It has to count as the best thing I’ve pulled out of a skip: a piece of Irish limestone, a slab about three feet by one foot by three inches thick. There are no rough surfaces – it’s sawn on six sides – though there are a few chipped edges. Admittedly this is high-end skip-diving, at a monumental mason’s yard, having asked for permission to go through their offcuts – plenty of broken marble and Portland, but only one piece of Kilkenny. It takes a fair amount of shifting of the overburden to reach it, the single pale grey corner that initially caught my eye gradually increasing in size as I get closer. I have to gradually walk it up the spoil to get it out. I can just about lift it. It’s not a perfect rectangle, one of the ends is at a slant and there is a vent along one side, presumably the reason why it was discarded in the first place. Otherwise it’s a good find.
(I wrote this post last year and have updated it accordingly)
A significant piece of Romanesque sculpture, moved from East Teignmouth church in the 1820s to the garden of a house in Dawlish, Devon, is still missing.
This was it in November 2011 when I visited to research an article, published in last year’s Transactions of the Devonshire Association.* The twelfth-century tympanum, originally above the north door at St Michael’s, East Teignmouth, had occupied this position in the grounds of Shell Cove House in Dawlish since the early 1820s. During the first wave of restoration of the medieval church, between 1821 and 1823, the sculpture was moved here by the Reverend Charles Phillot, curate of the church from 1811 and developer of the house (then known as Clevelands). (more…)
There are two signs tucked into the hedge at the side of the A356. One says Toller Fratrum, the other indicates that the road that will take us there is a dead end. We turn left onto a single-track lane bounded on each side by a wire and post fence and bump along into the gentle valley, underneath a railway bridge and over a narrow river, then up the other side. I’d heard that the manor house had burnt down and here it is, where the road ends in mud, cloaked in scaffolding, emitting occasional groans and squeaks as the wind catches in its roof of plastic sheeting. Adjacent and serene is the church of St Basil, the path to it through the churchyard lit by daffodils. It is a simple building with a commanding view across soft, pale green hills fringed with smudges of trees. (more…)
I’m out on the north-westerly tip of Devon at Hartland. At Hartland Point grey cliffs erupt from white water hundreds of feet below, monumental sections of slate themselves folded into waves, syncline and anticline, by earth movements millions of years ago. Look west and it’s an uninterrupted view towards America. The tower of the church of St Nectan at East Stoke, inland by about a mile and the tallest in North Devon at around 130ft, is swallowed up by the vast sky. (more…)
Most of the medieval sculpture we see today is incomplete. This is because it has often lost its surface finish of bright colour – paint and gilding – which was perhaps the most important aspect of the work in the eyes of our medieval ancestors.
Our expectation of sculpture today is that the viewer should be able to see the primary material out of which it is made. This derives from a post-medieval (specifically eighteenth- and nineteenth-century) attitude that valued ‘truth to materials’ above all else. By contrast, in the Middle Ages, viewers did not consider the interior, primary material to be the true form, but rather the exterior polychrome layers.
Dead Man’s Bay, Dark Ashburton, Fossil Clouded Petitor, Plymouth Black, Pomphlett, Devon Siena, Prince Rock, Little Beltor Pink, Red Ogwell. The names are as diverse as the colours and textures of the stone to which they refer: Devon marble. Not a true marble, it’s quarrying and working was nevertheless an important aspect of the Devon economy throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (more…)
The medieval carvings known as the ‘Green Man’ – a face from whose mouth grow leaves and branches – are as a much a story of the twentieth century as they are of the fourteenth or fifteenth. This is because they were invented in 1939. The woman who invented them, by giving them the name, was Julia Somerset, who, under her official title of Lady Raglan wrote the first article on the subject. This is the starting point for our understanding of an image that has since become almost impossible to interpret or even define. (more…)