Architectural palimpsests – reusing ruins

Architectural-palimpsest-roof-detailHow amusing that I’ve come to write and post about change and the reuse of the original to find that the WordPress interim editor has morphed into the new all singing all dancing mobile friendly editor. As I get to grips with the new which is amended and overwritten (I’m presuming this as I’m not really familiar with what’s going on underneath the bonnet of this ‘editor machine’), I know I’m working in a long and well-trodden tradition.

Ever since they started scraping and reusing vellum the possibility of a palimpsest has existed. Glimpsing patches of an earlier image or some older text beneath more recent writing has been a boon to scholars working with ancient manuscripts.  Obviously, in less comfortable times humans have reused all kinds of scarce resources as a matter of course. Often when buildings were damaged by fire and not rebuilt surviving quality materials such as expensive stone and brick were speedily carted off to be used elsewhere. However, sometimes prestigious ruins were simply incorporated into a new different building.

There is a fine example of an architectural palimpsest in Bury St Edmunds incorporating parts of the surviving structures of the old Benedictine Monastery into a newer building.

old monastery wall palimpsest
Architectural palimpsest – the old monastery wall is reused to form part of a house.

Not much of the monastery’s Abbey Church survives today, but the freestanding ruins provide an intriguing reminder of how magnificent the original St Edmunds Abbey must have been. Interestingly, it was the place where a group of English Barons held a significant secret meeting over 800 years ago. At this rendezvous, probably around the 20 November 1214, they swore an oath to compel King John to accept The Charter of Liberties. The following year at Runnymede this charter would be assented to by the king and is known as Magna Carta.

Nowadays, at the entrance to the Abbey Gardens there stands a mid-14th century gatehouse which would have been the secular entrance to the monastery. Whilst further down the road, still formidable in all its imposing magnificence, is the Norman Tower which was the original clerical entrance for the Benedictine monks.

I’m always looking for inspiration from architectural details and there was plenty to photograph in Bury St Edmunds. I like the process of considering the Norman Tower, then the medieval Abbey Gatehouse and then, finally, the very recently finished (2000-2005) gothic revival tower of the Victorian St Edmundsbury Cathedral.


The pleasure and the pain – Internet shopping versus the mall.

Tiles detailI spent last Sunday in the garden, came in wind blown and muddy, balancing on one leg to get my boot off lurched towards the door and ripped the curtain down. How clumsy? After sorting myself out I examined the curtain damage and realised it was beyond repair.

Royal Arcade Norwich
The Royal Arcade, Norwich.
A beautiful example of Arts and Crafts architecture, 1899
Now, I never really liked the curtains, but I chose the fabric as the least objectionable of a poor selection in a big department store about a decade ago. At the time I had been to four different specialist shops (two have since folded) before ending up in the John Lewis soft furnishings department. I ordered from their swatch samples and had to wait a couple of weeks for delivery.

It wasn’t really a painful experience just irritating and certainly not pleasurable. This time I’ve spent a couple of evenings on the computer searching through an almost overwhelming choice, have had swatches arrive speedily and have received my chosen curtain fabric this afternoon. Less than a week and with so much choice – Internet shopping – a great improvement, but I had missed something.

The Internet purchasing was efficient and the choice amazing. Even some of the eShops were beautiful too, Fabrics and Papers, for example, but I was still stuck at home on my computer. I suppose in an ideal world we’d have the choice that’s available online, but sourced locally and found round the corner in a delightful emporium staffed with smiling, helpful assistants.

Royal Arcade Arts CraftsHere, in Norwich, we are lucky enough to have the Victorian’s version of a mall, the Royal Arcade. A charming Arts and Crafts shopping arcade designed by local architect, George Skipper, and built in 1899. The souvenir guidebook published at its opening tells us about the agreeable activity of shopping in the Royal Arcade.

“Dainty lady and robust manhood may dally over the delights of shopping, undisturbed by the vagaries of the weather.”

Nowadays, the Royal Arcade is home to a variety of shops including longtime residents, The Colman’s Mustard Shop and Langley’s Toy Shop, and a recent newcomer Macarons & More selling delicious cakes. In the 21st century we all wish we had the time to dally over the delights of shopping and perhaps purchase a box of macarons.

polychrome arts and crafts
Look up and see the polychrome brickwork and colourful tiled details of this fine Arts and Crafts architecture.