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.
‘Close to the sea, but sheltered from it by a bluff’ wrote Nikolaus Pevsner in 1951 in his trademark terse prose. Such understatement does little to introduce this building, the church of St Winwalloe at Gunwalloe on the west coast of the Lizard Peninsula. It is fortunate that the volume’s later contributing author, Peter Beacham, editing and updating it in 2014, adds exactly what Pevsner had missed but what appears obvious to even the most casual visitor. ‘Even for Cornwall’, the sentence now begins, ‘an especially romantic site for a church, on its own on the edge of a sandy cove but sheltered from the sea by a bluff’. Without this giant rock and its attendant spikes of slate to break the waves I doubt the building would last much more than one Cornish winter. ‘So close is the building to the shore’ wrote the vicar in 1870, ‘that the waves have frequently broken away the walls of the churchyard’. A neatly-lettered sign hangs above the door in the porch: St Winwaloe, it says (one ‘l’), The Church of the Storms. (more…)
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…)
I’d heard about the late medieval sculpture that exists in a handful of churches in North Cornwall but until recently hadn’t seen any of it first hand. Because of the excellent North Cornwall Book Festival at St Endellion over the weekend I had the opportunity to combine my love of books and writing with my love of Gothic stone carving, clearly a win-win situation. When the church was empty one afternoon (it was great to see it used as a performance venue for the speakers and musicians, as well as hosting an exhibition and printmaking workshops) I was able to take a closer look. (more…)