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Presenter : Judith Jones

Building England: Before there were Architects

Lindisfarne, Northumberland

Lindisfarne Castle, Northumberland

Globe Trekker presenter Judith Jones takes us through story of the English building and shows us how it came to be. It’s a journey from the birth of early Christian settlements to the creation of the baroque mansion in the 17th century; of how a Romanesque church became a cathedral, and how a castle became the Englishman’s home.

We begin in a crumbling priory on the island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland, as Christianity in England arrives with the teachings of the Saints, Aidan and Cuthbert, in the 7th century.  Judith shows us how Cuthbert was sent by Oswald, the King of Northumbria, to convert  the natives to Catholicism and how this event opened the floodgates to the arrival of Continental ideas, especially those in architecture – the first being the Roman arch, the triforium and the clerestory window which features in all traditional English churches.

Durham CathedralBut it was not until the 11th century that the English building took off. William Duke of Normandy defeated Harold Hardrada at Hastings and he established a kingdom centred on thick-walled cathedrals resembling fortresses, governed by powerful French prince bishops who were appointed to restore order to the land.

Judith visits Durham cathedral, a Catholic ‘fortress’ settled on an insurmountable hill, where the Gothic ribbed vault was invented and where the square Norman towers became the unmistakable motif of the noble English church.

Though, as we soon discover, it was the Cistercian monastic order in Fountains Abbey in Ripon, Yorkshire, who developed the English Gothic style we see stylized in the Hammer horror and Harry Potter films.

Judith examines the simple functional plans of Fountains abbey and illustrates the Gothic principles of order, light and clarity. To illustrate this new ‘Decorated’ style of building, Judith visits Ely cathedral in Cambridgeshire, where she examines the choir screen and chancel before noticing that the ribbed arch on Ely’s hallowed ceilings have become very ornate by the beginning of the 14th century.

Back in Yorkshire,  to the most English building development of them all, (according to the legendary art historian Nikolaus Pevsner)  the ‘Perpendicular’ style which see in York’s majestic minster: a horizontal building with rectangular panels and long vertical windows with stone framework called mullions. It’s a feature we see adorning the Houses of Parliament and other national institutions of the 19th century.

Judith continues her journey North exploring the castles that were built to fend off the raiding Scots and given as a reward to the Earls who fought for Henry IV during England’s 100 years war with France.  Judith shows us how the castle became a home, fitted out not just for battle but for entertainment and comfortable living.

Warkworth Castle, Northumberland

Warkworth Castle, Northumberland

In Warkworth Castle, Northumberland, we see how Harry Hotspur (Earl Thomas Percy), transformed his castle keep into a waiting room and he turned his soldiers’ barracks into a great hall grand enough to entertain his loyal knights with medieval banquets. The fireplace, often seen in the centre of the room is now set back to the wall. It appears that the concept of the room is arriving.

It was when peace descended on England that the Elizabethan manor house was created. It was equipped with a castle-like moat and it was built of Dutch brick brought over from that 100 years war.

The manor house, like all of England’s buildings, was raised not by educated designers but by masons and carpenters working under the patronage of wealthy Lords and wool merchants of the day. Judith explores Kentwell Hall in Sudbury, Suffolk.

Judith then travels to Burghley House, Lincolnshire, where the Elizabethan house has transformed itself into a stately baroque manor by the end of the 16th century,  complete with the new development of a staircase, bedrooms and guests rooms built along a chopped up Elizabethan long gallery.  Protestant England was now receiving the Renaissance into her homes.

As the Englishman started taking tours around a Europe energized by the Renaissance, a new vocation was born in the 17th century – that of the architect. Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren were probably the first architects in the country. They were inspired by the teachings of the Italian scholar Andrea Palladio and his written works made architecture the profession of a gentleman.

This leads Judith to her final building – Castle Howard – designed by a playwright Sir John Vanbrugh, whose fantastic designs crowned him as an architect of baroque expertise and picturesque ideals. He sent the English building into the 18th century by looking as much outside the building as within.

Castle Howard

Castle Howard by Tim Fields – Flickr Commons


Places Mentioned - England

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