Projection Mapping and Medieval Virtual Reality

PJ Banner 2Over the past couple of months we’ve been examining a range of delivery methods for historic building reconstruction visualisations beyond apps and on-screen video fly-throughs, in particular for museum and exhibition settings. A couple of techniques have been of particular interest, projection mapping and VR headsets. Projection mapping also known as video mapping and spatial augmented reality is not a new technique, it’s been used widely for projecting images and particularly polychromy reconstructions onto real buildings at 1:1 scale for some time. However as far as we can determine it’s been little used in conjunction with 3D printed heritage exhibition models, which is something we thought would be worth exploring. Our intern Romylos created a polychrome reconstruction of the internal south wall of the nave of the St. Mary of Annunciation 3D printed model we made last year for the De Montfort University Heritage Centre to try out the technique. With the assistance of collages at the Heritage Centre Romylos carried out some tests, in situ in the exhibition with a micro-projector to see what the projected polychrome elevation would look like and examine the practical issues of this kind of projection within a live exhibition setting. In low light conditions the overall effect was remarkably effective with an ability to switch easily between alternative polychrome reconstructions within the same 3D printed model. It’s also possible to project video instead of still images and animate the projected surfaces which has a number of narrative possibilities. At a technical level beam divergence does not appear to be a significant issue on sectional models like this where the variation in projection plane is relatively small, nor does transmission loss or diffraction through a layer of 5mm Perspex case cause any noticeably deleterious effects, though focus has to be precise, and the flatter the sectional model the better. Of greater issue are foreground obstructions within the model itself which if not accounted for the in the composition of the projected image will, when illuminated have the wrong surface image and will cast a shadow behind them (e.g. see the tombs and altar to left of model in the image above). Overcoming this requires careful thought in designing the model and the projected images together so that complement one another.

VR headset banner 1 smallFor the same reconstructed church we’ve also been using a Samsung Gear VR headset, to create 3D virtual interiors. It uses a Samsung Galaxy S6 Flat 128 GB SIM-Free Smartphone to deliver the sphere photo / render of the 3D environment and you can have a connected series of locations which you can navigate through using a slider on the side of the set. This is a relatively low cost, accessible and well-understood way for users to engage with VR and delivers a remarkably convincing immersive experience for the cost. The key factor in the experience beyond the content of the image is the screen resolution of the phone, the Galaxy S6 has a screen resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels (~577 ppi pixel density) which is good by current mobile phone standards, but you’re still conscious that you’re looking at a digital image because although they are small, the pixels are still detectable. It’s very likely that continuing improvements in phone screen resolution will overcome this in the next couple of years just as flat screen technology has done in other applications. As it stands, it’s the immersive 360 degree real-time interaction with the virtual environment which is a significant attraction to users and consequently for heritage visitor experiences that are considering adopting it. From being a novel technology 3-4 years ago, with prices to match VR headsets are now rapidly approaching something that could be described as mainstream, and the technologies comprising its immediate on-site use are becoming much more integrated and mature. Given this we are looking carefully at the methodological and epistemological issues which bear upon how and why to employ these technologies for presenting and understanding heritage buildings, what effects the technology may have upon that understanding and whether other alternatives may be more appropriate in certain circumstances. In particular we are interested in the institutional, museological, operational and interprative advantages that hybridised approaches using both tangible exhibits like 3D printed models and digital assets like 3D VR interiors can bring to heritage interpretation.

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Architecture Students Study Heritage in Malta

Banner 1 smallThis month (January 2016) De Montfort University architecture students specialising in Digital Building Heritage spent a week on an overseas study trip to Malta. Based in Vittoriosa the oldest part of the historic Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, the field trip was an opportunity to explore the architecture and history of a well preserved medieval urban fabric and the profusion of baroque churches palazzos and streets both here and across the bay in Valetta. Fortunately the weather was very good, sunny with outdoor temperatures of 18 degrees centigrade which encouraged extensive exploration on foot. This is one of the great advantages of the City of Valetta and the Three Cities, everything is very walkable, even the water taxi/ferry between Cospicua and Valetta only takes ten minutes. The students will be working on architectural designs to adaptively re-use sites and derelict buildings in Vittoriosa over the next five months with all of their  schemes addressing present day social and economic needs in the area. In order to better undertsand the complex cultural and phyiscal context they were exploring they visited a number of historic sites with heritage presentation facilities; the maritime museum, the inquisitors palace, the archaeology museum and the Palazzo Rocca Piccola. This latter was one of the high points of the visit, a private Palazzo, still in use and completely furnished. We are most grateful to Frances Elizabeth the 9th Marquise de Piro for providing Victoria, our marvellous guide and for saying hello to us.

Banner 2Of course another high point of a visit to Valetta is the remarkable St. John’s Co-Cathedral, established, like Valetta itself by the Knights of St. John with donations from 16th and 17th century aristocrats from all over Europe. Attracting highly talented artists (including Caravaggio) the Co-Catherdal is an extraordinarily exuberant example of the baroque (on the interior – the exterior is plain), housing chapels for the eight Langues of the Knights of St. John as well the tombs of the Grand Masters, vast ceiling and wall paintings by Mattia Preti, the largest collegion of Flemish tapestries in the world as well as fine collections of church silver and vestments. The sheer richness of the interior, the density of art, sculpture, architectural enrichment and artefacts is breathtaking.

Banner 3 smallValetta was a planned city, established by the Knights after their heroic and successful defense of the Three Cities during the Great Siege against the Ottoman Turks. Fortifications are everywhere, built by the knights and then later added to and adapted by the British Navy for whom Valetta and the Great Harbour was the home base of the Mediterranean fleet for nearly 200 years. This produces an architecturally fascinating topography, great defensive ditches and walls criss-cross the urban landscape, punctuated by star-forts, bastions and batteries all interwoven around a complex of peninsulas and harbours. As such Vittoriosa and the three cities is changing, for some time economically depressed, it has in recent years been undergoing a transformation with European Union investment in roads, infrastructure, tourism and conservation. Recently twinned with St. Tropez, Vittoriosa has the feel of a historic city in transition, shaping a new future for itself. Adapting and re-using historic buildings and sites in such a way that the uniqueness of its physical fabric and its lively and colourful culture is preserved for future generations has to be the most important guiding principle of any new development. De Montfort University’s architecture students were deeply impressed with the need for this approach and the insights this UNESCO World Heritage Site brings to their education.

Vissoriaso Waterfront from Senglea (small)

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3D Printing Architectural Models in ABS

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For the past six years we’ve been making architectural models using our Z-Corp 420 and 650 3D printers which use resin boned powdered gypsum as the build material which are then treated with a hardener. This produces fine white, exhibition quality architectural models but the process can be laborious, time-consuming and the models, like all plaster models will break if you drop them. We’ve also made models in ABS using our Dimension SST 1200 FDM machine which requires a support material and we’ve made paper models using our MCor. Recently we’ve been experimenting with Makerbot 3D Printers, printing with 1.7mm ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) extruding at about 225 degrees C that doesn’t require support materials. We had our Makerbot supplier John E Wright in Nottingham print a sample model for us on the latest Makerbot Replicator Z18 to evaluate the finish and usability of its output, using an STL file digital model of a 17th century design by Nicholas Hawksmoor which we made a few years ago. The results have been encouraging and we think this process is particularly good for architecture students where robust and cheap 3D models are needed in design development and sometimes for mechanical parts. It’s also ideal for product design, interior design and museum exhibition design students.

For our purposes in Digital Building Heritage ABS as a material is useful because it’s durable and inert, it’s also soluble in acetone allowing us to weld parts together and assemble much larger models than the admittedly large bed of the printer can accommodate (305L x 305W x 457H build chamber). ABS is much more easily recyclable than PLA and it’s inexpensive, very much less expensive than the Z-Corp print powder we use. ABS is also tough, you can drop it, saw, sand and file it, and overall it’s ideal for our postgraduate students making models of historic buildings and their interiors. On the downside, even with an ABS filament size of 1.7mm, the striations on the finished models are visible but we feel that a little time hand finishing, filling and smoothing where necessary can overcome this. We have considered PLA as an alternative thermoplastic material (it’s made using plant by products) and the Z18 will use it, but its main disadvantage for us is its low deformation point (it can deform in temperatures as low as 40 deg C, a house radiator can be at 60 deg C), so we wouldn’t want to take the risk in say an exhibition setting where a cased, highly illuminated model can get quite warm. We think our results have been encouraging and we’ll be looking to explore the potential of this low-cost form of 3D printing for a number of uses.

SJM Model 5 Banner

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Bradgate House Digital Reconstruction

Bradgate House BookletArchitecture students at De Montfort University are in the process of developing a digital reconstruction of Bradgate House in Leicestershire. This important early Tudor manor house (actually a minor palace by Tudor standards) has a complex architectural past, with several phases of building and the documented re-use of even earlier thirteenth century timber framed buildings brought from Derbyshire. Careful study of the documentary and archaeological evidence as well as the extant ruins and more complete examples of buildings from the same period elsewhere in the midlands have allowed a structured, evidence based reconstruction that starts to tell a rather more interesting story about the house’s past than has perhaps been fully realised. The existing ruins of the house were laser scanned using the latest techniques to create a very detailed digital data set of their physical form. This was the basis of the reconstruction using computer aided design techniques and through showing small changes in alignment and shape of walls and rooms has suggested new ideas about the sequence of construction and the reasons for changes during the long evolution of the building. Of particular interest is the relationship that the designs of Bradgate House have had to the wider development of early Tudor palace and manor house building in the first half of the sixteenth century in England, and the influence that renaissance ideas from France, the low countries and Italy had upon ideas about how English aristocrats should live and the houses they should build for themselves. The work that the De Montfort University architecture students are doing is helping to test some of those ideas by giving them physical form and examining how well understood design processes used by master builders and patrons elsewhere in the period may have been used at Bradgate and to what extent they may have been modified and / or adapted to cope with changes in the circumstances and finances of the Grey Family who owned Bradgate Park and built Bradgate House.

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Lutyens and the Leicester Arch of Remembrance

Leicester Arch (Small)The 11th November 2015 marks the anniversary of the signing of the armistice which brought the First World War to an end in 1918. In a timely act of governance the UK the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport The Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP has listed or had the existing listings upgraded of all 44 of Sir Edwin Lutyens’s war memorials in the UK. This is a long overdue measure of protection to some of the finest architecture and memorial sculpture in the world. We are very fortunate to have one of the best (and largest) of these memorials here in the City of Leicester in the form of the Arch of Remembrance in Victoria Park, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to commemorate the nearly 10,000 men of the city and county who fell in the Great War. It was unveiled on 3rd July 1925 after a long campaign of fund-raising and changes of potential site. It’s a remarkable demonstration of what has been described as “Stripped Classism”, a style of architecture which Lutyens made his own and perfectly reflected the sense of loss and emptiness felt by British society in the years after 1918. But Lutyens was more than just a memorialist, he was a profoundly gifted and ingenious designer, obsessed with puzzles and blessed with a fertile and mathematically inclined mind as well as an artist’s eye. For many years after his death in 1945, it was widely understood that he had used mathematical methods and proportional systems of great complexity and intricacy to create his architecture, including his war memorials but no-one knew, in detail, what these actually were. In 2008 the late Professor Dennis Radford and me (Douglas Cawthorne) of the Digital Building Heritage Group at De Montfort University published the first in-depth analysis of Lutyens’s mathematics and geometrical methods using Leicester’s Arch of Remembrance as a case study, in a paper in the journal ARQ called – Unlocking Lutyens: A Gateway to the Hidden Legacy of John Pell and Sir Christopher Wren. Through careful analysis and computer modelling we were able to show precisely how Lutyens used an elegantly simple numerical and geometrical system to achieve a beautifully balanced design which was redolent with inbuilt symbolism and connections to antiquity, in particular the temple of Janus in Rome. The magazine Leicestershire and Rutland life was kind enough to allow us to draw their readers’ attention to these observations about the Arch’s connections to antiquity in their December 2007 edition. In a two page article for the first time I noted the solar alignment of Lutyens’s Arch of Remembrance but regrettably the editors could not find space to show the photos of it. Sunrise at Leicester War Memorial Banner (Small)A couple of years ago I was talking with someone who said to me that they’d heard that this alignment was just an urban myth and of course I realised it was my fault, I’d neglected to publish any confirmatory evidence on this aspect of the Arch. So here’s some for you to mull over (see above), both were images taken just after sunrise on 11th November 2007. It was in that year (2007) that I’d first accurately measured and photographed this remarkable solar alignment and on a couple years after this I have been back to Leicester’s Arch at sunrise (07:18-32 am GMT) on the 11th November, long before any of the crowds arrive for the memorial services to watch the sun burst above the horizon and shine directly down the main axis of the Leicester Arch. When the weather permits (and this sadly infrequent) it’s a deeply moving experience, eerily still and life affirming, with the light of a new dawn casting long shadows down Lancaster Road and Peace Walk.  But I hear you say, the sunburst is actually slightly out of alignment! Well the reason as you will quickly see, is that the trees on the south side of Victoria Park in Leicester were either absent or much smaller in 1925 and so the effective horizon was lower than it is today. Trees and possibly buildings have increased the vertical distance from the horizontal of the effective horizon since then, actual rather than astronomical sunrise is delayed very slightly now from what it would have been then by about 4 minutes and just over 2 degrees of azimuth (horizontal distance – in this case West – to the right of the image). The Arch was aligned with sunrise on the 11th of November which anyone could have seen from the site in 1925. Today I do not think the 2 degree difference makes that much difference to the overall effect but I could be wrong. Maybe if the trees could be “pruned” we could find out for sure! In any event I like to think of Sir Edwin, standing in a long coat against the morning chill with pipe in mouth and pocket book in hand, quietly noting this unique aspect of the site, the only place in the city where it could occur. I also like to think it’s why he picked it and I’m delighted that this and his other WW1 memorials now enjoy the protection they deserve and that future generations will continue to be moved by their form, beauty, detail and meaning.Wreath Colour Small

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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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The Newarke in Roman Leicester

R2 smallHere in Leicester UK we are fortunate in having a rich urban history, not least of which is the establishment of the city by the Romans in the 2nd century AD. Ratae Corieltauvorum as it was known was founded on the site of Iron Age settlement where the Roman Fosse Way connecting Lincoln and Exeter crossed the river Soar. Currently the Digital Building Heritage Group is working on a 3D digitally animated reconstruction of several key periods of Leicester History, focussing on the area called The Newarke where De Montfort University now has its campus including what it looked like in during the Roman period. The Newarke lay outside the Roman walls of the city and in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD was largely agricultural with some light industry / crafts like brick and tile making, a cemetery lining the road to the south gate and small trading craft plying the River Soar taking goods to and from the wharfs below the city walls on the river bank. The general layout of the city was as one might expect on grid and the city was surrounded by a stone wall with an embankment on the inside and ditches on the outside.Passing to the north of the Newark was a man-made water-course part of which still survives in a set of embankments called the Rawdykes. It seems likely that this supplied the city with fresh water and in particular the two Roman baths, one at Bath Lane near the river and the other much larger one at Jewry wall. How the water was directed past the high walls into the city is unclear but we have shown a water-wheel lift outside the walls to lift it up and over. This is not the only possibility but given the current evidence available is an option which would have been feasible.D4 smallBelow is a 1567 Latin edition of the 1st century AD Roman author Vitruvius’s book De Architectura published by Francesco De Franceschi and illustrated by the architect Andrea Palladio where Vitruvius describes in detail several types of water-lift including Archimedean screws. The knowledge of how to build these machines would have been widespread in the Roman world as water-lifting was common in mines, agriculture and other industrial processes as well as for domestic supply. They were often powered by slaves.vitruvius_screw_1567_p348 small

 

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Mobile Device Apps for Community Archaeology

Apps Banner (small)As part of the final output of our Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Grant AHL0132901 on the 29th June 2015 we released two new mobile device apps for community archaeologists. De Montfort University’s Digital Building Heritage Group has been collaborating with colleagues at the departments of archaeology at the University of Durham (Co-Investigator Dr David Petts) and the University of Nottingham (Co-Investigator Dr Chris King) and two community heritage groups, The Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland (Arc & Arc) and the Southwell Community Archaeology Group (SCAG) in this AHRC funded project. The objective has been to create two new, prototype mobile device apps which allow finds and other information to be uploaded by users to 3D representations of archaeological and historical sites and then explored in an intuitive way. The idea behind this was to give community heritage groups greater opportunities to interpret their own finds and present them in a way which would allow these groups to shape the stories about the archaeology they were involved with.

Binchester Banner #1There are two key new concepts in these prototype apps which make them different from other data-base archaeology apps that are available and which make a significant advance in the functionality and use-ability of apps on archaeological sites for heritage interpretation.

The first is the ability for registered users to upload finds data to an on-line Content Management System (CMS). This is done over the internet using a normal web-browser. Information about finds and the archaeology to upload can be text, images, video and audio. These finds data can be geo-located in three dimensions using a graphic x,y,z slider bar system in the app to very precise points in 3D on the archaeological site by the user during the upload. By pressing an update button on the app screen, the new finds data will be uploaded from the server and become clickable hot-spots in the app on the iPAD which will show the finds data in a new screen and also signal that there is new data for existing hot-spots. The hot spots move with the 3D model of the building as you rotate it around. There is also a Google Map view which allows you see the hot-spots in 2D in map form which is good for very large sites.

The second innovation in these apps is the use of 3D reconstructions of the buildings associated with the finds and the way they are presented. The hot-spots appear in three dimensions in the buildings. In order to reveal ones inside structures or in walls and floors or underground there is a clever section slider which allows the user to see inside the buildings and their walls and floors. In this way it really is like digging down and through the building to reveal the locations of finds so that you can click on them.

Why are this these innovations important? Public interest in archaeology has been increasingly rapidly in the UK and both professional and community archaeologists find it useful to present their work to public audiences, often on site, to show how exciting finds can inform the understanding of the communities and landscapes where we live. Presenting individual artefacts can help bring the past back to life but complex archaeological sites, with many artefacts, trenches, masonry, test pits and piles of earth can often make the ancient buildings in and around which they are found difficult to visualise for the non-expert. Furthermore recent finds are often processed and stored off-site and may not be available to the visitor so the connection between the artefact, the meaning behind where it was found and the process of archaeology may not be immediately self-evident. The prototype apps which we have co-produced with our academic and community heritage partners are intended to demonstrate a paradigm for presenting data and metadata about archaeological sites and ancient buildings in a way that meaningfully addresses these issues. It is now up to our community heritage partners to upload data to the apps and experiment with them to see how they work in practice, and how the concepts and ideas behind them may be improved in future.

The apps are free to download from Apple’s App Store and at present are available for Apple’s iPad only. Search for “Binchester” and for “Southwell” in the App Store.

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3D Printing a Medieval Chantry Chapel

StMary_02 smallIt’s easy to forget that some of the most long-lived and durable assets in heritage interpretation are traditional physical models. Architectural models have long been used to convey the appearance, spatial sequences, structure and other aspects of buildings and they can become historic artefacts in their own right, just as historic buildings do in reality. There’s a fine collection of gorgeous historic architectural models going back to the 17th century at the V&A RIBA gallery in London for example. A physical model has tangibility and permanence, aspects which give them a trusted place in museums and have ensured their popularity and longevity. However digital technologies do have an important role to play in making the next generation of architectural heritage models using 3D printing. With 3D printing architectural models can now be produced as part of a range of outputs (including digital only assets like flythroughs and mobile device apps) from the mainstream 3D digital documentation and CAD modelling process. What hasn’t changed is the high level of skill and craftsmanship at all the stages of the design and production process that’s required to make really good 3D printed models.

StMary_Banner #1 smallThe Digital Building Heritage Group has for a number of years been producing 3D printed architectural models for heritage interpretation and exhibition. Recently we were asked to produce a relatively large and very detailed 3D printed sectional model of the Collegiate Church of the Blessed Virgin of St Mary of the Annunciation in the Newarke for De Montfort University’s new heritage centre, a now lost historic royal chantry chapel which’ve blogged about before here. The model had to be sectional (down its long axis) so that visitors to the heritage centre could see the interior of the church and it had to be relatively large (0.5m / 1.6ft long and the same height) in order to adequately convey the architectural detail. The overall form of the church was pieced together digitally in 3D from available evidence using a quality control and authentication process which we recently presented at the Computer Applications in Archaeology 2015 (CAA2015) conference in Sienna in April this year. It then went through a preparation process where it was engineered to minimise the amount of material required and allow accurate jointing of its various components. The finished model is made out of resin bonded powdered gypsum with many of the detailed parts produced in 3D printed nylon. Presented in a custom made acrylic case with an American white oak base, we hope this model will be a useful and attractive asset in De Montfort University’s new Heritage Centre which will help to better explain an important, lost medieval building from the beginning of the University’s history.

 

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Archaeology at Bradgate House

Left – Roofing slate from the un-stratified demolition rubble on the “stables” site at Bradgate House. Right -Dr Douglas Cawthorne, De Montfort University and Dr Richard Thomas, University of Leicester.

Left – Roofing slate from the un-stratified demolition rubble in Trench 6 at Bradgate House. Right -Dr Douglas Cawthorne, De Montfort University and Dr Richard Thomas, University of Leicester.

It was a pleasure to be invited by Dr Richard Thomas of the University of Leicester’s (UoL) School of Archaeology and Ancient History to their site at Bradgate House in Leicestershire this week to have a preliminary look at the evidence for buildings emerging from his team’s excavations there. UoL have embarked on the first of five season’s planned archaeological exploration in Bradgate Park and Bradgate House to investigate a range of sites and features ranging from the Palaeolithic to the Early Modern. Of particular interest to the Digital Building Heritage Group is the possibility that Dr Thomas and his team could turn up new evidence for now lost buildings which appear in several historic documents associated with Bradgate House and which have links to events in its history. An example is a building recorded by Leonard Knyff and Jan Kip, two Dutch draftsmen and engravers who in 1707 published in London their “Britannia Illustrata: Or Views of Several of the Queens Palaces, as Also of the Principal seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain, Curiously Engraven on 80 Copper Plates.” The volume is among the most important English topographical publications of the 18th century and shows a number of now lost or much altered great houses as they were at the beginning of the eighteenth century, often using the then recently developed method of the aerial perspective.

Left – Thomas Grey, 2nd Earl of Stamford PC (c. 1654 – 1720) master of Bradgate House. Right – Bradgate House in Leonard Knyff and Jan Kip’s, “Britannia Illustrata: Or Views of Several of the Queens Palaces, as Also of the Principal seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain, Curiously Engraven on 80 Copper Plates”, London 1709. The unknown building is outlined in red.

Left – Thomas Grey, 2nd Earl of Stamford PC (c. 1654 – 1720) master of Bradgate House. Right – Bradgate House in Leonard Knyff and Jan Kip’s, “Britannia Illustrata: Or Views of Several of the Queens Palaces, as Also of the Principal seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain, Curiously Engraven on 80 Copper Plates”, London 1709. The unknown building is outlined in red.

One of these engravings is of Bradgate House (see above) and in addition to the easily recognisable main house itself it clearly shows a very large additional building of two and half stories behind it. This mystery building is of a considerable size, possibly even bigger than the main hall itself. Looking at the fenestration and storey heights it could be up to fifty meters long and appears to have a central aedicule or entrance porch. It appears to be south east of the main house but its exact distance from it is unclear. Whether it is north or south of the road which runs past Bradgate House cannot be determined from the drawing but there appear to be smaller, possibly single storied, pitched roof buildings between it and wall of the garden or orchard to the north of it. There are a number of possible candidate buildings available from the historical record, one of the most interesting is a large stable block that was reported to have been built in advance of the visit of King William III In 1696 and was designed to accommodate 100 horses. Andrew Bloxham in “A Description of Bradgate Park and the Adjacent County” (1829) notes that these stables “…were erected in the short space of nineteen days … [and] … are built in a very massive and substantial manner; they serve at the present time as shelter for the deer in the winter, and during the summer months, when numerous parties visit the place, as receptacles for their horses“.

On first inspection one might look at the building in Knyff and Kip’s engraving and quickly assume that it does not look like a stable building, it looks far too elaborate, more like the central façade of a great house of the period. But this would be to misunderstand the role of stables and their architecture in the social status of the aristocracy of the period. Horses were an ultimate status symbol of power and prestige, the nobility would celebrate their wealth by ownership and their expertise in horsemanship by creating lavish accommodation for their household’s horses. Excellent examples of this exist not least by the Smythsons, a famous family of early English architects. John Smysthon (d. 1634), son of Robert Smythson (1535 – 1614), designed a riding school in 1622 and new stables in 1625 at Wellbeck Abbey, about sixty miles north of Bradgate and a few years later at nearby Bolsover Castle William Cavendish (Duke of Newcastle) had John’s eldest son, Huntingdon Smythson (d. 1648), design and build an elaborate range of stable buildings in the 1630’s including an indoor riding school and farriers to accommodate, train and show off his horses. The stable building for Wellbeck Abbey is not dissimilar in size and overall form (2–2½ storeys and a central entrance) to the building shown in Knyff and Kip’s engraving, although as one would expect after 70 years of architectural development in England the ornamental enrichment is somewhat different.

Left - A 1622-25 design for a stable building and riding house at Wellbeck Abbey by John Smythson. Right – Riding School and stables at Bolsover castle designed by Huntingdon Smythson.

Left – A 1622-25 design for a stable building and riding house at Wellbeck Abbey by John Smythson. Right – Riding School and stables at Bolsover castle designed by Huntingdon Smythson.

A tradition of elaborate and large stable buildings was therefore well established in England at least seventy years before William III’s visit to Bradgate House in 1696 and it is conceivable that the same motivations exhibited by Cavendish at Bolsover and Wellbeck drove Thomas Grey, 2nd Earl of Stamford (c. 1654 – 1720) to invest very heavily in an impressive status building like a stables and other alterations to his house to impress King William III in order to gain political favour. King William III had made him a Privy Counsellor in 1694 when he ascended the English throne and then made Grey Lord Lieutenant of Devon in 1696 – the year of his visit to Bradgate. Later in 1697 Grey became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1697 and King William appointed him President of the Board of Trade in 1699, a highly lucrative position. So there is clear circumstantial evidence for Thomas Grey’s wish to curry favour from King William and a demonstration of his erudition and wealth through architectural patronage would have been one method of doing so.

Apart from the Knyff and Kip engraving there is as far as we know to date only one other pictorial representation of Bradgate House before it was finally abandoned and fell into ruin and that is a 1746 estate map drawn by Nicholas Kiddiar. Amongst other structures on the estate it shows a small two-story building occupying a very roughly level site immediately between the south side of Bradgate House and the road, roughly where the mystery building in the Knyff and Kip engraving appears to be. The function of this building remains unknown, it could be stables, or another possibility is that the building shown in Kiddiar’s map is a kennels, which are noted in 1790 by Nicholas Throsby in his “Supplementary Volume to the Leicestershire Views, containing a Series of Excursions to the Villages and Places of Note in that County.” Clearly there was something on this site, possibly a sequence of buildings and it is in fact one of the sites in Bradgate Park which Dr Thomas and his colleagues are digging (see images below). During our visit we looked closely at what was emerging on this site. There is evidence for paved / cobbled surfaces, well-formed drainage channels on the south of the structure, masonry and lath and plaster walls and large amounts of demolition rubble including lime plaster and mortar (see below) and Swithland slate roof tiles (see above) and a stirrup. All of this is consistent with stables buildings but does not exclude other possible building types. It is hoped that as excavations progress, the size, extent and possible layout of the structure will become clearer so that we can see whether or not it bears any relationship to the clues in the documentary evidence. We remain open to the possibility that if the great stables building of 1696 do exist, they may be elsewhere, perhaps further to the south on the other side of the road and the river. Bradgate Banner #1

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