield tomb and the Neville tomb. The Neville screen shows the understanding required for delicate open tracery work whereas the Hatfield screen does not. The Neville screen is of a far superior order of execution and it has been suggested that the designer of Bishop Hatfield’s screen (who was probably local) was possibly less experienced but may have known of or even seen the Neville screen being made in London in the 1370’s. Documentary evidence places the execution of the Hatfield tomb and screen between 1362 and 1381, during the majority of this period John Lewyn (fl. 1364-c.1398) was the foremost master mason at Durham. He was referred to as “the bishop’s mason” and Harvey describes him as “…the most important provincial architect of medieval England of whose career we have adequate details.” He was enormously busy as a professional architect, involved in castle building as well as ecclesiastical work and travelled widely across northern England. However in 1375, right in the middle of the period framing the execution of Bishop Hatfields tomb, John Lewyn was in serious financial dispute with the Bishop and in 1375 a commission was appointed to enquire into monies given to Lewyn to carry out work for the crown at Bamburgh Castle. It has been suggested that this may have affected the relationship between the two men with the Bishop bringing in other craftsmen which would account for the variation in style between the tomb and the throne screen.

img_9363-croppedAs Tracy and Budge state; “There can be little doubt that the detailing of the throne screen [at Durham] was undertaken by a mason who was subsequently responsible for the tomb of John Neville. Given their disparate designs and detailing, the Hatfield tomb was most likely the work of a different mason or supervising architect, one who drew his inspiration, but probably not his workforce from the east end of Beverley.  That mason could well have been John Lewyn, completing or at least starting the tomb in the mid-to-late 1360’s, before his incarceration at the hands of the bishop.” It is also possible that it was Lewyn that was responsible for the design of the support system for the screen but its execution of the detail was left to a mason who had recently worked on the east end of York Minster. Another possibility is that it was accession of King Richard II in 1377 and a renewed campaign of castle building in the north rather than a schism with the Bishop over outstanding payments which may have taken John Lewyn away from ecclesiastic works like the Bishops tomb and throne screen to supervise military work elsewhere. It would have been normal practice for an architect like Lewyn to leave a trusted subordinate master-mason in charge at Durham under these circumstances. Malcom Hislop, an acknowledged expert on Lewyn ( ) has shown that within the area Lewyn practiced in the counties of York, Durham, Cumberland, Northumberland and Roxburgh there were several schools of mason-craft each with its own distinctive characteristics contributing to considerable differences in decorative detailing. He is also clear that very senior maser masons like John Lewyn at the top of their profession would as a matter of course delegate work to trusted subordinates who could come from any number of these schools. It is possible that Lewyn as a master mason acted as a kind of patron with regards to the design establishing an overall schema into which his trusted subordinates would operate in their own style. The point here is that trying to deduce the provenance and authors of ecclesiastical architectural work like this based on stylistic grounds alone is fraught with difficulties because of the plethora of differing artistic traditions or schools, even within one region that existed in England in the fourteenth century and the practice of a master like Lewyn in employing craftsmen form them for executing their own designs and perhaps playing to their strength. Harvey hints at this in his 1954 Biographical Dictionary of English Architects when he states that Lewyn, “…was probably responsible for the throne above bishop Hatfield’s tomb, and he may have had something to with the Neville Screen…Stylistic evidence suggests that the [Neville] screen, which had been put in hand by 1376, was designed by Henry Yevele.” Harvey goes on to say that, “[Lewyn’s] strength lay in his grasp of construction, and the splendour of massive structural work, properly carried out…but although there is little purely decorative detail in his known works, it cannot be doubted that he had beauty as well as utility in mind…

Teasing out the complex procurement of internationally important works of art like Bishop Hatfield’s tomb and the episcopal throne at Durham Cathedral is important in understanding the creative processes of artists and craftsmen of 14th century Europe whose motives and practices were strikingly contemporary. This is important not least because the result of their work has endured and continues to intrigue and inspire another generation of artists and architects 630 years later. A better understanding of how these historic masterpieces were created and by whom can give us much better insights into design that may be useful today. dutham-banner-1-small


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Eilean Donan Castle – Models and Projection Mapping

eilan-dona-bannerVisiting historic buildings rarely comes more spectacular (in a rugged grandeur kind of way) than a visit to Eilean Donan Castle This 13th century icon of Scottish medieval architecture sits on a tidal island in Loch Duich near the Isle of Skye and is the home of the McRae family and administered by them through the Conchra Charitable Trust. Bought by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap in 1911 as a ruin over the following 20 years it was renovated and re-built with an ethos heavily influenced by arts and crafts ideas of individual labour and crafted detail. The castle has a visitor centre on the landward side of the bridge which connects it to the mainland. This mainly provides retail and a tea and buns opportunity, the main interest of course is in the castle itself where a small entrance chamber has been given over to a modest exhibition which includes a projection mapping table and some physical models. The castle was originally the stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae, and the projection mapping table very usefully illustrates the evolution of the building complex in a series of phases over the intervening seven hundred years during their ownership (see Wikipedia for a synopsis and site plans)

eilean-donan-banner-2The castle was destroyed in 1719 by British naval ships during the Jacobite Rebellion of the “Old Pretender” . Led by the Earl of Mar, it was an attempt to restore the exiled James Stuart, the “Old Pretender”, to the throne. The vessels HMS Worcester, HMS Flamborough, and HMS Enterprise bombarded the castle on 10-11th May 1715, succeed in capturing it from the mixed Spanish and Scottish defenders and then used 27 barrels of captured gunpowder to demolish it, or at least render it beyond military use. This historical narrative is colourfully played out at a modest level in the entrance exhibition and is sufficient to give the visitor a reasonably clear understanding of the timeline of the building and the people associated with it. The sequence of architectural development is complex and not entirely understood so presents a challenge to the visitor but in brief the building starts as a curtained walled structure in the 13th century, then contracts into a more compact plan of connected buildings in the 15th century and then develops a “horn-work” or projecting bastion to the east in the 16th century. A number of small physical models are presented, scattered through the building showing it at various stages of these evolutions and one wonders whether more could not have been made of these to make the evolutionary sequence more apparent. img_9091-models-small-banner

The early twentieth century rebuilding after the castle had lain ruined for two hundred years owes more to the romantic sensibilities of late Victorian and early Edwardian architects drawing on interpretations such as those of MacGibbon and Ross in their “Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland” in the late 19th century than on archaeological authenticity. The interior of the principal apartments (where no photography is allowed) is entirely a stage set of baronial pretension, random rubble walls, well-formed oak beams resting on corbels, a plethora of window seats and sitting places concealed in the massively deep window reveals and tortuous winding stairs and passages. The latter are of interest in that on the piano nobile (if one can describe the upper floor with the family rooms as such here) there is a clever attempt at separating servant access from family access, all the more so because of the very tight planning and spatial constraints.


Externally the complex interpenetrating massing creates a series of interlinked external spaces which appear to be designed to take full advantage of the southern aspect of the site, looking over Kyle Rhea. Even on a chilly autumn day the sun-traps created invite the visitor to linger and reflect both outwards towards the seascape and inwards towards the buildings and this is perhaps the most memorable and persuasive aspect of the visit, the building itself in its seascape.

Posted in Arts & Crafts Architecture, Jacobean Architecture, Medieval, Military Architecture, Projection Mapping | Leave a comment