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I'm an architectural photographer. I travel around Britain recording and interacting with special places that have a spirit about them. I work from my camper van called Woody and I share my experiences via this digest.
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Three angels set against the Briars of Life by Christopher Whall at St. Etheldreda, Hatfield.
Heaven can wait
And a band of angels wrapped up in my heart
Will take me through the lonely night
Through the cold of the day
And I know, I know
Heaven can wait
And all the Gods come down here just to sing for me
And the melody is gonna make me fly
Without pain, without fear
Meatloaf, Heaven Can Wait.
As if Saffron Walden wasn't enough to unfurl my wings, the final destination on this particular camper-van-camino was March.
I know, it sounds like I'm time-travelling into next Month - but March is a delightful little village in Cambridgeshire which cossets a host of angels hidden in plain sight.
St. Wendreda, March, Cambridgeshire.
The C14th spire at St. Wendreda is quite unusual - it straddles an ancient processional route which (in times when publicly accessible land is shrinking in the UK) articulates the power of right of way as an expression through architectural form.
Another delight is the mix of materials that make up the building - Barnack stone dressings, rubblestone, flint and brick.
I can almost see the medieval master mason's mind working through the economics of his build: "I'll core it with rubblestone, celebrate it with Barnack stone and finish off with a flourish of flint and brick."
The brick voussoirs are quite rare and of late C15th date.
"Then I'll have a likeness of me projecting from the side aisle."
I lost myself in the porch and its details. A delightful wooden gate with hinges that look fresh from the Blacksmith's hammer; cookie-cutter quatrefoils, crowned with a metal railing at a later date (people are getting taller).
On the main porch door a touch of individuality - a little bit of flirtatious joy out of the mundanity of a keyhole.
A heavenly host of angels.
I've thought long and hard as to why an oaken roof flecked with angels is such a wonderful sight. It's more than the angelic presence. I think it's to do with the human condition - our striving to create things beyond the mundanity of our daily existence.
As I walked below the hammer-beam roof, I felt the energy of its makers - an embarrasesment of angels.
The weather outside brought another aspect to the visual interplay - when the sun came out from behind the clouds, it lit up their wings as if they were hovering.
I wouldn't be surprised if this was a deliberate intent - the wings being angled towards the clerestory. I've come across intentional devices in other medieval churches throughout the country - the figurine at St. Eilian in Anglesey has, hidden between its praying hands, a pulley that once held a rope that perhaps lifted the host during special occasions.
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There's a constellation of angel roofs dotted around these isles. One of my most remarkable commissions was to photograph the angel roof at St. Nicholas' Chapel in Kings Lynn for the Churches Conservation Trust in 2015.
The chapel was undergoing conservation work and I was asked to photograph the 15th century hammer-beam roof from scaffolding installed up to the full height of the building.
Every single hammer-beam was fashioned into life-sized angels. I spent two days there, mesmerised by their magnificence, carefully studying their form with fleshy nose against wooden cheek.
Walking along the scaffold platform created an inherent reverence to these angelic hosts, dipping and bowing under each figure as I moved through the building heights.
These places are caddies between the realms we inhabit and the spaces that we dare to dream. At St. Nicholas', I saw glimpses of heaven through the coat-tails of angels. Each angel was beautifully detailed from the finely carved hair curls to the neatly clipped toes.
The oldest figures had mellowed with age, some deeply gnarled with ligneous skin: fissured and cobwebbed; some had missing parts, or had been completely replaced with Victorian interpretations which were better fed, square chinned, Pre-Raphaelite.
On the afternoon of the first day of photography - a divine comedy - they started playing games with me: one sneaking a quick cigarette, another playing hide and seek and another baring his pants.
Some of my time was taken up with photographing the wall-plates, where a series of smaller angels had been fixed onto the timber in relief.
At one moment, I had my eye fixed into my viewfinder, walking sideways in front of the wall-plate, creating a procession of divine beings through my lens - until an aberration made me pull away.
I’d found the presence of absence: a ghost angel - a darkened, leathery outline of a missing, perhaps fallen angel, revealing several hundred years of residual existence leached into the timber.
On the second day of photography, there was a growing realisation that these pieces of dead wood, by taking on angelic forms from earthly hands, had become super-charged collaters of emotion - spiritual sponges - absorbing millennia of glances from broken mothers and hopeful lovers.
With the passage of time, what struck me most about these celestial renderings was the feeling of intimacy that emerged - a felt sense of presence, or maybe, even a glimpse of heaven on earth.
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Inside - my van is fast becoming like the interior of Sir John Soane's Museum. An eclectic mix of things related to architecture including two roof bosses and a column from Rosslyn .
Outside - my van takes on the world around it like a chameleon - Early English Gothic bleeding into its metalwork.
Bonnet fronted by a transept.
Van porch swallowing up church porch.
Imagine my joy at Woody gaining the mid C15th spire at St. Wendreda in March. A fine addition.
"There goes Marshall and his spire-topped camper van!" they would say.
Sparks would fly beneath the lowest bridges. I can imagine the weather vane spinning at 70mph as I hurtle down the M6. And, in Blackpool, I'd ramp Woody over onto the tram-track and hook the spire onto the wires above.
The geeks would sit and wait at the end of ancient holloways; and then, with the rustle of Barnack stone through trees a precursor, they would shout: 'Here it comes! VW Transporter T6.1 Spire-topped Camper!'
Of course, I'd have to be careful in thunder storms.
Architecture geek, heritage hound, photography buff, church crawler? Looking for alternative ways to share the love this Valentines? Click below for more.
And to instigate a kind of Holy Trinity - a third angel roof in Stamford of mid 15th century (re-coloured in Victorian times) at St. John the Baptist.
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