Monday, August 18, 2008

Battered but not broken

click photo to enlarge
The climate of the British Isles is classified as "temperate". The summers don't usually get too hot, the winters are never that cold, and rain is fairly regular. Snow doesn't fall as often as children would like, and frost is a winter regular but is usually not too harsh. One of the effects of weather with these characteristics is that ancient buildings slowly crumble unless serious efforts are made to conserve them. Freeze-thaw, rain (including the acid variety), wind and general damp take their toll on mortar joints, roof coverings, bricks, stone and foundations. Metal rusts easily, and wood rots.

It's salutary to compare the Roman remains of Britain with those of the drier, warmer Mediterranean countries. Hadrian's Wall that crosses Northern England is a visible structure of clearly cut stones, but details, sculpture, lettering etc are difficult to find, and the best examples are those that received the protection of being buried for centuries. There is no remaining, standing, Roman triumphal arch in Britain, yet beautifully detailed examples can be found in Southern France, Italy and elsewhere.

The same is true of medieval work. Italian buildings of the thirteenth century look fresher, and have more detail, than those of the same date in Britain.With all this in mind, many people are surprised to find that original wood and ironwork on the exterior of medieval buildings can still be found in this islands. Today's image, the south door of c.1250AD on the church of St Andrew, Sempringham, Lincolnshire, is a subject that I've photographed and written about before here. I had the opportunity to capture it again yesterday, and this time I included the handle of the door. The thumb lever has been worn extremely thin over the centuries, yet it still, like the door itself, performs its useful task perfectly. In fairness, at the end of the Victorian period a porch was built over the south door, so for just over a century the metal and wood has been protected from the elements. However, it is a tribute to the skill of the original crafstmen and to the reverence for this aged artefact that has existed down the ages, that in Britain's climate it is still there at all!

My recent visit to see the door gleaned one fact that is at variance with my original description of its construction: apparently the wood is "fir" (yew perhaps?) and not oak.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 22mm (44mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f3.5
Shutter Speed: 1/40
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -1.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On