On Wednesday 30th March we travelled to Devon to collect more survey data from two sites; Exeter Cathedral and Ottery St Mary Church. We spent two days at Exeter and will spend a final day at Ottery.
Surprisingly, we were joined by a team at Exeter Cathedral who were also there to create a model of it. Whereas we were using digital scanning techniques to produce a highly accurate model of the vaults at Exeter, they were using Lego to create a scale model within the cathedral. You can follow their progress here. We were able to scan the uninterrupted length of high vaults along the nave and choir, the central porch of the screen facade, the crossing, the miniature vaults in the pulpitum and those of the sedilia. These miniature vaults are particularly interesting to us, being documented designs by Thomas of Witney, a mason who also worked at Wells Cathedral, a site we’ve already scanned. At both Exeter and Wells, Witney experimented with the use of liernes, additional decorative ribs, of which Exeter’s are some of the earliest surviving examples. With help from the cathedral archaeologist, John Allan, we were able to identify additional sites to survey, such as the site of the former North walk of the cloister, which was situated between the external buttressing to the south of the nave.
The trip to Exeter was funded by the University of Liverpool’s Interdisciplinary Network Fund.
Through the Lambarde Fund, we have received a grant from the Society of Antiquaries to scan the lierne vaults at Ely Cathedral, which we intend to carry out towards the end of the summer. The main vaults we will scan and analyse are:
- Retrochoir (tierceron vaults built under Hugh of Northwold 1234 and 1252, thus, like the Chapter House at Chester, immediately after and influenced by the nave at Lincoln).
- Octagon (tierceron vaults constructed in timber after the collapse of the Norman crossing in 1322 and showing a similar interest in centralised space as the Wells Lady Chapel).
- First three bays of presbytery (dated c. 1330 and described by Pevsner as the earliest lierne vault in East Anglia) which also includes an aisle vault in first 3 bays of the north aisle.
- Lady Chapel – lierne vault of a stellate pattern, built after the Octagon and choir so c.1335-50.
- Prior Crauden’s Chapel – a vault reconstructed by Willis from the evidence of the springing blocks.
We hope to investigate the decisions taken by Willis when reconstructing the vaults of St Catherine’s Chapel and Prior Crauden’s Chapel in the 1840s.
In addition to forming a case study in its own right, we also hope the data collected will also allow us to explore differences in vaulting methods between the West Country and South Eastern Decorated styles.
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
On the vaults page we have started a map which locates significant Medieval vaults in the British Isles. So far we have included sites already visited and scanned as well as sites we intend to visit. We have also located some initial vaults of interest which may be documented as the project progresses. Please contact us with suggestions of sites to add!
Modelling Medieval Vaults symposium at the University of Liverpool in London, 14 July 2016.
Through the University of Liverpool’s Interdisciplinary Network Fund we are organising a symposium primarily exploring the use of digital techniques to analyse medieval vaults. The synopsis can be found below and on our events page.
The use of digital surveying and analysis techniques, such as laser scanning, photogrammetry, 3D reconstructions or reverse engineering offers the opportunity to re-examine historic works of architecture. In the context of medieval vaults, this has enabled new research into three-dimensional design processes, construction methods, structural engineering, building archaeology and relationships between buildings.
Recent research on Continental European and Central American vaults has established the significance of these techniques, however, as yet there has been little exploitation of digital technologies in the context of medieval vaults in the British Isles. This is despite international recognition of the importance of thirteenth and fourteenth-century English vault design to the history of Gothic architecture in an international context.
The aims of the present symposium are to present new research in this emerging field in order to establish appropriate methodologies using digital tools and identify significant questions for future research in the area.
Abstracts (500 words maximum) are invited for 20 minute papers on the following subjects:
- Representation and analysis of medieval vaults using digital technologies.
- Investigations of British tierceron, lierne or fan vaults.
- Digital techniques used for the analysis of historic works of architecture applicable to gothic vaulted buildings.
Our intention is that proceedings will be published in a suitable journal.
Deadline for abstracts: Friday 13th May 2016
Enquiries and abstracts to be addressed to Nick Webb email.
Symposium date: Thursday 14th July 2016
Location: The University of Liverpool in London, Finsbury Square.
On 10th and 11th February 2016 Nick attended Digital Past 2016, an annual conference organised by the Royal Commission on the Ancient Monuments of Wales focussing on the use of digital tools and techniques in the context of heritage assets.
Projects linked closely to the vaults research were particularly informative, for example Dr Maurice Murphy’s use of laser scan data in conjunction with Historic Building Information Modelling (HBIM) to serve as conservation and analysis documents. In the context of the vaults project, we are keen to investigate the use of HBIM to assist in our continuing analysis of the geometry of medieval vaults, which is very complex in terms of the amount of geometric data gathered. An Irish government funded project 3D-Icons was very revealing in terms of the processes required to create accessible digital models of significant monuments and buildings. For example, converting laser scan data to mesh models with rendered textures, and finally making these easily viewable to the public.
The conference presented a number of other intriguing projects, for example Professor Bob Stone’s use of drones and immersive virtual reality to inspire communities to engage with local histories, as well as the use of Gigapixel photography to document Welsh chapels and make available the interactive views online. The Cynefin project to digitise Tithe maps showed how Gigapixel photography can be used to copy large and delicate maps without damaging the original, and their consequent overlay with modern digital maps to provide a free resource for the public and researchers to use.
The conference was a great success and we look forward to returning next year, where we hope to present an update of the vaults project.
On Friday 13th November 2015 we visited Nantwich St Mary’s to scan the medieval vaults in the choir, as well as the intriguing reconstructed vaults in the crossing by George Gilbert Scott. Below is a timelapse video showing the laser scanner in action in the choir operated by Nick, whilst J.R. records the vaults for photogrammetry purposes, and Alex provides a short guided tour of the sculpture on the misericords in the medieval choir stalls.
Even with the timelapse speed, the rotation of the scanner seems slow. The individual scan provides a point cloud model of the architecture immediately around it, which when combined with other scans, gives a highly detailed and accurate point cloud of the entire vaults in the choir. The next stage of the process will be to interpret the data using a number of digital modelling techniques in order to provide a better understanding of the underlying vault geometry.