Durham Cathedral: Cloister

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Durham cathedral is described as “the finest and most complete of all the Norman cathedrals surviving in Britain” (Tatton-Brown, 1989). The location of the building is high above the River Wear making its magnificent setting very striking. Bishop William of St Calais decided to build a new cathedral in 1092 resulting in the complete demolition of the existing church on the site which had been built almost a century before. The first foundation trenches for the new church were dug on 29th July 1093, in the presence of the bishop and the prior, and on 11 August the first stones were ceremoniously laid. When Bishop William died in 1096 the monks carried on the building work and after Rannulf Flambard was made bishop in 1099, the church was “made as far as the nave” (Chronicle of Simeon of Durham, c1104-1108). The coffin of St Cuthbert was moved to its new resting place within the eastern apse on 29th August 1104 and the 12th century English historian William of Malmesbury tells us that “there was a premature but harmless collapse of the centring upon which the vault over the east end was erected.” The walls of the nave were complete “up to the covering” (Chronicle of Simeon of Durham, c1104-1108) when Bishop Flambard died in 1128 and work was completed during the course of the next five years. It is thought likely that Durham was the first great cathedral in Europe to be vaulted throughout and the spectacular structure was constructed within a period of forty years ((Tatton-Brown, 1989).

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The plan of Durham cathedral is uniform throughout and is based on the plan of Lanfranc’s cathedral at Canterbury some twenty years earlier. The technological high point of English Romanesque architecture was fully embodied at Durham. At a time when many new ideas were reaching north west Europe from the east, and following the period of the First Crusade, the masons skilfully introduced remarkable innovations. With the introduction of new building techniques, the massive solid early Norman structures were gradually enhanced with much more decorated and beautiful buildings of the High Romanesque architecture of the 12th century. Benedictine cathedral monasticism drew to a close at the beginning of the 12th century and was followed by the Cistercians who started to build churches in a very different way.

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Needless to say, the materials that a building is constructed from will play an important part in its visual impact. Durham cathedral is constructed of dressed sandstone and as Clifton-Taylor (1983) notes, a building of stone “has something of the monument about it.” The Conquest effected a revolution in English stone building when the Norman prelates required enormous churches and the stonemasons of the Middle Ages were among the best paid and most highly regarded of all workers. These trained craftsmen were needed in huge numbers during an incredible age for building and with many of the finest cathedrals and castles dating to the Norman period, numerous masons were Norman French arriving in England to undertake the vast scale of architectural work of the period. Many architectural terms are of French origin and are a direct result of the introduction of the Norman stonemasons’ words. The standardization of building units is of Norman influence and the glorious art and architecture of the 700 years that followed was equally met by the craftsmanship of the stonemasons. The master mason was for many centuries considered the key figure of building construction. Supervising the works and often assuming the role of architect before architecture became a separate profession, the master masons were under direct control of the Crown, the church and high dignitaries. They were responsible for overseeing the quarrying of the stone, arranging transportation to site, preparing full scale layouts (drawings) and working the building stone entirely by hand (Clifton-Taylor, 1983).

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On the south side of Durham Cathedral is the cloister. From the Latin ‘claustrum’, meaning enclosed space, the word cloister generally refers to the covered ambulatory around a monastery or college quadrangle. Benedictine and Cistercian cloisters were very often majestic in scale compared to those of the Franciscans which were of more modest proportions (Jenner, 1993). Although construction began in 1093, when the cathedral was begun, the buildings contained within the cloister date from the 15th century and later. In monastic cathedrals such as Durham, the cloister was at the heart of a complex of buildings which included the chapter house, dormitory and refectory. Once built, a cathedral would have been profusely decorated with stained glass, sculpture and wall paintings (Tatton-Brown, 1989). Window tracery was an exacting task for banker masons with nearly all designs rooted in geometry. At the Reformation, and again during the Cromwellian period, such ornamentation was considered to be heretical and idolatrous resulting in widespread destruction. Clifton-Taylor (1974) describes the destruction of medieval stained glass as “the greatest calamity that has ever befallen English art.” The Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century by Henry VIII was far more than an act of ecclesiastical reform. The period also saw the most radical redistribution of land ownership since the Norman Conquest despite Henry VIII’s principle policy of destroying monastic buildings being motivated by his desire to acquire their valuable fittings (Jenner,1993). As it was not possible to destroy all the hundreds of abbeys, priories and friaries which had been built over so many centuries, thankfully the ruinous beauty and majesty of monastic architecture can still be appreciated.

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Often covering the intersection of vaulting or a ceiling intersect, roof bosses are a prolific feature at Durham Cathedral. The wooden ceiling above the arcades in the cloister is richly ornamented with these beautiful architectural features which would originally have been brightly coloured. With the advent of Gothic architecture, these decorative bosses became widespread and are often elaborately carved with foliage, heraldic shields, animals and grotesques. Not only was their purpose to cover a joint, in stone or wood, the boss could be applied when the structure was complete or be an integral part of the structure. The bosses, capitals and ornamentation surrounding windows was the responsibility of the carver who was usually trained in a masons’ yard (Clifton-Taylor, 1983). Several wooden benches are all that now furnish the cloister yet walking along the arcades and looking out onto the grass courtyard, there’s an ambience that takes you back to the hustle and bustle of times long since passed.

The lack of comfort and extremely cold temperatures in some of our religious buildings is humourously noted in 1771 by Tobias Smollett in The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: 

“the builder’s intention fhould be to keep the people dry and warm – For my part, I never entered the Abbey church at Bath but once, and the moment I flept over the threfhold, I found myself chilled to the very marrow of my bones – When we confider, that in our churches, in general, we breathe a grofs ftagnated air, furcharged with damps from vaults, tombs, and charnel-houfes, may we not term them fo many magazines of rheums, created for the benefit of the medical faculty? and fafely aver, that more bodies are loft, than souls faved, by going to church, in the winter efpecially, which may be faid to engrofs eight months in the year. I fhould be glad to know, what offence it would give to tender confciences, if the houfe of God was made more comfortable, or lefs dangerous to the health of valetudinarians; and whether it would not be an encouragement to piety, as well as the falvation of many lives, if the place of worfhip was well floored, wainfcotted, warmed, and ventilated, and its area kept facred from the pollution of the dead.”

Durham Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Grade I Listed.

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Lyddington Bede House

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The village of Lyddington lies on the northern edge of the valley of the River Welland where the Hlyde, from which Lyddington takes its name, forms a tributary valley. The forest of Rockingham provided an ideal hunting ground for the Norman kings and was the basis of the Bishops of Lincoln decision to develop their estate at Lyddington. Located conveniently near the centre of the diocese, the rural palace became an important seat of ecclesiastical administration. The palace served the princes of the church up to the sequestration of episcopal property by the Crown in 1547. It then passed to the Cecils of Burghley in 1600 and the surviving buildings were converted by Sir Thomas Cecil into the Jesus Hospital, later known as the Bede House, to house pensioners. The buildings served this purpose and continued to be occupied until 1930. It was acquired by the Ministry of Works in 1954 and has since been restored.

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Originating as the medieval wing of the palace, archaeological evidence suggests that the surviving buildings are only the end cross wing of a great 14th century hall. It is thought likely to have been built by Bishop Burghersh who was given licence to crenellate in 1336. The main upper chambers were refenestrated and re-roofed in the latter part of the 15th century. The archaeological evidence has also revealed that the position, splendour and size of the former hall was greater than that constructed by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Mayfield in Sussex. Running along the front of the building is a lean to verandah which was erected in 1745 to provide some shelter for the old folk of the bede house.

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At the top of the stair to the ceremonial apartments is a landing with two very fine doorcases (above). Dating to the early 14th century, they survive from the newly crenellated residence of Bishop Burghersh. The shields in the spandrels may well have been painted and gilded but no trace of this now survives.

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The Chapel (above) was probably once part of the bishop’s private chapel. Originally there was a window in the wall (now blocked) which would have allowed those in the Great Chamber to hear mass. The room was later used by a bedeswoman and the invalid chair also dates to this period.

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The Great Chamber (above) was the most magnificent room in the bishop’s private quarters. It later became the common hall of the bedehouse. The room is bathed in light from the mullioned and transomed windows which date to the late 15th century. Below the exceptionally beautiful early 16th century cornice (below), the walls had fine tapestries and hangings. This room was where the bishop received eminent guests – high clergymen, heads of monastic houses, courtiers and kings.

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When the palace was converted in 1601, the great chamber became the bedesmen’s common hall. The residents would gather here to say prayers and recite the Lord’s Prayer. Four times a year they would also listen to the warden reading the rules of the bedehouse. With the dispersal of the bishop’s household it is probable that the fine furnishings were stripped out with anything of value being sold to supplement the royal coffers.

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The Presence Chamber is a room in which medieval bishops conducted their business. The room has a blocked doorway that originally lead up to the presumed gallery above the great hall. The room features a fine fireplace (above) with five carved panels datable by analogy to 1480-1520. With its ornamental fireplace and handsome ceiling, the room would have been impressive and furnished with a canopied bed, rich hangings and decorated chairs. Bishop John Longland was possibly the last bishop who occupied the room. He was King Henry VIII’s confessor and was caught up in the king’s struggle against the Church. The king and Catherine Howard stayed at Lyddington in 1541 and met with his privy councillors before continuing north. After the conversion of the palace in the 17th century, this room and those beyond it were used by the warden of the bedehouse.

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In the medieval palace, the attic floor was probably no more than roof storage. Moulded tie beams indicate that these were visible before the fine ceiling of the great chamber was inserted. Part of the floor is laid in gypsum plaster on reed – a flooring technique common in the east Midlands from the late medieval period onwards. The attic floor has a series of fine knee-braced collar trusses with curved windbraces to the single level of butt purlins. The fine roof structure dates to the mid 15th century and was probably built by Bishop Alnwick before his death in 1449. Gabled dormer windows were inserted in the 17th or 18th century and a small iron fireplace indicates that at least one of the attic rooms was used and heated in the 19th century.

Lyddington Bede House is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.

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Ashby De La Zouch Castle

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On the outskirts of Ashby De La Zouch stands the ruins of Ashby Castle and the earthwork remains of an associated formal garden, known as The Wilderness. The Castle was the creation of William, Lord Hastings, who was one of the leading political figures and artistic patrons of the 15th century. Edward IV granted license to fortify the site in 1474. Adapting an existing manor house, Lord Hastings also built a new chapel and two towers – the Great Tower and The Kitchen Tower. Work to the Castle was interrupted in 1483 when Lord Hastings was executed but Ashby became the principle seat of his descendants. Remaining in the ownership of the Hastings family until the mid 17th century, the Castle was besieged during the Civil War and surrendered to the Parliamentarians in 1646. The site is primarily a 12th century house that was redesigned and rebuilt over several centuries. The early Norman house and buildings were originally timber structures which were replaced by stone after 1150.

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The Kitchen Tower (above) stands to the west of the hall and was erected between 1350 and 1400. The lower two storeys originally formed a vast vaulted space which was ringed with hearths and cauldron stands. The kitchen had its own well, set in a wall niche. Above the kitchen was a spacious room with large windows, a timber floor and its own latrines. To either side of the Kitchen Tower there were further service ranges. The size of the kitchen is unusually large and featured a high vault decorated with carved bosses of stone. Only two hearths remain following the demolition of one wall in 1648 and would have incorporated several cooking spaces, such as cauldron stands for boiling, fireplaces for roasting and ovens for baking.

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Great Chamber

The Great Chamber is at the opposite end of the hall from the services and probably featured a parlour at ground level. Used as a principle room for entertaining important guests, the Great Chamber still retains a fine 15th century fireplace (below) and a huge grid window, cut through in the 16th century.

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Fireplace Great Chamber

The Great Tower is the architectural centrepiece of the castle and is thought to have been completed shortly after Lord Hastings obtained a licence to crenellate in 1474. The Tower could be secured with a portcullis which fitted within the grooves on each side of the small entrance door. The Tower is elaborately detailed and features heraldic achievements of Lord Hastings and lions of England which ornament the entrance door. The Great Tower was the last major addition to the Castle and reflected the power and wealth of Lord Hastings. The Tower was blown up on the orders of Parliament in 1648. The operation was directed by William Bainbrigg of Lockington, a local cavalry commander.

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Great Tower

The Chapel (below) would have been served by priests and singers from the household and is thought to be the earliest of the extensive additions which took place between 1464 and 1483. Situated to the south east of the solar building, the Chapel had two balconies at the west end. Seated in stalls along the sides of the Chapel, original wooden panelling and a first floor gallery were located on the west wall. In 1907 the eastern part of the chapel was screened off for use as a burial place for the Hastings family.

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The Chapel

The remains of the garden earthworks date to the 16th century and are known as The Wilderness. The rectangular garden is divided in two by a raised walkway. Some garden designers are known to have built fortifications which had a strong appeal for the 16th century English nobility. By 1615, the gardens included a ‘wilderness’ which was a newly fashionable type of shady garden planted with trees. The gardens largely disappeared after the Civil War although a kitchen garden was maintained until the 18th century to serve Ashby Place.

Ashby Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.

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Outer Porch

Dacre: St Andrews Church

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In the village of Dacre stands the parish Church of St Andrew. Constructed of sandstone rubble walls, the church dates to the late 12th century. With 13th century additions, the building was rebuilt in 1810 and features battlemented parapets which date to the 19th century. The church has a west tower of three storeys with an inscription above the entrance noting that the steeple was rebuilt in 1810.

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The church has an open timber roof which dates to the 17th century

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The three bay chancel retains 12th century narrow round-headed windows and has a late 17th century communion rail with twisted balusters.

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The nave features the original 12th century unmoulded round-headed tower arch and has two light clerestory windows. The four bay arcades date from the early 13th century and differ from one another. The north arcade is earlier having arches with slight chamfers and piers that are mostly round while the south arcade arches have normal chamfers and octagonal piers.

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Engraved window memorial to Sylvia McCosh of Dalemain

In the chancel of the church is an engraved window (above) by Sir Laurence Whistler as a memorial to Sylvia McCosh. Whistler was a poet, writer and glass engraver who revived the technique of line engraving on both sides of the glass. This intricate engraving creates an illusion of perspective in his depiction of landscapes and was a popular technique during the 17th and 18th centuries. Sylvia McCosh of Dalemain was instrumental in bringing the gardens of Dalemain House back to life following the war. She had successfully nurtured small plants and seedlings since childhood and faced with the task of bringing a dormant garden to life again, she introduced many plants which flourished in her garden in Lanarkshire, including Meconopsis grandis, and over one hundred varieties of old-fashioned roses. Before her death in 1991, Sylvia started a campaign for a pipe organ in the church to replace the 19th century organ that had been removed in the 1970’s. Following extensive fundraising, the new organ was finally installed in 2002.

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The Church of St Andrew is Grade I Listed.

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Mallerstang: Pendragon Castle

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Located to the north of Outhgill in the Vale of Mallerstang are the remains of Pendragon Castle. Reputedly founded by Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur, the castle was built next to the river Eden in the 12th century. The fortified tower house is important as a Late Norman pele tower and apparently built to stand on its own.

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Originally built by Hugh de Morville in 1173, the castle passed into the ownership of the Clifford family who obtained a licence to crenelate in 1309. The castle was destroyed by the Scots in 1341 and subsequently rebuilt in 1360. The Clifford’s continued to live in the castle until 1541 when it was again destroyed by fire. Lady Anne Clifford restored the castle in 1660 and following her death, the building gradually fell into ruin.

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Fallen masonry has revealed a north entrance with a spiral stair either side of the passage which was closed by a portcullis and Pevsner records vaulted mural chambers in the walls. The castle was eventually dismantled in circa 1685. Pendragon Castle is set in the stunning landscape of Mallerstang and is both a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.

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Barnard Castle

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The Great Hall, Great Chamber and Round Tower

Commanding a strategic point overlooking the River Tees are the remains of Barnard Castle. The castle was the principle stronghold of the Baliol family who founded the town at its gates and turned the castle into one of the largest fortresses in northern England. The land on which the castle was built had been given to the Church in the ninth century but was forcibly taken by the Earls of Northumberland by the eleventh century. The land reverted back to the Crown at the end of the eleventh century after William II crushed a rebellion by the Earl. In 1095, the king granted the land to Guy de Baliol who was a loyal supporter from Picardy in north eastern France.

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The Great Ditch

The foundations of Barnard Castle date from the twelfth century when Guy de Baliol built a timber castle here. The site was chosen specifically as it was naturally defended on two sides by steep cliffs and the River Tees and to the north of the site, there was a road and a ford laid out by the Romans. The castle includes an early twelfth century ringwork which was a medieval fortification comprising of a small defended area which was surrounded by a substantial ditch. Acting as strongholds for military operations, ringworks in some cases defended aristocratic or manorial settlements. Guy de Baliol held the lands around Barnard Castle for thirty years and was succeeded by his nephew Bernard de Baliol in 1125. Together with his son, Bernard turned the castle into a major fortress by rebuilding in stone and enlarging the site.

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The Inner Ward with 13th century Round Tower

By the early thirteenth century the family fell into financial difficulties and in about 1190, Bishop Pudsey of Durham held the castle in security for a loan made to Eustace de Helicourt, a member of a local tenant family, who inherited the estate in 1199. The castle was returned to the family around 1212 when King John ordered the castle to be returned to Eustace’s son Hugh. The king granted the lordship to Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, in 1307 but as the Beauchamps main interests were in the Midlands, the castle was used mostly as a source of revenue with the outer wards largely abandoned making the castle smaller and cheaper to run.

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Outer wall of the Town Ward

The bishops tried once again to recover possession of the castle in 1471 however, the lordship passed to Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. In 1483, Richard became king and although he made alterations and had plans for the castle, most were never realised because of his early death at Bosworth Field in 1485. The castle remained in royal hands until 1603 during which time the castle went into decline despite requests for money to pay for repairs.

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The deep rock-cut ditch surrounding the Inner Ward

In 1603 James I gave the castle to Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset. The estate was transferred to the Prince of Wales in 1615 following the disgrace of Somerset and was subsequently sold to the City of London in 1626. Sold to Sir Henry Vane in 1630, the castle was dismantled to provide materials for an extensive rebuilding programme at his main residence at Raby Castle. Lord Barnard of Raby became the eventual owner of the estate and in 1952, he placed the Inner, Middle and Town wards in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works.

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The ruins of Barnard Castle are Grade I Listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

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Egglestone Abbey

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East range with Chapter House

On the southern bank of the River Tees stand the ruins of Egglestone Premonstratensian Abbey. The church and cloister was a small narrow building and was first constructed in 1195-1225. In circa 1250, the presbytery was rebuilt and the nave enlarged. The north and west walls of the nave are the only surviving parts of the original church.

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The Abbey was founded between 1195 – 1198, by the de Multon family, for Premonstratensian canons and was constructed of squared stone and rubble. The cruciform plan church almost lost its Abbey status as a result of the poverty suffered by the canons throughout their history. Known as ‘white monks’, the Canons undertook preaching and pastoral work in the region but followed the Cistercian rule of austerity.

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East end of the 13th century church

The five light east window (above) consists of four tall straight moulded mullions with no tracery.

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After the Dissolution in 1538, the north and east ranges were converted to a manorial hall by Robert Strelley. Dating to the mid 16th century, the east range of the cloister (above) was of three storeys and features a first floor fireplace with a flat pointed head with the remains of a warming house fireplace on the ground floor.

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East range groin-vaulted rere-dorter undercroft

The Abbey was sold in 1770 to John Morritt of Rokeby Hall with his descendant placing the ruins in state guardianship in 1925.

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The ruins of Egglestone Abbey are a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.

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