Follow Martin's Progress

Progress Update July 2021

The tale of two assignments

You are an eternal student. You never master anything – you just become progressively less bad. I recently read this in an article for a monthly magazine I take.

As regular readers will know, I decent chunk of my apprenticeship is spent studying and working towards my Foundation Degree in Historic Buildings Conservation with the Cathedral’s Workshop Fellowship (CWF). This past month I have spent much of my time researching, analysing, writing, sketching, drawing, measuring, then re-researching, re-analysing, re-writing, re-sketching, re-drawing and re-measuring, for my current two assignments. One assignment is about architect and archaeology for which my focus is the south-east apse and its three chapel; the other is a about project planning for which I’m focusing on the installation of a new font in the cathedral.

I’m really enjoying the research part of the project architecture and archaeology assignment. I love reading and finding out more about the cathedral and its history. I have spent plenty of time pouring over some key books, journals and papers. These in turn have brought further reading material to my attention which I have consumed. I have been reading about things such as side chapels, radiating chapels, ambulatories, tribune galleries and crypts. Other reading material has included things about western monasticism, and unsurprisingly, a lot about medieval architecture and histories and commentaries about the abbey and cathedral.

I have made few trips to the cathedral archives, where I have been ably directed by the brilliant archivist, Becky. She has one of those enviable rolodex minds as she has been able to recall all sorts of items and information of use to me from the most obscure description I have sometimes given her.

Looking through drawings, maps and plans, I’m steadily piecing these together with some of my notes and observations I have made of the apse and chapels, trying to work out the sequencing of some elements have been added or removed at later dates. Some developments and changes are really well documented, but others, less so; some are easy to spot and date, others, less so. The window on the apse is a good place to start when looking for changes in the design style. Norman and Early English in the crypt chapel; Perpendicular but housed in remodelled Norman surrounds in the choir chapel; Decorated in the tribune chapel, but two of which again have been re-housed in former Norman blind arcaded windows.

For me, part of the attraction of this assignment is wanting to discover something not covered or missed by others in the various histories and chronicles already written. My best find to date is a portion of the central window in the tribune gallery chapel, where I think an altarpiece might have once existed. Usually, visitors to the tribune gallery file past the chapel not giving anything in it a second look – their loss!

When I first came to Gloucester two years ago on work placement I was really impressed with the knowledge and understanding of my colleagues, (I still am!), particularly with regard to them being able to spot and name the architectural style of certain elements in the cathedral. How did they know somethings were Norman, others Decorated and others still, Perpendicular? The answer is simple. The CWF Architecture and Archaeology modules. It is teaching me lots about how to identify the key features of the different architectural styles. On some of my days off I have taken myself off on medieval architectural hunting trips to help me spot my Early English from my Decorated etc, etc. For some reason my family leave me to do this all by myself!

My other assignment is still in its early stages. I have read several papers about the font, supplied to me by colleagues. These have included archaeology reports and vision statements, which are key to the project and my understanding. I have begun to interview the people involved with the project to get their perspective on how the planning and installation of the font will affect them. I have already begun to appreciate the volume of work that goes into a project like this, well before any stone is purchased, cut or carved. Each person plays their part in a team effort to bring the project to fruition.

To infinity, but not beyond the north transept!

On site this month my task (along with my colleagues) has been cutting out what seems like acres of cement from the joints between the stones on the north transept. The cement is bad news for the stones, so it needs to be removed. I spend some of the time each morning cutting diligently into the joints with my grinder, being careful so as not to damage the medieval stones. The work is dirty and dusty. However, we have these brilliant Infinity PowerCaps. These are respiratory, head, and eye protecting helmets, which vitally act as barriers to dust and particles, giving us all peace of mind regarding our health. The helmets come with a battery pack which runs small fans which help keep my face cool and stops the visors from fogging.

There’s a few more miles of cement to cut and rake out before the next marathon task of repointing begins. The eternal student continues; hopefully getting less bad… !

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