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Appendix 3: London multi-stage steeples completion dates

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7 Towers and Steeples

Pennick, Nigel Aeon Books ePub

Carpenter, mason, glazier,
Each according to his craft,
There one sets, another cuts,
This one hits, this one bats, this strikes;
He of the axe, he of the hammer,
He of the mallet and of the chisel.

Matthew Paris, The Story of St Edward, the King (c. 1245).

Individually designed towers and steeples visible from afar were an integral part of how the new churches characterized each place. Apart from the examples mentioned above, they were located among secular buildings in the old city street plan, and not on Wrenian avenues. In his 1711 letter of recommendations, Wren wrote of “handsome Spires, or Lanterns, rising in good Proportion above the neighbouring Houses (of which I have given several examples in the City of different forms)”.267 In 1728, James Gibbs commented, “Steeples are indeed of a Gothic Extraction but they have their Beauties when their Parts are well disposed, and when the Plan of the several Degrees and Orders of which they are compos’d gradually diminish, and pass from one Form to another without confusion, and when every Part has the Appearance of a proper Bearing”.268 The limitless scope for creative design can still be seen in those that remain. Their individual authorship is a matter of continuing debate. Various commentators ascribe them to Wren alone, in association with or by Dickinson, Hooke, Oliver, Woodroffe or

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9. Name and Number

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Folklore and commentators alike frequently stress the importance of symbolic number in churches. There are numerous instances of churches whose numbers of windows, pillars, niches, pinnacles and bays reproduce the number of months, weeks and days of the year. For example, St Paul’s Cathedral in London is equal in height, in feet, to the number of days in the year. In her highly speculative Druidical book Prehistoric London: Its Mounds and Circles, (1925) Elizabeth Gordon writes of Henry VI: ‘It is recorded that the King frequently attended Divine Service in St Mary’s College Chapel and impressed with the beautiful proportions, the sacred numbers employed in the “days” of the large windows and the ground plan in the form of the ancient T-shaped cross, determined to reproduce Wykeham’s plans in every detail, only on a more magnificent scale, for his own colleges at Eton and Cambridge.’ St Mary’s College Chapel is part of Winchester College, or the School of St Mary Winton, founded by William of Wykeham in the time of King Edward III according to spiritual principles.

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4. Finishing the Chapel

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One of the most magnificent features of the chapel is the lacelike stone fan vaulting, which never ceases to impress first-time visitors. On the 8th of February 1511/12, 5,000 was granted to the college by the executors of the king’s will, on condition that it was to be vaulted according to ‘the form of a plat’. In 1512, John Wastell commenced the vaulting, in Weldon Stone, costing 100 per severy (bay), the time stipulated being three years for completion of the twelve. Geometrically, the masterly fan vaults are in the form of rectangular portions of the four quadrants of an inverted concave conoid, mitred into one another at their junctions.

Fan vaults appear to have been developed as skeuomorphic replicas of textile hangings suspended as a tabernacle over coffins during lyings-in-state and funerals. Hung from posts erected at the four corners of the catafalque, a wish to make them more permanent seems to have led to these pall-cloths being reproduced in other, more durable, materials. Where the custom originated is not known, but it seems to have been some time in the thirteenth century. A notable stone tabernacle of this kind was made at Tewkesbury for Sir Hugh Despenser, who died in 1349. Wooden ones were also made. One was installed over the tomb of Edward, the Black Prince, in Canterbury Cathedral (1376).

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1 Legend, Precepts and Principles

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My Streets are my Ideas of Imagination
Awake Albion, awake! And let us awake up together.

William Blake

Legendary history is the foundation of all ancient traditions. It forms the mythological basis for all religions, as well as national stories throughout the world. Each land, each faith, has its own particular foundation myth and particular named individuals associated with it. Mythic ancestral parental couples like Bor and Bestla, Beli and Anna, Askr and Embla or Adam and Eve vie for priority with more individualized characters such as Aeneas, Brutus, Einiged, Woden, Noah, Romulus and Remus, Hengest and Horsa. Along with sagas, lays, genealogies, legendary chronicles, myths and histories, these characters and stories make up the spiritual basis for individual cultures, the particular legendarium that defines a faith, a nation or a people.

London’s classical tradition is an expression of the city’s legendarium,5 a component of what William Blake called “The Acts of Albion” (otherwise ‘The Matter of Britain’). The basic elements of the legendarium come through ancient writings that, when they were written, had the authority of having been handed down from what was even then great antiquity, rooted in the eldritch world. These myths tell us about our cultural roots, expressing no less than the character and inner principles of British identity. British legendary history was recorded chiefly by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1136), Matthew of Westminster (1307) and Matthew Paris, who used earlier sources including the writings of Gildas and ancient Welsh redactions of Brut. Thus medieval writers acknowledged the pre-Christian origin of the British nation. Later it was re-framed by Raphael Holinshed in his Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland and features in the inspired works of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, John Milton and William Blake.

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