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Sunday 24 February 2013

Bristol Festival of Stone, 31st May to the 9th June 2013

I will be doing some carving in Bath limestone at this festival of stonecarving, which is to be held on the harbourside in Bristol.

Although I'm more often covered in wood chippings, I've always enjoyed stone carving and love having the opportunity to get the stoneworking tools out. It was great to have the chance recently as part of Triodos bank's 'Cornerstone' project
(for more info, click on this link:

There will be 49 other stone carvers in a carving competition, as well as guest carvers and music. I'm entered in the 4 day carve, from the 5th to the 8th of June. It'll  be great seeing a few old friends and having a look at the other work being produced! Now I just need to work out what to produce...

If you'd like to find out more about the Festival of Stone, there's a website at

Baddesley Clinton, a moated manor house in Warwickshire with decorative woodcarving from the 16th century to the 19th century

Baddesley Clinton manor probably dates back to the 13th century, when the Forest of Arden was being cleared for farmland. 
In 1438, John Brome, who was the English Under-Treasurer, acquired the house and it later passed to his son Nicholas. Nicholas built the entrance way that you can see above, complete with gunports around the doorway for defence.
Nicholas' daughter married the High Sheriff of Warwickshire, Edward Ferrers, in 1500. When Nicholas died, the house went into the Ferrers family and remained with them until 1940, when it went to a relative. His son sold Baddesley Clinton to the National Trust in 1980 and they now look after it.

As you might expect from a house that has been occupied for so long many features, even whole parts of the building, have been moved about and altered over time right up until the 1940's. The impressive 16th century fireplace in the main hall was even moved at some point from the upstairs parlour - quite a feat!

The fireplace
The Main Hall

The Parlour

It has to be said that the continuous occupation means that the house does feel like it has been a real home, unlike some of the grand National Trust properties (such as Attingham Park in Shropshire) that were just displays of power and wealth. The way that the house now looks was heavily influenced by two particular owners:

 Henry Ferrers lived there from 1549 until 1633 and a lot of decorative carvings and building layout still exist from this time (including the fireplace shown above). The second group of residents to leave a particular mark were 'The Quartet' in the 19th century. They were Rebecca Orpen and her husband Marmion Edward Ferrers, who lived at Baddesley Clinton with her aunt Lady Chatterton and her husband, Edward Dering. They were completely absorbed in art, history and their Roman Catholic faith. 
Image copyright The National Trust
Long before the Quartet's occupation, the house was a refuge for Roman Catholic Jesuit priests during the reign of Elizabeth the First. Despite being raided in 1591, no priests were ever found there. Lucky for the Ferrers, as they would all have been executed for treason if they had been caught! There are at least three 'priest holes', designed by Nicholas Owen, still to be seen in the house. They were carefully-hidden hideaways for priests in the event of a raid.

It's interesting seeing how the styles of the furniture and carved decoration changes over the years and how individual pieces would be adapted by later owners to suit their needs or the latest fashion.

This oak 'court cupboard' dates to the reign of Charles the First in the 17th century. The carving at the top is original, but that below apparently dates to the 19th century and was presumably added to a plain base to make it look 'better'. The later carving is noticeably crisper and more defined, but a bit more lifeless in comparison to my eye. The older carving's slightly wonky designs and less refined
carving technique give it its own charm.

 In the 17th century, most carving tools were made by the carvers themselves or by a blacksmith, whereas in the 19th century specialist companies offered diverse and sophisticated carving tool ranges. Many specialised carving tools made in the 19th century can still be found in carving tool sets in use today.

Some of the furniture in the house, which was made during the 17th century, has the date of its manufacture incorporated into its design:

This bed was apparently made from pieces of 16th and 17th century carved ornament, pieced together in the 19th century with a few other bits added to join it all together:

Opposite the bed stands a cupboard made during the reign of William and Mary in the late 17th century. The contrast to earlier furniture and decorative carving from the 16th and 17th century in the house is noticeable. It's much simpler and less ornate:

In the adjacent bedroom is a bed which is reputed to have been made from pieces of wrecked Spanish Armada ships. It is known as, funnily enough, the 'Armada Bed'.

The fireplaces in these bedrooms have carved wooden overmantles from the 16th century, which were given a lick of paint in the 19th century. No one knows if the later retouching followed the original colour scheme faithfully or not...

Near the 19th century extension for the servant's quarters, I noticed this waney-edged oak beam in a wall which was presumably built during 16th century if not before. I like the way that the builders didn't bother hewing it square all round - "that'll do, stick it in there!" 

The constant remodelling of the house over the centuries throws up a lot of interesting questions about how it all came to its current layout. The little room shown below is a very good example. There are three small, asymmetrical windows at the far end. It is known to have had a partition wall running along the centre of it from the windows, which was removed relatively recently. A trapdoor below the windows leads into the room below.
The ceiling is continued in the larger room to its right, converted in the 19th century into a chapel, from which it is separated by an oak panelled partition wall.
The wall shown on the left of the photo has sturdy oak beams and looks to be an old exterior wall, but the door leads through into bedrooms that Henry Ferrers had built in the 16th century when he remodelled much of the first floor. The doorway in the wall has been cut into one of the biggest oak beams in the wall, so weakening it. 
The little room may have been a sacristy (priest's robing room) for the chapel in the 19th century, but why and when was the doorway cut into the beam? Why are the windows laid out in the strange way that they are? Why was the removed partition wall originally put in, to make two very narrow rooms? What was the trapdoor for? 
With the often-undocumented changes that the house has gone through over the centuries, I doubt that we will ever know the answers to all of the questions about Baddesley Clinton.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Rainbows and a roundhouse roof

I've been working on the roundhouse today and got the last piece of waterproofing plastic on. Before the next stage, I just need to stick it down, fix the skylights on again properly and put on the plastic strips to protect the seams (see Simon fitting it on a seam below-I'm using sikaflex and strips of the old damp proof membrane, as the jointing tape I bought is useless).

I admit that this post is really just an excuse to show the photo of the roundhouse with a rainbow.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Work on display at Triodos bank's UK headquarters and in 'Cornucopia' at the Grant Bradley Gallery

Last week I was invited to a couple of openings to do with art events that I've been involved in.

On Thursday, I visited Triodos bank's headquarters in Bristol, to see the completion of the 'Cornerstone' project that I've contributed to. We were shown around part of the building, which uses a lot of recycled materials and has a nice atmosphere to it - it's an interesting and well designed space. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming too. Triodos specialise in ethically sound banking, so don't invest in ethically questionable companies. You can see more about the project here;

...and here:

Then on Friday, it was the busy private view for the 'Cornucopia' exhibition at the Grant Bradley gallery in Bristol.

I was really impressed by a lot of the other work on show- most of it was of a very high standard. There are thirty people exhibiting and all go to one or other of the life drawing groups organised by Will Stevens in Bristol. Quite a few are professional artists or are closely involved in the art world in Bristol in some way.

There's more info on the show in this post;

and you can see more about the self portrait which is one of the exhibited pieces in this post;

A bit more Bristol street art...around St Werburghs

Here's some more street art seen on my wanderings in Bristol. These pieces come from around an area called St Werburghs:

The piece below looks like it's by Cheo, who has quite a lot of commissioned work on walls around Bristol. The bee is one of his 'trademark' designs:

I really like the one above, it's been up for a while and has collected a couple of crappy tags, but it's a great piece.

Friday 8 February 2013

Some closer shots of the Grinling Gibbons Overmantle in Bristol Library

I dropped into the library yesterday to do some more research on the figurehead for the 'Matthew' and took the opportunity to get a couple of photos of the Gibbons overmantle in the Bristol Room.

To see my previous post about this apparently little-known oak carving by probably the greatest woodcarver ever to work in Britain, click on this link:

It seems incredibly hard to find any recent images of the overmantle online, so here's some. They're a bit dark, as the room is shaded to stop light damage and I didn't want to use flash photography for the same reason. Even so, there's not that many other pictures of them about it seems, so I hope you like these ones!

Tuesday 5 February 2013

The Boiling Wells roundhouse roof. Ecobuilding vs the elements!

Work has been slowed up a bit on the roundhouse roof recently thanks to some pretty unhelpful weather. First heavy snow, then heavy rain and then strong winds- it seems like every week there's a severe weather warning! It makes it pretty tricky putting on the cut sheets of pondliner and the underlying straw without it getting soaked or blowing away.

But then, it is winter here so what should you expect...

However, the pondliner has now been fitted to two-thirds of the roof, which will be the waterproofing layer. When this is finished, it will be  covered with geotex and then some plastic netting, to give some footing for the gravel, soil planted with low-growing herbs and sedum which will go over it.

 The 'Greenseal' EDPM pondliner has been a bit trickier to work with than expected, no tape seems to want to stick to it and so I'm gluing the sections of it together with Sikaflex and will cut the old DPM polythene waterproof layer into strips and then stick that down over the joins.

Still, things are moving forward slowly-watch this space!

White Greyhound of Richmond vs Talbot- which dog will the new carved Matthew figurehead be?

This post seems very appropriate, when king Richard the Third's bones have just been discovered.

His conqueror and successor, Henry the Seventh, granted John Cabot (or Giovanni Caboto to give him his real name) permission to sail in search of 'all parts of the eastern, western and northern sea' to look for new lands. Cabot sailed from Bristol in 1497 and eventually landed in what is now either Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, so becoming the first European ship's captain to set foot on what became the North American mainland since the Vikings (or possibly St Brendan).

I've been having a very interesting discussion with Royston Griffey, the chairman of the trustees for the 'Matthew' about what the subject of the new figurehead for the Matthew should be. Royston particularly likes the White Greyhound of Richmond, the badge of Henry VII.


My research has led me to believe that a Talbot is a better choice. Talbots were a now-extinct breed of hunting dog which were very popular in medieval times. The original figurehead on the replica 'Matthew' was a Talbot head carved by Paul Hatch but this was lost a few years ago in a collision at sea. The picture below is of a Talbot and comes from Haddon Hall in Derbyshire.


I sent a resume of my research to Royston and thought it might be good to post a slightly edited version of it here, so that anyone interested in the Matthew project, Bristol, Cabot, medieval ships figureheads or indeed anyone else can have a look. See what you think and if you have any thoughts, why not comment? I'd be very interested to hear any other contributions...

The 'Matthew' Figurehead project

Timbers already put aside for use on the project

Lawson Cypress, one of the trees cut down during the landscaping work at Ashton Court. The felling was quite controversial and so a lot of Bristolian people know about this tree. It's nice to be able to use it for a good cause. The timber is durable outdoors, not too heavy and resistant to woodworm attack.
The blocks will be fixed together to make the final complete block for carving, but will be roughly carved separately first to make them easier to handle. One block has already had the profile of the Matthew's bow cut into it, so that it will fit snugly. Each block is a metre long.

Greenheart from the old North Junction lock gates, which were recently replaced. A friend called Jim Sharples gave me it when he built the bench currently outside Mshed from the gates. I would fix this hard, dark wood into the figurehead as the nose and eyes of the dog.

An offcut piece of mast from the SS Great Britain, when the masts were replaced in the 1970s refit. The timber is, I believe, Douglas fir. The rest of the chunk is now a bench at St Werburghs City Farm, where I work part-time. I will cut sections of this and fit them into the block to be carved as a link to the Great Britain, another important part of Bristol's maritime heritage.

The Design Research

When carefully researching the subject over several days to come up with ideas for the figurehead design, I too was at first tempted to carve the White Greyhound of Richmond- it is a very attractive subject for a carver after all. However, I quickly realised that this would be the wrong choice for several reasons.
I'd like to write a bit about it (there's quite a lot more in the file!) because I know how important the Matthew is to you and feel sure that an enthusiastic historian such as yourself (Royston)would also be interested in some of the things that I've found out. Please feel free to comment and I'd be very interested to hear if you know of good evidence to disprove any of these points:

  1. The 'Matthew' was almost certainly not a ship of the line, and so would not have carried a royal figurehead normally. As you pointed out Royston, it was probably bought or hired. It seems highly unlikely that such an elaborate (and expensive) figurehead would be made and bolted onto a ship that was going on such a potentially perilous voyage with a good chance of not returning. It's also unlikely that an expensive ship of the line would be sent on such a mission (which would also perhaps draw unwelcome attention from the Spanish and Portuguese).
  1. The actual design of the White Greyhound of Richmond is far more elaborate than was usual for ships figureheads of the time. No pictures from that period show anything nearly as complex as this. In Carr Laughton's Old Ship figureheads and sterns he says 'such applied ornament as there was before the 16th century was almost certainly extremely simple'. He does point out that there are 'about 1400 very occasional mentions of 'personages', which personages appear usually to have been saints, and of the royal leopards or badges similarly carved' but then goes on to point out that it was far more usual for such badges to be painted on the ship rather than carved as a figurehead. The National Maritime Museum confirms this on their website. I've shown some other examples from my research below. The top one is the figurehead on the 'coca de Mataro', a model of a carvel-built ship (probably a votive offering) from the 15th century, now in a museum in Rotterdam. It's believed to have been made by a shipwright and to be an accurate representation. No figureheads seem to sit below the bow, but obviously that is where one would have to sit on the replica Matthew.

Detail from image copyright Prins Hendrick museum, Rotterdam

This wolf figurehead is from a picture of a carrack from 1532 by Holbein, shown in Ships Figureheads by M. Stammers:

  1. I have spoken to my friends who have crewed many times on the 'Matthew' (Louise, Breamie, Darren, Tom). From talking with them, it became clear that the figurehead takes quite a buffeting in high seas. The White Greyhound is a complex and graceful design, but this is why it would be highly likely to get damaged at sea, particularly the muzzle and legs. One way to strengthen the figurehead might be to drop it's head down onto the neck, but then a dog which looks like it has a broken neck is probably not ideal either. The figurehead needs to have a sturdier design.

One important reason for me offering my services was to make the figurehead initially was as a tribute to Breamie (Steven Kelly), who crewed on the Matthew many times and even helped to save it once, when the whipstaff broke in a heavy sea. As I'm sure you know, Breamie died suddenly and unexpectedly not long ago and putting his initials somewhere unobtrusive, so he can sail with the ship he loved, seems like a fitting memorial. I feel that the Talbot was far more his style than the royal greyhound. Not a historical fact of course, but an important one to me and the people who crewed with him.

  1. The grant from king Henry VII gives right to sail 'under our banners and ensignes' but no mention of carved figureheads. I'd say that this could be a clue as to the Matthew itself not being a royal ship and so not having a royal motif as it's figurehead.
  1. I'm concerned that covering the Matthew with royal insignia inappropriate to ships from that period of history risks making it look like Earnest Board's delightfully romantic Victorian painting of Cabot's departure from 1906 . Nothing wrong in that, I love Boards colourful image, but historians seem unanimous in saying that it is “way too romantic' (Byrne and Gurr The Bristol Story).

  2. I like the idea of the Talbot's hunting dog senses bringing the ship safely back to port. After all, medieval sailors seem to have been quite a superstitious bunch – maybe they would really have believed that it would help! 'Such was the reputation of the Talbot that 15th and 16th century seafarers believed it could track anything, anywhere and a Talbot figurehead could track it's way across any sea or ocean, finding the best passage to keep the ship and crew safe” 
     (Talbotania Feb 99)
  1. The Talbot Research society's 'Talbotania' dated Feb 1999 has a whole section about the Talbot as a figurehead on the Matthew. They point out that 'the original Matthew probably didn't have a figurehead when she was built but it is quite probable that one was made and fitted as a good luck symbol before the ship set out on her voyage across the Atlantic'. It appears that in the 15th century, figureheads would often be carved by the ship's carpenters. Professional figurehead carvers (and the more complicated designs that they carved) don't seem to come along until later, around the sixteenth century when figureheads started to become more common. A ship's carpenter would be using his tools (axes, saws and simple gouges etc., not specialist carving tools) and so would produce something a lot simpler than the White Greyhound of Richmond design which you sent me, as contemporary pictorial records seem to show.
  1. Also in the same article is this paragraph, which particularly caught my eye:
'On Millerd's pictorial plan of Bristol published in 1673 there is depicted eleven Talbot hounds swimming in the River Avon at Redcliff Back. Just to the east from here, between Redcliff Street and Saint Thomas Street was Hounden Lane where the Talbot hounds depicted on Millerd's map were kennelled. Many of these hounds were trained in the Avon at Redcliff for the purpose of rescuing people who had fallen into the river, much the same as Newfoundland dogs are trained today.'

I'm assuming that dogs had been trained to do the same job for a while in Bristol, given that the harbour was also an open sewer in the 15th century and that dogs are the most likely animals to do this kind of work. In a more fanciful mood, I'd like to think that such Hounds may have seen the original Matthew (or even saved some of it's crew!)

References to Talbots as a breed don't seem to begin until the 16th century, but then it has also been identified as coming to Britain with the Normans (perhaps known as the St Hubert hound). Being that talbots and greyhounds seem to have been the only breeds used in heraldry and that greyhounds are certainly not built for swimming and then rescuing people, a talbot looks like the best representation available of these rescue dogs (Wikipedia 12/2011)

Using a hound that could well have rescued Bristolians in trouble and been part of harbour life, rather than the badge of a monarch who gave Cabot some expenses and a warrant, but rarely even visited the city (although he did visit St Annes well in Brislington a couple of times), seems to me to be more appropriate on a figurehead ship for the city of Bristol.

Finally, here is the clay maquette for the figurehead which I have produced:

The feet would have sturdy supports hidden on the inside of the design to stop them breaking.


Unfortunately, this post has a sad footnote. This project never had the chance to be finished. The ship now has a nicely carved but, in my opinion, historically inaccurate greyhound on the front of it.