Friday, 30 July 2021

Black & White Photographs in the North


At the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Continuing my investigation of the building stones of England and the development of my black and white photography, 1993 started with a contract to advise English Heritage on suitable stones to restore the Little Castle at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire – where local Upper Carboniferous sandstone and Permian dolomitic sandstone had been used in its construction.
 
Details at Bolsover Castle

As part of the contract, I was also asked to report on Sutton Scarsdale Hall, which is built in a Pennine Middle Coal Measures Formation sandstone that has considerable colour variation and, in places, contains beds with ironstone nodules.
 
Ironstone nodules at Sutton Scarsdale Hall

Although I used 35 mm colour prints for my report, I also took a couple of sets of photos on black and white film for my own use, as well as at the Old Bishop’s Palace in Lincoln too, which had been highlighted for restoration work.
 
A weathered block of limestone at the Old Bishop's Palace

1993 proved to be a year of great change, which ended up with me living in Lincoln and subsequently in Bakewell, in Derbyshire; however, although not a 'planned career move', I acquired as many examples of post-war architectural sculpture that I could find for the RCHME – a project that only lasted for a couple of years until their budget ran out, but which enabled me to finely hone my photographic skills.
 
At £10 per print, Lincoln probably wasn’t the best place to start, because it is set in a very large, predominantly rural county and I had to rely on A. Foster & Son in Horncastle, who provided a collection and delivery service, to do my processing and printing.
 
Nonetheless, I travelled widely in Lincolnshire, where I encountered various building stones that I had not known before – including the green Spilsby sandstone, Claxby ironstone, Lias limestone and Ancaster stone among others.
 
‘Swimmers’ at Matthew Humberstone School

Most of the architectural sculptures that I encountered were made of materials other than stone, although the magnificent Portland stone sculpture entitled ‘Swimmers’ (1958) at Matthew Humberstone School in Weelsby, a suburb of Grimsby, was one of the notable exceptions.
 
A carved corbel at Rufford Abbey

Travelling further afield beyond the Humber Estuary and into Nottinghamshire, my knowledge of the regional geology further improved. At Rufford Abbey, in particular, there are good examples of White Mansfield stone and Red Mansfield stone and also the Scottish Locharbriggs sandstone, which has been used as a match for the latter.
 
A carved corbel at Rufford Abbey

My second spell of living in Lincoln didn’t last that long and I moved to Bakewell, where I had access to my own darkroom for the first time and my processing and printing skills progressed in leaps and bounds.
 
The School of Railway Engineering in Derby

Bakewell and the surrounding Peak District National Park probably contains less post-war architectural sculptures than Lincolnshire and, although Derby and Sheffield are on its doorstep, I had to travel far and wide to accumulate enough photographs to make it worth the effort and cost.
 
The Institution for the Blind in Sheffield

When discussing possible further work with the RCHME, I was directed to the National Inventory of War Memorials and the PMSA and, although I was only paid by the Imperial War Museum to record a few memorials around the Forest of Bowland, it opened up my eyes to a wide variety of other sculptures in the public realm.
 
Searching further afield in West Yorkshire, the University of Leeds provided me with more excellent subject material, in various materials, and my favourite has to be the sculpture entitled Man-Made Fibres, by Mitzi Cunliffe (1956), which adorns Clothworkers’ Building South.
 
Man-Made Fibres at the University of Leeds

By the end of 1994, work for the RCHME had dried up but, having discovered the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, I continued to find plenty of subject material for the further development of my darkroom skills; however, by this time I had started to write for various trade and professional journals, where colour transparencies were the preferred medium.
 
At the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

One of these articles reported on the Museum of Sculpted Stone in the small town of Fanano, in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, a place that I have visited a few times to see friends. Over 250 pieces of sculpture, left behind after the international sculpture symposiums, decorate the town and, during one visit that coincided with a symposium, I won first prize in a photographic competition that was held during the event.

"Tristezza"

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Photographs of Stone in Black & White

 
A detail of Guildford Cathedral

When I was asked to display a selection of my hand printed black and white photographs at the Art House in Sheffield, I left the choice of the prints to the curator, Amanda Evans, even though it omitted several of my favourite photographs and included subjects that were not made of stone.
 
St. Leonard's churchyard in Streatham

I started out with my black and white photography at the same time that I had fallen back on my degree in geology, after leaving the building restoration industry, to further develop my specialist skills in “stone matching” – starting at St. Leonard’s church in Streatham, London.
 
A head stop at St. Leonard's church

My first ever black and white print was of a simple wheel cross in the churchyard, made in the very familiar Portland limestone, and I later returned to photograph the Bath stone head stops and the flint walling that are found on the north side of the church.
 
Flagstones at the Leather Bottle public house in Kent

Not long after, I was asked to produce a record of the flagstone floor at the Leather Bottle public house, once frequented by Charles Dickens, which had deteriorated to such an extent that it had become a serious Health & Safety hazard and needed to be replaced.
 
Walling stone and quoins in East Sussex

Taking advantage of my membership of English Heritage and the National Trust, I then spent a lot of time visiting Kent and Sussex for day trips and further afield in Dorset, Wiltshire and beyond when visiting the in-laws for a weekend.
 
Stone roof tiles in West Sussex

Wherever I went, I would take note of the landforms and the building stones, which reflect the underlying geology, and I got to see a wide variety of sandstones and limestones – including Chalk, Kentish ragstone, Reigate stone, Chilmark, Purbeck marble, Ham Hill stone, Quarr stone and Jurassic oolites.
 
At the Geological Terrace in Bournemouth, I encountered one of the best collections of building stones that I have seen, with large blocks brought in from all over the British Isles and originally comprising 202 specimens of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks.
 
The Geological Terrace

The sea front position has exposed all the specimens to the elements and they have weathered to varying degrees to leave a variety of textures, which are just as important as colours – when selecting a building stone to be used for the repair of a historic building.
 
St. Michael's Mount

I visited the coast on a few occasions, to look at the string of fortifications that had been erected by Henry VIII but, except for a trip to Marazion in Cornwall, where I photographed St. Michael’s Mount – using a tripod for the first time - I didn’t encounter any rock outcrops.
 
Looking at the various buildings through the eyes of a surveyor/restoration contractor, I observed the condition of different stones in the various structural elements, dressings and weathering courses – noting in particular the bedding, variations in grain size, fossil or shell content and general patterns of weathering.
 
The Bianchi tomb in Hampstead Cemetery

Continuing with my exploration of various cemeteries and churchyards, I progressed to providing contract records for Wandsworth Borough Council, during the cleaning and conservation of the Huguenot tombs in Wandsworth and Putney - a project that also appeared in the local newspaper.
 
The tomb of Peter Paggen before and after cleaning

In addition to Portland limestone, used for most of the table tombs and often thickly encrusted with clinker like deposits of dirt, I encountered white and grey marbles, Kilkenny limestone and also artificial Coade stone.
 
The crypt at Mont  St. Michel

Although I spent of my time travelling in the part of southern England that is bounded, approximately, by the line of the River Thames to the north, I had trips abroad when practising my black and white photography – in Normandy and in Crete.

The harbour at Heraklion in Crete

On these occasions, I have to say that I didn’t take notice any of the rocks at Mont St. Michel but, when I flew from Crete to Santorini for a few days, I could not help but notice that I was surrounded by volcanic rocks.
 
The rim of the caldera at Santorini

An Exhibition at the Art House

 
An exhibition at the Art House

My brief description of the interior of Rotherham Minster marked the 700th post in my Language of Stone Blog, which started out back in 2014 as an illustrated Curriculum Vitae and has since continued as a report – in chronological order – on my investigations of the geology and historic stone built architecture of South Yorkshire and the surrounding counties.

Making a grotesque at the Art House

Occasionally a noteworthy project has been overlooked, as with an exhibition at the Art House in Sheffield, which came about after I had taken a selection of hand printed black and white photographs into a ceramics class that I had been attending for a few months. I wanted to get a few ideas for my next project – a grotesque based on examples that I had recently seen at various mediaeval churches and in the centre of Sheffield.
 
Having taken up black and white photography in 1992, after reluctantly leaving the building restoration industry in London, my subject matter consisted predominantly of various stone carvings in churchyards and cemeteries, as well as those on various historic stone buildings that I encountered as a member of English Heritage and the National Trust.
 
After leaving a photo album open at national trade exhibition, the RCHME (now the Historic England archives) were particularly interested in my eye for detail and commissioned me to take as many examples of post-war architectural sculpture as I could find - at £10 per print.
 
Once I had begun to develop and refine my black and white printing skills, in a home darkroom and at Sheffield College and the Site Gallery, my productivity increased at a substantial rate until I began to write for stone trade and related professional magazines, where colour transparencies were the preferred format for submitted photographs.
 
The head of Commerce at the Royal Exchange

By the time that I had the opportunity to get up close to the frieze sculpture by Richard Westmacott Junior at the Royal Exchange - when working as the site manager during its restoration in 2002 – digital photography had become well established. Although I also used several rolls of transparency and black and film to record work in progress, which were processed with contact prints, I haven’t been in a darkroom since.
 
Contact prints for the Royal Exchange

When my ceramics tutor at the Art House, Krishna Alageswaran, suggested that I show my work at one of the regular exhibitions at this excellent art space, which operates as a social enterprise, I jumped at the chance - especially since the curator, Amanda Evans, had volunteered to undertake the bulk of the preparatory work.
 
Selecting photos for the Art House exhibition

Sitting on the sidelines, while Amanda seemed to spend hours sorting through and continually rearranging the contents of two boxes of 7” x 5” and 12” x 8” prints, which hadn’t seen the light of day for very many years, I just supplied the coffee and contributed to the process when asked.
 
Mounted and framed prints before hanging

The exhibition was originally planned to run for 3 weeks, which was subsequently extended, and this provided plenty of time for students of the various pottery and painting classes - as well as visitors to the cafe and exhibition space – to take a good look at my work.
 
Various mounted and framed prints in place

The temporary exhibition space on the stairs to the first floor studio and the adjoining corridor and waiting area is well lit and, after Amanda had finally finished her arrangement, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of photographs on display.
 
Framed prints and a small display of rocks

An afternoon ‘meet the artist’ session was also arranged, when visitors came not just from Sheffield but other parts of South Yorkshire and further afield too, and the various people who commented on the exhibition were very positive.
 
A selection of comments made by visitors

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Rotherham Minster - The Interior

 
A detail of a capital with a green man

Following on from a brief general description of the exterior of Rotherham Minster and the stone sculptures on the north aisle, the interior of the church did not particularly interest me when I first visited. A
s had also been the case when I have since visited the churches of St. Mary in Nottingham and St. John the Baptist in Tideswell, I thought it was quite bland.
 
A view west along the nave from the crossing

Although the Perpendicular style represents the culmination of English Gothic church architecture, and I appreciate its proportions and scale, I have to say that I much prefer to see a greater variety in the various structural elements - which appeal to my interests in standing buildings archaeology.
 
The north arcade and clerestory

The tall arcades and the clerestory provide a lofty space in the nave, which is also apparent in the aisles, but it took a few visits before I managed to appreciate its details – especially the low relief battlemented capitals, where carved foliage and green men are abundant.
 
Battlemented capitals with carved foliage and green men

Moving east along the nave, above the arch to the crossing, a steep old roofline marks the position of the nave roof before the clerestory was added; however, there is no change in the style in the ashlar masonry above and below this and, together with the butted masonry of the arcades, provides evidence of the relative dates of the construction of these architectural elements.
 
The crossing arch at the east end of the nave

Carrying on into the crossing and looking up at the fan vaulting that the Historic England listing describes as early C15 - and the Minster history records as having problems during its construction -  the bosses are decorated with heads and floral details.
 
A view of the crossing from the nave

I only took a couple of quick snaps of the vaulting with my Canon Powershot G16 camera, which didn't always correctly record the precise geometry of the subject matter, but there does appear to be some structural misalignment that I will have to further investigate at another time.
 
A view of the fan vaulting in the crossing

One particularly interesting feature of the crossing is the series of sculpted capitals that punctuate the shaft like mouldings on the tower piers, which have various crudely carved heads and foliage, with castellation like decoration above.
 
A detail of carvings on a tower pier

Continuing into the chancel, the east side of the crossing contains two Perpendicular Gothic windows above the arch that have quite a strange spatial relationship with another old roofline. This presumably marks the position of the C14 chancel roof, which Pevsner describes as being raised with a clerestory in the early C16.
 
An old roofline above the east crossing arch

In the limited time spent in the chancel, I have paid more attention to the poppy heads but, from the single photo that I took of the walling on its north side, the earlier squared but poorly coursed masonry is quite visible. It is contemporary with the Decorated Gothic arcade, with its octagonal column, and there is a clear contrast with the C16 ashlar masonry in the clerestory above it.
 
The north arcade of the chancel

The sedilia, which is of a similar date, is set into the south wall beyond the altar rail and, with this part of a church normally considered to be ‘out of bounds' to the general public, I didn’t investigate this any further.
 
The sedilia

Like many other churches that I have visited, Rotherham Minster has two fonts. The highly weathered and eroded Norman font, which is made from Rotherham Red sandstone, is tucked away in a corner and I only became aware of this during a guided tour by the verger, Martyn Taylor, when I visited with the Treeton Local History Group.
 
The Norman font

The currently used Victorian font, dated to c.1879, is made of another red sandstone, this time a bright red Permo-Triassic sandstone that looks like it could be St. Bees sandstone from the coast of Cumbria, but I didn’t take a very close look with my hand lens on this occasion.
 
The Victorian font

There is a scattering of Georgian marble memorials on the walls, as well as some very fine church brasses, but the highlight is the memorial to the Masbrough boat disaster in 1841, when 50 young people drowned after a new boat that they were on turned over immediately after its launch.
 
The Masbrough boat disaster memorial

At the west end of the nave, several large carved and moulded sections of salvaged stone are on display and, although I have not yet seen it, there is apparently a piece of a Saxon stone coffin lid at the west end of the north aisle.   
 
Various sections of old masonry