Friday, 30 March 2018

Rochester Cathedral - The Crypt


A view to the east along St. Ithamar's chapel

At the end of my brief tour of the interior of Rochester Cathedral, I finished by going down into the crypt, with the idea of seeing the displays about the Textus Roffensis in the new exhibition space – only to discover that this was inaccessible on the day of my visit; however, I was very impressed by the lighting system, as well as the polished Purbeck limestone flooring, and so I stayed around to try and take a few good photographs in this strongly contrasting artificial light.

A general view of the crypt vestibule

Although I was aware of various stones that were used for rubble walling, ashlar, dressings etc – both ancient and restored - I didn't even think about closely examining any of them. It was only 18 months later, when I begun to undertake some research on the construction history and the building materials used in the cathedral did I discover that several other stones had been used in the abaci, capitals, shafts and bases of the various circular and octagonal plan columns – and the responds that are bonded in the walls.

A section of exposed walling

When describing my visits to the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, All Hallows by the Tower and churches in Bromley and Beckenham in previous Blog posts I had drawn on the work of Tim Tatton-Brown – and especially Bernard Worssam – to help me with the confirmation of my observations of glauconitic building stones such as Kentish ragstone and Reigate stone.

A view to the west along St. Ithamar's chapel

Alongside Caen stone and Purbeck marble, of which there are many examples in the interior of the cathedral, Bernard Worssam's The Building Stones of Rochester Cathedral Crypt also details the use of Bethersden marble, Jurassic oolitic limestone from Taynton in Oxfordshire, and Marquise oolite from Boulogne in France – none of which I had seen before – in addition to Portland stone, York stone and granite, which were used for restoration in the 19th century.

Granite shafts to the octagonal columns in St. Ithamar's chapel

Living in northern England, however, and now more accustomed to seeing Carboniferous, Permian and Jurassic building stones in the occasional restoration/conservation projects with which I am still professionally involved, my knowledge of the building stones in the ancient monuments of southern England is unlikely to be put to good practical use here.

A general view of small column shafts and a piscina

As a geologist with specialist interests in identifying and matching stone, however, I consider it to be a good addition to my own programme of continuing professional development and that this further experience is still very relevant to architects, surveyors, conservation officers and archaeologists whose professional work relates to the conservation of the built heritage.

A detail of the masonry at the top of a column

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Rochester Cathedral - The Interior


A view along the nave from the west door

Entering Rochester Cathedral by the west door, the first features along the nave to catch your eye are the Caen stone arcades with chevron decoration and a triforium above, which in places contains blocks of Reigate stone. The nave was rebuilt in 1137 after a great fire and, following yet another fire in 1179, the east end of the cathedral was rebuilt in stages in the Early English style.

The nave from the crossing with Early English arches in the foreground

The eastern two bays of the nave mark an abandoned attempt to rebuild the nave during the 13th century, and the contrast between the new Early English and the old Norman styles is further emphasised by the use of Reigate stone in the piers - with Purbeck marble and Caen stone shafts used for further decoration.

Various monuments in the south aisle

Several substantial monuments can be seen along the south aisle, built with alabaster, varieties of imported marbles and even Coade stone, and various memorials of these and other materials are scattered throughout the rest of the cathedral, and mainly found on the walls. In most cathedrals and mediaeval churches that I have visited, the font is usually quite ancient – with the use of Belgian Tournai marble being common - but here it is dated to 1893 and provides and example of Hopton Wood limestone from Derbyshire.

The Hopton Wood limestone font

With time moving on, my exploration of the eastern end of the church – the quire, the various transepts and the presbytery – was quite brief and, except for the pulpitum in the crossing, with its recesses and statues in Weldon stone by John Loughborough Pearson (1888), the low level of lighting in this part of the church wasn't conducive to a detailed study of the stonework.

The pulpitum

Despite the lighting conditions and my time constraints, when looking at the various photographs that I quickly took in the eastern end of the cathedral, it is still possible to identify Reigate stone in large expanses of ashlar walling, in shafts and ribs to the vaulted ceilings - its pale green/grey colour clearly distinguishing it from the Caen stone that is also used in places.

Views of the north quire transept

The use of such large quantities of Reigate stone in the interior shows that, like the stone castles that were being built at the same time, cathedrals were designed to overtly show the wealth and power of the builders. Considering that it had to be transported around 25 kilometres by cart across the North Downs from Reigate to the River Thames, before shipping to Rochester, money would appear to be no object when constructing cathedrals like this.


Views of the presbytery

Although I have since discovered that are still very many fine details to see in the interior of Rochester Cathedral – for anyone who is fascinated by mediaeval craftsmanship in stone – one particular highlight for me was the effigy of Bishop John de Sheppey, who died in 1360. I have seen several examples of painted alabaster but nothing like the bright colours seen here, which are mostly original.


The tomb of Bishop John Sheppey

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Rochester Cathedral - The West Front


A general view of the west front of Rochester cathedral

When I first visited Rochester more than 25 years ago, as a member of both English Heritage and the National Trust, it was principally to see Rochester Castle and the nearby Upnor Castle and, although I didn't spend much time at Rochester Cathedral, I remember being very impressed by its magnificent west door.

The west door

During my visit on the last day of October in 2016, now that I knew the whole of the west front was originally built out of Caen stone, I spent much more time looking at the various details and taking a good selection of photos that I would bring back with me to Rotherham, where I would later research its construction history and the materials used.

A detail of the west window and parapet that was restored in 1825

Looking at the west front as a whole, although I can distinguish the work of Lewis Cottingham, who rebuilt the great west window and the battlemented parapet in 1825, using Bath stone, and the general refacing and rebuilding of the north-west tower in 1889 by John Loughborough Pearson in Weldon stone – due to their sharp profiles compared to the original Norman masonry – I couldn't see any obvious differences in colour.

A detail of masonry to the west front

In his guide to the building stones of the cathedral (1995), Bernard Worssam, however, had mentioned that a coat of limewash applied around 1990 made all of the stonework look very similar. I didn't notice any signs of this and it looked like the the whole of the fa├žade had been relatively recently cleaned.

A detail of carved stone on the west front

When devising the Triton Stone Library, I included several Jurassic oolitic limestones that I knew had been used in London – with various varieties of Bath stone and others from the Lincolnshire Limestone Formation amongst them – but I hadn't encountered Weldon stone before; however, as a building stone specialist I thought that it was a very good match.

A statue of Bishop Gundulf of Rochester

I didn't examine any of the various stones with my hand lens but, zooming in with my camera, the Caen stone is often seen to be weathered and pitted – especially the original figurative sculpture to the west door – with the restored masonry displaying well defined profiles and tooling marks.

A detail of original ashlar walling and a restored grotesque

Rochester Cathedral doesn't possess the same visual impact as Lincoln Cathedral or Worksop Priory, which is of about the same age, but its essentially unrestored west door - with its wide variety of mythological creatures – is the best that I have ever seen.

Details of the tympanum and surround of the west door



Sunday, 25 March 2018

A Walk Around Rochester Cathedral


A view of Rochester Cathedral from Rochester Castle keep

During the 2 hours spent wandering around Rochester Castle, I encountered plenty of Kentish ragstone and the occasional use of Reigate stone and – having also seen these in the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and All Hallows by the Tower church during my previous trip to London - I was now becoming familiar with the characteristics of these.

Caen stone from Rochester Castle

In the castle keep, however, it was the first time that I had knowingly seen Caen stone – having being informed of this by a helpful member of the English Heritage staff – and before I continued with my exploration of Rochester, I removed a small piece from one of the dressings that had finally failed after nearly 900 years.

The west front

A stone's throw away from the castle, the west front of Rochester Cathedral – although heavily restored in places - provides a good example of the use of this limestone in the Romanesque style, which is particularly characteristic of Norman architecture in England.

A general view of the south elevation

Walking quickly around the rest of the exterior of Rochester Cathedral, I have to say that due to the presence of railings, the temporary inaccessibility of the cloisters and the lack of time, I didn't take as much notice of the various building stones as I normally would and, except for examining close up the galleting on the north aisle, I just took a few general photographs from a distance.

A detail of galleting to the north aisle

Dating back to 604 AD, and with historical links to the church of St. Paul and Peter in Bromley, this cathedral has been rebuilt, repaired and restored very many times since the construction of the Norman cathedral was started by Bishop Gundulf – notably by both Sir George Gilbert Scott and John Loughborough Pearson, who had also stamped their architectural marks on Westminster Abbey and Wakefield Cathedral.

A view of the north elevation from Rochester High Street

The north elevation of the east end, restored by Gilbert Scott in the 1870's, comprises Kentish ragstone with the Reigate stone dressings replaced with Chilmark stone, as seen at the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey, which was also restored by him. Similarly, Chilmark stone was also used in his restoration of the clerestory windows – which were further restored this century.

The south aisle and clerestory

On the south side of the clerestory, 'honest' brick repairs in the S.P.A.B style can be seen alongside occasional replacement of blocks of Caen stone and Reigate stone and in the Lady Chapel, several different stones were noted by Bernard Worssam in a publication for the Friends of Rochester Cathedral.

The Building Stones of Rochester Cathedral

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Rochester Castle Keep - The Interior


A view from the top of Rochester Castle keep

With the White Tower still very fresh in my memory, from a visit to the Tower of London a few weeks previously, it might be thought by some that a trip to Rochester Castle – with its ruined keep and fragments of curtain wall – would be a bit of a let down; however, when I first visited this magnificent castle more than 25 years ago, it was the views from the battlements that left a great impression on me and I looked forward to experience this again.

The entrance to the keep

Like the Observation Tower at Lincoln Castle and the keep at Conisbrough Castle, which I visit whenever I can, it gives me great pleasure to climb up a spiral staircase when – once at the top – you can take the time to admire the views and to imagine what it must have been like to be here at the height of its prosperity and power.

The doorway to the forebuilding

Entering the forebuilding via a restored stairway, which is protected from falling masonry by a mesh canopy, there are fine examples of chevron details to the round arches to both the entrance and to the first floor, with the latter once containing a portcullis - although the use of the forebuilding as a shop makes it a little difficult to stop and admire the details here.

A view of the interior of the keep

Once inside the keep itself, the spine wall possesses further examples of chevron decorated arches on the second, principal floor and, apart from containing the castle well, it provided a line of defence after the south-east corner of the keep was destroyed in the siege of 1215The date of the conflagration doesn't appear to be recorded but, sometime after the end of the Middle Ages, a great fire destroyed its floors and roof and the keep has been a ruin since at least 1665, when Samuel Pepys described meeting “three pretty mayds” here.

The spine wall on the principal floor

Being exposed to the elements for a few hundred years has obviously been detrimental to the condition of the masonry, with much of it being covered with moss and algae and with severely blackening in places; however, despite this, the reddening of some of the masonry due to the heat of the fire is clearly visible and it is still quite easy to distinguish between the Kentish ragstone rubble walling and the Caen stone quoins, voussoirs and other dressings.

A view along the gallery

At the gallery level, a section of walling containing a small arch and window is seen to largely replace a large pre-existing arch that was mainly destroyed during the 1215 siege and, looking closely at the stonework, the quoins and voussoirs are of are different stone to the Caen stone that has been used for dressings throughout the castle. Although only seen from the distance, the pale grey/green colour suggests that this could be Reigate stone.

A section of restored masonry with the 'missing arch'

Continuing up to the battlements, although most of these are original 12th century masonry, George Payne reports in his “The Reparation of Rochester Castle” that the walkways were renewed and extensive work was undertaken to the turrets, which involved the replacement of much of the Caen stone quoins with Kentish ragstone.

Pigeon nesting holes beneath the battlements walkway

Of particular interest at this level, and something that I had never seen before, is the presence of mediaeval pigeon nesting holes – restored in the 1890's – which would have provided a source of much needed food during the various sieges.

Nesting pigeons

Having had a good wander around the interior of the keep, I made the most of the T-shirt weather on the last day of October to have a good look at my surroundings. As well as getting good views of the River Medway, Rochester Cathedral - my next port of call - and the rest of the historic city of Rochester, it is possible fully appreciate the Chalk landforms of this part of the North Downs.

Views from the top of Rochester Castle keep

Finally, I then proceeded back down to the exit, having taken a closer look at the construction of the various spiral staircases. Here, I was surprised to find that the steps are built from irregular blocks of flint that are set into hard mortar and, although a little uneven and polished with wear in places, are still very solid.

Blocks of flint used in the steps of the spiral staircases

Friday, 16 March 2018

Rochester Castle Keep - The Exterior


A view of the keep from the south-east

The keep at Rochester Castle is one of the best preserved in England and France – as well as being one of the tallest - and although Bishop Gundulf had died by the time it had begun to be built in 1127, it is thought that it is modelled on the White Tower at the Tower of London, whose construction William I had ordered him to oversee.

A view of the keep from the east

Like the curtain walls, the structure is built entirely in Kentish ragstone except for the quoins and dressings, which are made from the yellowish coloured Caen stone – a Jurassic limestone from Normandy – and can easily be distinguished from the walling.

Caen stone window dressings with chevrons

Although both the English Heritage guide and a Conservation Plan refer to Reigate stone being used for the restoration of the keep after the 1215 siege, to my eye there is no evidence of a change of building stone from Kentish ragstone on the exterior. Both the colour and texture of the stone appears to be very uniform, except for the occasional incorporation of very dark flint into the masonry and, even where there are obviously darker sections, there appears to be more variation in the colour of the mortar than the stone itself.

A geological map of south-east England

Given the proximity of the principal source of Kentish ragstone in Aylesford/Maidstone, or a similar alternative from Folkestone – both of which have been used in the Tower of London – it is extremely unlikely that vast quantities of rubble stone would be moved 50 km overland, when supply routes by river and sea had long since been established.

A view of the keep from Baker's Walk

With just over 2 hours spent exploring Rochester Castle, I didn't have the time or reason to study any of the stonework in any kind of detail but I made sure that I had enough high quality photographs to enable me to make some of the above observations, and which would serve to illustrate various accounts of the castle that I would find during subsequent internet research – including an excellent report on its restoration by George Payne, an architect/antiquarian who was engaged to carry out various works from 1896 to 1904.

A break between original masonry and restoration after the 1215 siege

I didn't notice this at the time when walking around the exterior of the castle, partly because the elevation is obscured from Baker's Walk by trees, but there is a distinct break in the pattern of the masonry to the south elevation of the keep, which marks the extent of damage caused during the siege of 1215 and - looking at enlargements of general photographs of the masonry in the forebuilding – whole sea shells can be seen in the mortar.

Caen stone window dressings and mortar containing sea shells

A Walk Around Rochester Castle


A view of Rochester Castle from The Esplanade

Rochester Castle is set on a spur of the Lewes Nodular Chalk Formation - with commanding views of the River Medway and its surrounding landscape - and occupies the south-west corner of the old town enclosed by the Roman city wall, parts of which are seen in the west curtain wall.

The geology beneath Rochester Castle

It served as a strategically important royal castle and was besieged in 1088, 1215 and 1264, but eventually became out of favour as a royal residence, with a marked decline in its fortunes during the 14th century, and by the 15th century it was starting to fall into disrepair.

The English Heritage plan of Rochester Castle

In the reign of Elizabeth I, stone from the curtain walls was used to build Upnor Castle and it was no longer a serviceable fortification by the time of the English Civil War, after which it escaped slighting but served as a source of building stone in the 17th century.

A view of Rochester Castle from the Esplanade

From the Esplanade, a large expanse of Kentish Ragstone rubble walling can be seen, which includes revetments of 1872 and 1931, and it is this stone – quarried in nearby Aylesford and Maidstone – that has been used for the walling throughout the castle.

A view of the Drum Tower and Rochester Cathedral

Walking up from the Esplanade along Baker's Walk, the round Drum Tower marks the point where the curtain wall was breached by undermining during King John's siege of the castle in 1215 – after the battering by five siege engines had failed – and which was restored by Henry III along with other building work from 1217 to 1237.

The siege of 2015

The eastern section of the curtain walls contains two towers that were built during the reign of Edward III in the 1360's – the nearest tower to the keep replacing one from the 12/13th century – and at the lower levels the change from squared Kentish Ragstone blocks to irregular rubble walling is very noticeable.

A view of 14th century towers on the east curtain wall

Entering the castle grounds, where the north-eastern gatehouse was previously located, the inner face of the western curtain wall displays the remains of the private chambers of Henry III, with its understorey, sockets for the floor joists and blocked windows being clearly visible.

The west curtain wall

In the walls beyond, although the battlements were added in the 18th century and arches provided for a terrace in the early 20th century, remains of the original herringbone masonry in the walls built by Bishop Gundulf in 1089 can still be seen.

A detail of the west curtain wall