Monday, October 06, 2008

Reflecting on Pinchbeck church

click photo to enlarge
The proposal for a 200 storey, 1,000 metres high tower in Dubai is just the latest manifestation of mankind's urge to construct tall towers. Building a single storey structure then extending laterally is obvious and easy, and was the way that early builders erected their dwellings. Vertical building, with storey on top of storey, is harder and more perilous. Only when building skills had reached a certain level could it be considered.

In the British Isles the 2,000 year old Iron Age brochs of Scotland are probably the oldest tall buildings. These circular towers with their ten feet thick, double-skin walls could reach a height of fifty feet and contain three floors. There is some debate over whether brochs were defensive, offensive or simply the elaborate homes of people of greater means and higher status. Whatever the reason for their construction they must have fulfilled one of the main purposes of most tall buildings - to impress those who gaze upon them.

The builders of medieval church towers were certainly aiming to impress the people who lived nearby and worshipped at the church. They were tangible reminders, often visible for many miles, of the power, presence and importance of the church, ever present fingers of stone pointing to the ultimate destination of those who embraced its teachings. There is also documentary evidence to show that these towers were sometimes deliberately designed to surpass the height, richness and beauty of towers in neighbouring parishes. How ironic that the sin of pride motivated the construction of some of our most beautiful church towers, and how like today's skyscraper race that has seen first the U.S.A. then Singapore, next China and now Dubai triumph in the contest to be tallest! However, the church tower did have a functional purpose - to raise the bell (or bells) high above the surrounding buildings and trees so that their call to worship could be heard over a wide area.

Of the six medieval churches that are strung along the A156 and B1356 from Donington to Spalding, the tower of St Mary at Pinchbeck (above) breaks the procession of attractive spires with its tall, crenellated tower that was built in the 1300s and 1400s. As Pevsner notes, it "suits the character of the building", which is large and ornate. My photograph was taken on a sunny, early October afternoon. It shows the tower from the west, framed by trees, some of which are shedding their leaves earlier than the others, a view I chose for the way it reduces a big, complex building to something simpler. Another of my shots of this church can be seen here.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On