I visited Lincoln Cathedral on the way back from installing a foundation near Liverpool, as I knew there were lots of medieval carvings here. I think this is a really amazing building, made from Lincolnshire Limestone, with some Purbeck marble here and there in the columns. The masons worked on this from 1088-1092, quite a feat and it is thought that £5,000,000/year in today’s money was spent on this. In For 238 years (1311–1549) it was the tallest building in the world until the spire fell in 1549. In 1141 the roof was destroyed in a fire and the building was substantially rebuilt and then in 1185 a large earthquake destroyed all but the Norman west facade, which is amazing, covered in fine carving. As a stonemason and carver I am always drawn to the details after the initial reaction to the structure and scale of buildings like this. The workmanship in the relief carvings is amazing and mind-blowing. The vaulting on the earlier part of the cieling is interesting too, quite experimental, breaking new ground in a somewhat haphazard way it seems, they worked it out better in the later additions, and after various disasters on the way (towers falling down and the like!). At one point the actual Diocese of Lincoln stretched from the Humber to the Thames, and there are seats in the choir area reserved for the vicar of ‘Leighton Bosord’ (Leighton Buzzard, near Luton) for example. The guide that took us around said that to those that saw this cathedral, painted white, gleaming on the hill, would have been so in awe of it – remember that the tallest thing they will have seen prior to seeing this would have been a large oak tree! Enjoy the pictures, some may take a while to load as they’re high res.
Having installed work in Oxford last week, me and my assistant Dan visited Coventry Cathedral on the way to another job in Liverpool. The cathedral is a place I have wanted to visit for years, primarily to see the lettering work there designed and cut by Ralph Beyer and his assistant Michael Watson. The current Cathedral was designed by Sir Basil Spense and built between 1955-62. It is situated right next to the medieval cathedral that was bombed in 1940. The first few photographs below (apologies for the quality, they were taken on my phone) show Ralph’s ‘Tablets of the Word’ which are White Hollington Sandstone (as opposed to the red of the exterior) measuring 15 feet wide x 6 feet tall.
There is a lot of debate about the quality of workmanship of these tablets. I have met Ralph and been to talks by him and I am still somewhat undecided. It is clear from these tablets that the design and layout are very free, and that is refreshing, and it is clear that the carving is far from perfect. From my formally trained point of view, with my makers eye they seem poorly carved and there is little consistency regarding the spacing and quality of line and depth of cut. However, I find them very powerful. Whenever I see Ralph’s work I find it challenges me. On one level I find myself reacting along the lines of “well, the spacing is shocking and the carving timid, inconsistent and poorly executed” and yet in a way this adds to their humanity. We are not perfect. I naturally carve quite deeply myself and am always striving to achieve a sharp definite outline and flow to my lettering, with no ambiguity. Had I carved these I wonder would they have been too overpowering, is the feeling of frailty in the making of these almost a strength. I am always in two minds about this with Ralph’s inscriptions, and yet having seen them in the flesh and stood on the concrete seating below (sorry!) to have a really good look up close (see below) I still come away feeling that they are moving despite the way they are carved. Are they rubbish or are they brilliant? On the whole I like the freedom in the design and the simplicity of the linear carvings, and like the overall ‘feel’ of them but the carving does bother me a bit if I’m honest, I can’t help that. I am really keen on them though. I know that Spense encouraged Ralph to make the lettering bigger and bolder after seeing initial drawings, and Ralph reluctantly did this, initially at least. Ralph says of the inscriptions that he wished “to evolve letter-forms and symbols in the language of the art of this century. To give letters, words, sentences a fresh vitality, greater force, and to express their meaning with the utmost urgency”. He was a modernist, in a way rebelling against the arts and crafts style, there are no intricate flourishes here, and yet we know he was inspired by the ‘naive’ early Christian graffiti in the Roman catacombs which had interested his historian father. I think these carvings work in an almost emotional way, despite my critical makers eye.
There are other works here by Ralph, a mixture of inscriptions and metal lettering set into the floor. See below for more pictures of these. It is interesting to me that there is a lot more ‘definition’ in Ralph’s floor pieces here, as the outline of the metal cannot be ambiguous in the way it is on some of the inscriptions. The two materials create a starker contrast. I particularly like the smaller stainless steel letters.
I’ve been carving another bas-relief anglel in Woodkirk stone. It is in quite bold relief as my client wanted it be be as statuesque as possible. Here’s a quick video and a few pictures. It was fun. It will be installed in a couple of weeks time, in Thrandeston, near Diss, but over the border into Suffolk.
I recently installed a headstone in Oulton churchyard, near Blickling in Norfolk. I found some reather nice plaques in the floor – nothing particularly unusual but really nice lettering, There are a lot of these dark plaques in church floors, and you might think they are slate on first impressions but it is some kind of limestone. It reminds me of Kilkenny limestone or Frosterley ‘marble’ and also Belgian Black. If anyone knows let me know! I love the lettering on these:
I also saw a really old brass plaque from the mid-late 17th century. I love seeing how the spellings have changed over the YEARES:
HERE LAYE EDMVND BELL – AND KATHERIN HIS WIFE- WHOE THIRTY SIX YEARES – DID LIVE MAN AND WIFE – THAY HAD THREE SONNS – AND DAVGHTERE THREE – FAR WILL (farewell) OVR FREINDS ALL IN – HEAVEN WE HOPE TO SEE 1636.
I rather liked this too: