Sunday, April 03, 2016

The strainer arch

click photo to enlarge
When I first visited Wells Cathedral in Somerset many, many years ago I knew there were two things that I particularly wanted to see. The first was the worn stairs to the Chapter House, the subject of a famous 1903 photograph entitled "Sea of Steps" by the British photographer, Frederick H. Evans (1853-1943). His platinotype image appealed to me because of its purely photographic qualities but also because the subject was an aspect of church architecture, an interest of mine then that continues to this day.

The other thing I searched out that day was the famous strainer arches under the crossing tower. These were inserted as bracing in the arches to the nave and transepts (the choir arch is braced by a screen) by William Joy in 1338. The existing, orthodox arches had begun to show signs of stress after the tower had been heightened, and the "St Andrew's cross" strainer arches were the solution Joy came up with the alleviate the problem. They worked. However, opinion on the aesthetic merits of Joy's arches was divided and remains so. Some see them as an awkward intrusion while others think them an elegant answer that enlivens the interior. I like them and think they are an interesting and beautiful addition to the cathedral.

When I moved to Lincolnshire I came upon a smaller scale copy of the Wells arches in the church of St Denys in Sleaford. Here a strainer arch clearly derived from the Somerset example was inserted at the west end of the north aisle in 1853. Apparently it solves a problem with the original arch that was exhibiting movement due to the weight of the west tower. Though not on the scale of the Wells examples, and introducing a note of asymmetry to the west end of the church, Sleaford's arch is not without its utilitarian beauty.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo Title: Strainer Arch, St Denys, Sleaford, Lincolnshire
Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17mm (34mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f3.2
Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On