Wednesday, September 4, 2019


  An addendum to my London trip. The day after Pitzhanger I visited two Soane churches to try to get inside.

St Peter’s Walworth. It was great to be shown around by the vicar, see some of the details close up and listen to stories of people and events. This shows the access stairs to the galleries where the servant class would sit, with typical Soane railings & yellow tinted glass.

At Bethnal Green the vicar was on holiday so I could only get into the crypt. There was a poster for classes in stained glass and stone carving. Didn’t spot the acroterion on the S. E. Corner last time. Typical Soane, stripped down classicism. The brackets and Anthemion frieze are from Walworth.

I spotted the wonderful egg-shaped archway amidst the groin vaults in the crypt of Bethnal Green. The receding arches and swirling rosette are Walworth. The card in my hand shows a rosette from Pitzhanger and was given to me by the guys at London Stone Carving who I visited after Walworth.

We talked through the process of modelling in clay from sketches, then using a pointing machine to check “xyz coordinates” as the carving proceeds.

Pointing machine images from the Internet. Waiting for lunch at Soane’s kitchen. An atmospheric photo of St George in the East represents the sense of stepping back in time that accompanied this trip.

Just talking to a group of stone carvers for a couple of hours made the process more real in my minds eye and walking around the city next day I was overwhelmed by both the quantity and quality of hand carved detail on view at every turn.

Thousands upon thousands of person-hours spent bringing architects sketches to life, contributing to the personality of the buildings in ways that rarely happen today. It’s not that today’s artisans are lacking in dexterity, experience, creativity. It’s just that the nature of the contribution they are required to make, tends to preclude artistic expression.

Last morning, and I planned a walking route to pick up as many city churches as I could that I haven’t visited before. St Botolph is the patronsaint of travellers and has a church at 4 of the city gates. I started with the one at Aldgate. By Dance the elder, the father of Soane’s mentor, a man whose career overlapped that of Hawksmoor. It’s great to start to feel the continuity of successive generations as I learn more about these buildings

An exhausting walk, topped off by a vegan Ethiopian platter and a train ride back to Basingstoke. A mixed bag of impressions swirling round my head as I watched my grandsons in the playground that evening.

In the image below: One of the pictures Jack drew on my phone using Autodesk SketchBook. The locked doors of St Peters Cornhill, one of many I couldn’t enter this time round. And three of my progeny playing football. Next week I head north.

That was going to be the end of the post, but on Sunday we went to Winchester. We visited before, in freezing weather, and I was inspired to do a massing model of the cathedral when I got back to Dubai. Soon after that, Notre Dame caught fire and I had the confidence to try another Gothic exploration. So I feel that I have come full circle, and see things afresh after investigating Gothic cathedrals with my BIM pencil.

I’m noticing the access routes. When I climbed the spiral stair at St Anne’s Limehouse I didn’t really know where I was. Just going round in circles. So I looked back at earlier photos and spotted the vertical slots, with a round window at the top. Rufus made me admire the view of the river, although I was feeling a little giddy by then.

Similar slots in several places around Winchester Cathedral betray the locations of similar stairs.

Along the west front there are access galleries with stone balustrades, similar to Notre Dame. I didn’t spot these last time. We tend to see what we are looking for.

There is an arch through the buttress to connect these galleries and there must be a few steps inside the archway to handle the difference in levels. I haven’t seen this but I’m sure it’s there.

Another snippet from Limehouse showing Hawksmoor’s bold inventiveness. A capital with Acanthus leaves but no scrolls, just an egg & dart mould. Don’t know what to call it, not really Corinthian or composite.

But the frieze above is even more unusual. Upside down Acanthus in a continuous band. His use of carved ornament is sparse but daring. I like it!

Sunday finished with a splendid meal in the garden of a village pub, with my grandsons playing boisterously on the grass around us. The word idyllic comes to mind

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