Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Boston's Stump

click photo to enlarge
The recent collision in London between a helicopter and a construction crane at the top of a new tower block raised questions in the press about the wisdom and reasons for erecting such tall buildings. It seems to me that you can argue the wisdom of it long into the night, but the reasons are three-fold and what they have always been: facilitating a technology (such as telecoms), maximising the value of land, and prestige.

Today's photographs show the 272 feet tall tower of the medieval church of St Botolph in Boston, Lincolnshire, a late example of the Gothic builders' art, made of Barnack stone. Its absolute height, its relative height (the length of the church is only ten feet more) and its appearance when seen from afar quickly earned it the name of "The Stump" (though the name may be an example of the English love of irony).

The tower was begun in 1425-30 and completed in 1510-20. It is likely that a spire was to have begun at the level of the parapet above the pair of tall windows (which were probably intended to be the belfry stage). This would have been the conventional finish to a large Lincolnshire church. However, the church authorities had different ideas and they simply kept building upwards, adding a single, transomed window for the belfry, then topping it all off with pinnacles and a large, open lantern supported by flying buttresses. Why was it built so high? I can only think that prestige and the desire to make a big, bold statement lay behind the decision. It could, I suppose, be argued that having the belfry higher gave the sound of the bells greater reach. Such height was certainly a risk because the deep soils of the Fens yield no bedrock to the builder and smaller, nearby towers such as Pinchbeck and Surfleet testify to how they can quickly acquire a disconcerting tilt. The tower is undoubtedly impressive, and parts of it, particularly the lantern are beautiful. In total, however, it doesn't work: the height is too great, the stages don't complement each other and it is not visually integrated with the nave and chancel. But, as a beacon for sailors on the storm-tossed sea of The Wash, searching for the mouth of the River Witham and safe haven, it must have been a godsend!

The smaller photograph, taken from the town bridge, is the classic view of the tower. My shots were taken when hoar frost cloaked the trees, ice was just beginning to form on the River Witham, and shopping was the main thing on our minds. A bright, clear January day is not to be spurned, however, and my compact camera proved its worth once more.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 9.3mm (44mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5
Shutter Speed: 1/800
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On