Tuesday, 20 October 2009

A trip to the minster

I finally took a wander around Beverley Minster yesterday, a little more than a month after submitting the PhD featuring it. Sounds silly, doesn't it? The thing is, since I wasn't doing anything remotely related to architectural history, actually seeing the inside wasn't so much a necessity as seeing all the relevant documents. Since I did it on the spur of the moment, I didn't have a camera to hand, but some nice pictures that go with what follows can be found here. Notice that it's the official website. I quite like the idea that someone thinks other people might make unofficial ones.

I wandered around the thirteenth century building (rebuilt after the fire of Beverley in c.1190) for a bit, particularly taking in the nineteenth century stained glass and the stone misericords worked into the alcoves, before deciding to take the tour of the attic level and north tower. I'm glad I did, despite the stairs up being sufficiently cramped that I barely fit up them towards the top. The view was impressive, but not so impressive as some of the stuff hidden away up there.

There's the early phase of the roof joists, which are essentially whole trees stripped of their bark and cut vaguely to shape. Those look worryingly badly done, but they've certainly lasted long enough. There are the bits that show the failure of the original plans for a much taller tower, such as the beginnings of a spiral staircase just below the roof, along with the acompanying cracks that show why they had to put a roof on it, walk away quietly, and pretend that they meant it all along. There was an opportunity to meet Steve; former plumber, current repairman, and apparently part-time hamster, given that he has to run round in a giant wheel to operate the oldest wheel hoist in the country.

I think I probably got a slightly different angle on things from the other people on the tour. Not so much because I already know the history, though I do, but because I don't much like architectural history for its own sake. A big building is impressive, but not as impressive as the human systems that brought it about and scurried within it. Something like the correction of the four foot lean in one tower wall in the eighteenth century by constructing a huge wooden framework to catch the wall, hacking the wall off, and then lifting the whole thing back into place is less impressive to me for the ingenuity involved than for the success in persuading people to go along with such an odd idea.

I particularly like the little touches that show something of ordinary people involved in repairs. One, in the top window of the tower, was put in by the man making repairs in the 1960s, who happened to be a planespotter, and put in little etchings of planes on the glass. Other panes show that a grandfather and grandson both worked on the same thing, and apparently the grandson had no idea that his grandfather had done so. I also rather like the pride that the current verger takes in the fact that Westminster Abbey's current appearance was copied almost completely from the minster's west end.

Overall, I'm glad I went, because it feels like a nice conclusion. It's a nice, big, stone full stop to my efforts of the last few years.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

So I didn't comment back when you submitted your PhD thesis, but congrats on that :) That's great that you were able to wonder around the venue that has taken up so much of your life :)

I like what you said about how a big building isn't as impressive as the human systems associated with it. That's so true.