I am the director of a Norfolk based architectural practice. I have over 20 years' experience of working with historic and existing buildings, churches and sensitive sites. This blog offers opinions and articles on the wonderful world of architecture and building.
This church stands just outside the gates of Ketteringham Hall, and was generously endowed by the powerful families who lived there. Originally it was a small 11th century Romanesque building, shown by several small round headed windows, now blocked up from the inside. The mark in the flint wall above them shows the original height of the eaves. The lowest section of the tower is unusual in that the corners are not dressed with stone, again indicating its humble origins.
The Atkyns and the Boileau families of the Hall enriched the church in many ways. The upper section of the tower was rebuilt in 1870, using fine stone and brick, with a chequerboard pattern at the top and a stone turret at the top of the staircase. Sir John Boileau had the balcony at the west end built in 1841 for the Sunday school children. The rail is low so that they could see the service easily. Sir John also constructed a mausoleum in the churchyard, a fine classical building in the Egyptian style, for himself and his family. The Mausoleum was restored in 2006 thanks to the efforts of the Churchwarden, Mary Parker.
The 15th century font has been defaced, but represents the crucifix and the holy trinity. There are some marvellous fragments of medieval glass, which have been reset into the 19th century east window, it is a miracle they survived Cromwell's purge.
The roof is a beautiful addition of 1908 - it has short hammerbeams with arch braces and is magnificent. It gives a grandeur to this small building which perfectly sets off the enormous number of monuments in the chancel. The earliest is the Heveningham tomb of the early 16th century, and there are many to the Atkyns and Boileau families. A beautiful Norfolk gem.
In my job, I often see things from unusual angles. This is the single bell of East Carleton Church, seen from a tiny, dusty platform half way up the belfry. All churches are inspected every five years, and this involves climbing around every nook and cranny, onto the roof and into the crypt (occasionally). The bell seen here is dated 1620, but was rehung when the tower was increased in height in the 1880s. Bells are expensive and are rarely renewed unless they are damaged. This one has been dinging away for nearly four hundred years.
The churchyard is full of monuments. This one is in the north east corner, shrouded by bushes and trees, and once had railings and a gate to its own little enclosure. Now, it is gently collapsing and fading away.
The spectacular ruined priory at Castle Acre is well known and is often visited, but only a few miles away lie the ruins of a similar large priory at West Acre. The village is remote, quiet and tiny and the site lies within the grounds of the Abbey House. Next to the church there is the well preserved gate house. Abbey House lies beyond, and incorporates within its outbuildings part of the Cloister. The tall standing section is all that is left of the west end of the church, it is a roofless ruin covered in dead ivy. Behind it there is a meadow, with many lumps in the ground indicating where the remains of the rest of the church and the priory buildings once stood. There is a lonely monolith standing in the middle of the meadow which was part of the Chapter House. Two other tiny fragments remain, one near the river which may have been the Infirmary or possibly the Reredortor (privy) and an almost buried section of cloister wall.
Why did the buildings of Castle Acre survive more completely than West Acre? After the dissolution of the monastries, most of the valuables were stripped and sold (lead off the roofs, for example) and at Castle Acre the Prior's Lodging was used as a farmhouse. Its continuing use ensured its survival, although most of the cut stone was used for building and can be seen in other buildings within the village. It is possible that West Acre was more thoroughly stripped of its valuable cut stone than Castle Acre, leaving the flint cobble walls vulnerable to the weather and without structurally sound corners.
Owners of land with medieval buildings had their own stone quarry, and could make some money out of it.
Last week, I visited Bristol for the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors' Association spring meeting. The main topics were of course based around churches and cathedrals, but one of the highlights for a Brunel fan was not on the official programme, it was the journey from Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed chief engineer for the new railway in 1833, and by 1840 it was complete. It must have been an incredible feat, and reduced the fastest journey time from 16 hours by mail coach to four.
Brunel was notoriously unable to delegate, and had a hand in the design of not only the route, but most of the structures along it. The most famous is probably the Box Tunnel, between Chippenham and Bath, then the longest driven tunnel in the world. The entrance is not just a utilitarian structural brick arch, but a grand front, impressive, masculine and proud.
Paddington station itself was designed partly by Brunel and partly by Matthew Digby Wyatt. It is a grand cathedral of a space, whose beautiful ironwork is decorated with little leaf shaped overlays.
At the other end is the world's first railway terminus, Temple Meads station. Its detailing is reminiscent of a grand castle gatehouse, a statement of the Great Western Railway's pride in its achievement. Behind it is the passenger shed, which is now used as a car park.
Brunel's railway was such a success, that by 1870 it was already over capacity, and a new building and platforms were added, possibly by Francis Fox. It is another grand, opulant, decorative structure, impressive, masculine, and beautifully built.
The grandeur, beauty and above all, the pride that these structures convey was wonderful to behold.
These are the beautiful, but very common bricks used for a great many of Norfolk's 19th century farm buildings. Look closely, and you can see the range of colours, from almost slate grey to a orangy brown, caused by each individual's position in the kiln. The dark ones are known as 'kiln bottoms' and are often used to make a pattern of alternating dark headers (the short ends) and lighter stretchers (the long sides). Look closely at an individual brick. Two in the centre of the photo have patches of different colours, which go under the lovely name of 'kiss marks'. This is where the bricks touched in the kiln as they were fired. The clay used to make them was stoney, and show up as little specks ('inclusions') in the surface. Such a riot of detail is beautiful to behold, but at the time this barn was built, the bricks were considered sub-standard and not good enough for a grander building.
The bricks are beautifully laid in thin joints of lime mortar, mixed with lumps of chalk, and is still good after 150 years. However, weather and pollution can cause mortar to deteriorate, as shown in the photo below.
The bricks are fine, but the mortar has almost gone Not good news, either for keeping the damp out or for holding the building up. The best way to deal with it is, of course, to repoint the wall, using the same mortar as the original builders so lovingly applied. Unfortunately due to the ignorance of cowboy builders, many a wall has been ruined by the use of modern cement mortar. The once beautiful and mellow wall ends up looking like this:
Gone are the lovely, thin, white joints, to be replaced by ugly, fat, grey, cement ones, with splashes and splosh marks all over the face, ground and surrounding parish. Not only does it look appalling, but Portland cement is very, very hard, and will damage the lovely soft clay of the original brickwork. After several years of frost and rain, the wall ends up like this:
Almost gone, thanks to bad pointing. What a (expensive) shame.