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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

St. Michael's, Yanworth

Today my work took me to Compton Abdale area to try and track down a quarry last used in the 15th century.

St. Michaels is a typical Black Death church in the Cotswold. In the 1348 - 1349 epidemic the villagers tried to contain the disease by burning their houses to the ground leaving only the church and a few substantial buildings standing, now alone with no evidence of a surrounding village.

12th century font and corbels.

Like many churches we still have the suposed musket ball holes from the English civil war.

Friday, 19 February 2016

A Master Masons travels - Lechlade

You may be drawn to the conclusion that all I do is eat but today's connection take me to Lechlade for breakfast.

It was at Lechlade where stone from the quarries at Taynton was put into barges for transport downstream, where it was used in many buildings including Windsor Castle, many Oxford Colleges and St. Paul's Cathedral.

St. Lawrence church was completed in 1476.

The Great Wall of the Cotswolds

There is more than 4,000 miles of dry stone wall in the Cotswolds, that's longer than the Great Wall of China.

And more to the point lots of work for us.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

A Master Masons travels - Lunch break in the Cotswolds in the companyof the builders of St. Paul's and Charles Dickens

Dinner time, on the way to the shop I passed St. Mary's. One of the things I love about my job are the connections like chains through history I am surrounded by every day. These chains give extra depth and interest to our work and through working on these building we become a link in these chains.

St. Mary's. A wool church . . .yes, dates from 11th century. . . Yes, does it have links to the Conqueror?. .. Of course, where around here hasn't, main fabric of current church 15th century .... Yes..... But!

The 17th century memorial work in this area has a distinctive style linked through its masons to some decoration used in The City of London. Why is it linked with London? Hold on I'm getting to that.

When a new churchyard gateway (above) was built in 1658 for St Olaves in The City of London it was ornamented in a macabre fashion that later prompted Charles Dickens to coin the nickname ‘St Ghastly Grim’:  why is this linked to St. Mary's? Well
Valentine Strong in buried in this grave yard, although Valentine and his father had been prominent stonemasons in their own right, two of Valentine’s sons were to reach the very top of their profession and achieve great fame and considerable fortune. 
Valentine’s eldest son Thomas, like his father and grandfather, worked on Cornbury House near Charlbury as well as on Longleat House for Sir John Thynne. In about 1666 he built lodgings for the scholars of Trinity College at Oxford to the designs of Christopher Wren, who was then a professor of anatomy at Oxford but was becoming more and more interested in architecture. Following the Great Fire of London in September 1666 there was a huge demand for stonemasons to rebuild the City in stone. 
Through his acquaintance with Wren, Thomas Strong, and his younger brother Edward, became involved in the rebuilding of many ruined churches in the City of London while their brothers maintained the quarrying business at home and supplied some of the stone used in
 the rebuilding. Under Wren the Strong brothers were contracted to rebuild St Benet in Paul’s Wharf, St Augustine in Old Change, St Stephen’s in Walbrook, St Michael’s in Paternoster Royal and several
 other of London’s churches. In 1675 after Wren had been appointed as chief architect for the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral, he chose Thomas to be one of the two master masons for the mammoth project and it fell to Thomas to lay the first foundation stone for the new cathedral on 21 June 1675. The master masons were responsible for translating Wren’s design into solid reality and managed a large workforce of stonemasons, craftsmen and labourers. 
Some of the stone for St Paul’s, especially the fine stone used for interior decoration, was brought to Paul’s Wharf from the Strong’s own quarries but the majority came from the Portland quarries in Dorset which produced a coarser, harder form of limestone.

Not bad for a half hour break heh? Back to work and another day of connections tomorrow.

Information regarding the Strongs is taken from an article by the Fairford Historic Society

Monday, 15 February 2016

The Great Collection and Library

In 2006 two extraordinary courts of all other Guild masters and a selection of other International Master stonemasons were held, first in Greenwich and then Milan, where it was decided I would be charged with the re-establishment of a collegiate guild. I would oversee the training of 40 craftspeople, 40 mates and start the formation of a great collection and library to be used at my discretion for the purposes of education and to leave the said collection and library in the hands of my successor to be held and increased by the Guild of St. Stephen and St George in perpetuity.

Although the collection and library is of vital importance to our guild, in the months since our founding court Easter 2015 other things have taken priority. Even with this in mind we already have over a thousand samples in the process of being catalogued at this time.

Our aim is not only to hold a large educationally important collection of geological samples, but for these samples to represent the materials available to craftsmen and builders at any time in the last thousand years.

The geological samples alone will be tested and documented using over 40 categories. The collection will mainly focus on geological, paleological, technical and architectural samples, books and manuscripts  but will include any category related to the training and education of future guild master stonemasons.

Last week, we had the privilege of being invited by the dean of Corpus Christi college Cambridge to visit the Matthew Parker library collection and have a tour of the college (see images above and below). This visit has reinforced my belief in the absolute necessity of our collection as a key resource in our collegiate goals - a priceless tool for educating our apprentices and students.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

The desert oasis 2: Al-Aqsa Mosque

While this highly controversial Umayyad building is no desert oasis it has been in the past, which is a characteristic often associated with buildings of the same period. The changes in caliphs and religious sects results in the abandonment and rediscovery of Umayyad buildings. Al-Aqsa has not been abandoned per se but has seen stages of neglect which qualify to be named an oasis in the desert.

When one thinks of the Al-Aqsa mosque, a vibrantly colourful octagon shaped mosque with a striking golden dome comes to mind. That is a common misconception due to the fact that the Al-Aqsa is on the same plot of land as Al-Sakhrah Mosque. The popular tourist destination with the blue mosaic and gold dome is called Al-Sakhrah and the Al-Aqsa is a more modest grey/silver domed mosque with far more historic value.

Multiple earthquakes and public uprisings resulted in the Al-Aqsa being rebuilt on many occasions by Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid caliphs, who added their own touch to the rebuild until the original was surrounded by a new façade, adorned with a new silver dome and multiple minarets. More modern dynasties, such as the Ayyubids and the Ottomans, focused on the repairs and renovations. Today it is in the hands of Waqf which is an Islamic oraganisation, despite the mosque being in an Israeli controlled area.

Architecturally speaking it does not have any stand-out features but it serves as a great tool for understanding the styles of many dynasties. The dome is wooden adorned with lead enamel work, which was built to mimic a silver dome, but which only has a silver shine during the midday sun. In person, the dome is rather underwhelming due to the fact that the Al-Sakhrah is only metres away. The minarets have square bases and square columns which are commonly seen in Syria. The balcony for the Muezzin is lavishly decorated which indicates that it was often used by political figures to perform the call for prayer for publicity.

The façade has fourteen lime stone Romanesque style arches which are believed to be inspired by Crusade buildings. In fact the arches have been built using looted and purchased stone that was previously part of crusader structures. The majority of the façade is covered in Islamic carvings and partially white washed, while the interior is  lavishly decorated in mosaic, paintings and tapestry.

The Al-Aqsa is one of the most important of Islamic sites, second only to the Kaaba. It is said to be the sight where propeht Mohammed made his night journey to heaven and descended back to earth with the most important of messages to the Islamic community. It is also the very first qibla (prayer direction) until the prophet received message to pray towards the Kaaba in mecca.