All posts by Nick Webb

Join our team!

We are seeking to appoint a Postdoctoral Research Associate and a Research Technician on a fixed term contract to be part of our exciting AHRC funded project titled ‘Tracing the past: analysing the design and construction of English medieval vaults using digital techniques.’ Further details of the posts can be found via the links below:

Postdoctoral Research Associate (18 months full-time)
https://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/BNR596/postdoctoral-research-associate-grade-7

Research Technician (6 months full-time or 12 months part-time)
https://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/BNR738/research-technician-grade-6-full-or-part-time

For queries, please email Dr Nick Webb – njwebb@liverpool.ac.uk

Digital Heritage 2018 Presentation

In October we attended Digital Heritage 2018 in San Francisco. Here we presented our initial investigations into the vault design of the Lady Chapel at Ely Cathedral, as well as outlining our digital methodology which enables the research to be carried out. The next stage of this case study is to focus on dissemination as well as identifying possible trends with other vaults at Ely, as well as comparisons with sites locally and nationally.

Whilst at the conference we saw several intriguing presentations, such as Jongwook Lee’s framework for managing risk in Korean wooden heritage buildings using Heritage Building Information Modelling and Virtual Reality, Gabriele Guidi’s reconstruction of the hidden Roman Circus in Milan, as well as excellent keynotes from Google and Artec3D.

6ICCH Presentation

 

In July we attended the 6th International Congress on Construction History, hosted in Brussels, Belgium. The conference included participants with a wide range of interests in construction history and there was a strong showing of researchers investigating vault design and construction. This included colleagues from Spain and Germany, such as David Wendland and Marie Jose Ventas Sierra’s  talk on the Hall of Arms vault in Albrechtsburg Meissen as well as Rocio Maira Vidal who discussed the abandonment of sexpartite vaults across Europe, including Lincoln Cathedral in England. It was a delight to meet Jacques Heyman, who wrote ‘The Stone Skeleton’, and gave a fascinating talk on the change of level in the fan vaults at Kings College, Cambridge.

At the congress we shared our initial investigations of the nave and choir vaults at Exeter cathedral, which we surveyed in 2016. We suggest that all the high vaults were laid out in two dimensions using a geometrical figure called the ‘starcut’, allowing the same proportions to be maintained throughout, despite different bay dimensions. The three-dimensional geometry of the vaults, however, presents significant variation between bays. These appear to correspond with the construction sequences proposed by previous scholarship. Nevertheless, the nature of the variations does not correspond fully with previous interpretations. We propose that two-centred arcs were found at Exeter earlier than generally recognised and in a different pattern of distribution than previously suggested.

More information on 6ICCH can be found here.

AHRC Research Grant Success

Through the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Early Career Research Grant scheme, we have secured funding to develop the project further. Using the grant, we will scan vaults at five further sites, bring in an additional researcher and technician, archive our data digitally and make it available publicly, create a travelling exhibition with associated outreach events at key sites, support the publication of a book, as well as enabling a second symposium on vaults with research and industry partners.

We will continue to use digital technologies to identify and explore the geometries of medieval vaults at key sites in England, enabling new readings of gothic design and construction. The grant will focus on the design process of masons and clients, particularly how practical 2D geometries are projected into 3D, as well as issues of construction such as stone-cutting, installing scaffolding and formwork, structural issues and site management. We will also investigate factors leading to innovation in vault design, when and where these occurred, as well as the transfer of ideas in the above areas across sites of vaulting locally, nationally and internationally.

The AHRC funded project ‘Tracing the past: analysing the design and construction of English medieval vaults using digital techniques’ will commence in September 2018 lasting until February 2021.

The Architecture and Archaeology of Ely: Papers in memory of Anne Holton-Krayenbuh

We were delighted to have the opportunity to present our initial findings on the tracing floor processes of the 14th century vaults at Ely cathedral as part of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society’s day investigating the Architecture and Archaeology of Ely, in memory of Anne Holton-Krayenbuh. We discussed our work to date on the medieval vault designs of Bishop Hotham’s choir vaults, both in the main vessel as well as the north aisle, and the particular research problems we’ve faced compared to other sites of investigation given that we appear to have uneven impost levels across vault bays.

 

It was excellent to hear from the other speakers at the event, starting with Dr Catherine Hills discussing the clothing and jewellery discovered at local burial sites during the time of Etheldreda. Next, Ely cathedral archaeologist Dr Roland Harris presenting an overview of the Romanesque parts of the cathedral, and we are keen to share our survey data with Roland to assist in future building work. Rebecca Lane from Historic England then presented findings based on surveys of Ely’s early urban buildings, which surprisingly included a tierceron vault in the cellar of one of the high street shops. Dr John Maddison gave an excellent talk on Bishop Hotham’s tomb in the cathedral, and the possible solution of it now being two separate pieces. Elizabeth Stazicker, the cathedral archivist, then concluded with a talk highlighting a few of the fascinating artefacts in her custody, as well as reminiscing on her time with Anne Holton-Krayenbuh.

 

It was an insightful and stimulating day, and we were very grateful for the opportunity to be part of it. We look forward to future events organised by the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, where we can hopefully return in future once our research progresses.

 

The Architecture and Archaeology of Ely: Papers in memory of Anne Holton-Krayenbuh was held at The Maltings in Ely on 10th March 2018.

Late Gothic Vaults film

David Wendland and his ‘Late Gothic Vaults’ team have produced a film exploring the vaults of St Anne Church in Annaberg-Buchholz, which feature complex double curvatures. Using total station surveying as well as original drawings, the team replicate the design process that medieval masons would have used via a plaster tracing floor, then experiment with stonework to create a replica of the final voussoirs.  you can watch David’s film here:

Scanning at Norton Priory

Before the start of the teaching year, we just managed to fit in a day’s scanning at Norton Priory, the site of a ruined Augustinian priory near Runcorn in Cheshire. The vaults in the undercroft here are earlier than most of those we’ve scanned before (other than the eleventh-century crypt at Gloucester Cathedral) and offer an instructive example of the so-called late Romanesque and ’Transitional’ styles of the twelfth century, in which both round and pointed arches, groin and rib vaults could be used as appropriate to the situation.

Some of the groin vaults look to have been built (or rebuilt) in the nineteenth century when the site was part of a Victorian mansion, adding to our data on revival approaches to vaulting. Here, instead of the groins being created by a herringbone junction of stones, individual blocks are shaped to face in two directions, suggesting the use of stereometric methods unknown in the middle ages. In the original vaults, visual analysis suggests that many of the webs and arches have settled, pushing the side walls off from vertical and presenting a new challenge for us in terms of analysis: how can we ascertain their original, or intended, form?

Settlement is sometimes associated with poor construction, but although the vaulted area is the west range of the cloister, a service area usually used for storage, some of the sculpted capitals and bases are of high quality. The early Gothic passage into the cloister even offers a jaunty syncopation of rib profiles: in one direction filleted, in the other keeled, showing the masons’ love of variety. These vaults were taken down at a later period, giving us the exciting challenge of identifying their original form from the surviving springing stones. There is also an interesting series of masons’ marks, which we hope to document on a later visit.

As well as the intrinsic interest of the vaults, we are excited to be working with Norton Priory because of its impressive new visitor facilities (opened in 2016) and proactive approach to outreach. The curators have already used digital methods, including scanning their magnificent fourteenth-century statue of St Christopher to enable visualisation of his original colouring (as well as helping him to come to life with the aid of the booming voice of Brian Blessed!). We hope that our scans can be used for future interpretation work, such as enabling walk-throughs and visualisation of how the the buildings might have looked and been used at different times in their history.

We also hope to work with the curators in presenting our research to the public via talks and possibly an exhibition, and developing resources for use by teachers and schools. The geometric methods that our research has revealed were used by medieval masons offer a very visual approach to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, even for students who lack confidence with numbers.

We are therefore very grateful to Arts Council England and Paul Sapple of the Knowledge Exchange team at the University of Liverpool for introducing us to Norton Priory and for facilitating the initiation of our work there.

British Art Studies Article

Our article investigating the creativity and imagination used to design the choir aisles at Wells cathedral has now been published in ‘British Art Studies’.  This article is free to view here.

Abstract

This paper explores the topics of creativity and imagination in relation to the design and construction of the lierne vaults in the presbytery aisles of Wells Cathedral, erected around 1330. It explores the potential of digital scanning and analysis for forensic investigation of the structure in order to identify the processes involved. Four different processes were employed and we compare those used in the three eastern bays of the north and south aisles. These are shown to share characteristics with the retrochoir but to involve different approaches to 3-D projection and stone-cutting. We conclude that the basic geometry of the vaults was defined in advance of construction, using full-scale drawings worked out on a tracing floor. In both sets of vaults the 3-D geometry continued as a sequence of steps and was derived from measurements ascertained from existing elements (including the drawings) but was not consistent across the two aisles. The processes reveal different priorities, whether for level ridges (north aisle), different choices in terms of rib radii or apex heights, and different sequences of design steps. This demonstrates the potential for experimentation at every stage of construction.

Buchanan, A., & Webb, N. (2017). ‘Creativity in Three Dimensions: An Investigation of the Presbytery Aisles of Wells Cathedral’, British Art Studies, Issue 6.

Scanning at Tewkesbury and Gloucester

In July 2017, we travelled to Tewkesbury Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral to create digital surveys of their respective vaults. First, we surveyed the abbey at Tewkesbury using our standard methods of laser scanning and photogrammetry, with the additional method of total station for the choir vaults. Total station surveying enables us to manually capture specific points of the vault ribs, as opposed to laser scanning which captures all points. Searching for specific points to document using total station is very labour intensive, particularly when trying to capture the vaults above. Based on advice from our friend David Wendland, who is carrying out exciting research on vaults in continental Europe, we worked in a pair with one of us roughly locating points using the total station’s laser, and the other laying on the floor looking up at the vaults through a pair of binoculars to locate the precise point that needed to be documented. This was a particularly long and arduous task over a day and a half, however, the resulting points mean we can very quickly and efficiently use the specific points documented to trace the vault rib geometries. Laser scanning, on the other hand, is much more time consuming in locating the required points amongst many million others to trace them. Both methods create accurate results and therefore having two sets of data ensures an even higher level of confidence in our methodology and findings. Once we completed our surveying, we backed up our data and travelled to Gloucester Cathedral to start the second phase of our field trip. We also found time in between to visit Pershore Abbey, where we already have access to a laser scan survey to investigate the vault geometries there. This scan data was very generously given to us to use by the abbey to use for our research, and we hope to be able to show are results of this in the next year. The Pershore Abbey laser scanning was particularly high in its quality, surveyed by CGD Ltd.

At Gloucester we continued with our primary method of laser scanning to survey the majority of the cathedral’s vaults, with particular attention given to the west end, transepts, crossing, choir and presbytery vault bays. Whilst at Gloucester, we were able to use our scan data to assist the cathedral architects in the installation of a new disabled platform to the east end as part of HLF funded Project Pilgrim, by linking scans from the crypt to those above to build up a very detailed picture of how the spaces connect, which was previously not accurate enough. This demonstrates how our survey data can be used by other stakeholders for mutual gain.

We are very grateful for the Liverpool School of Architecture’s David Foster Wicks endowment fund, which funded the field work and has enabled us to continue developing our research for Tracing the Past.

Courtauld Institute Parish Church Conference

On Friday 2 June, we’ll be sharing our latest research on St Mary’s church, Nantwich on the first day of a conference at the Courtauld Institute entitled Towards an Art History of the Parish Church. Further details of the programme and how to book are available here.

Our session will be chaired by Prof Paul Binski, who has recently published an article in the Journal of the British Archaeological Association on a miniature vault at St Andrew’s church at Irnham in Lincolnshire, which he identifies as a copy of the high vault of Wells Cathedral (also dedicated to St Andrew). Also on the programme are Andrew Budge, who spoke at our ‘Modelling Medieval Vaults’ conference in 2016; Jon Cannon, who has published on Bristol Cathedral, which has wonderful lierne vaults, and Prof Sandy Heslop, who organized the ‘Invention and Imagination’ conference at the British Museum in 2014, at which we first presented our project. It will be very exciting to find out about so much new research being undertaken on the parish church and to be able to demonstrate what our methods can add to this discussion.