I’m an architectural photographer.
On my van-life travels through the British Isles I’m building up a word and photo-hoard of material culture that celebrates our built heritage and contributes to a sense of place.
My van is my time-machine, it gives me fresh perspectives on our remarkable places, shared here on a weekly basis.📸🚐🏛
“The stream of English history flows on steadily, all the stronger because its course has not been marked by the smoking cataracts of sudden, violent change.”
M D Anderson, History and Imagery in British Churches.
Vinegar to Wine.
Our boiler has broken down and because of a curious set of circumstances (which includes having a new bathroom installed) we’ve been without heat and hot water for a couple of weeks. After several days of experimentation I have a new morning routine:
1. 0530: Switch on oil heater (outside of bathroom).
2. 0600: Boil three kettles of hot water and pour into mop bucket (situated in the shower) and cool with cold water.
3. 0610: Insert battery powered shower.
4. 0611: Position the shower head over the bucket to recycle as much water as possible.
5. 0612: Apply shampoo (if required) prior to switching the shower on.
6. 0614: Switch shower on and proceed with manic washing, trying not to drop the soap.
Because I work from a camper van, I’m used to the odd flannel wash, and there has been occasions where I’ve missed that procedure all together; where I’ve been awoken in the van by birdsong in a churchyard, or a muffled rap from a police officer’s gloved hand on the side window. It’s a lonely life being an architectural photographer - but now you know why.
I have a photo shoot in Southwell, but visit Lincoln on the day before the shoot. Even though I’ve managed to whittle down the practice of warmth and cleanliness out of an oil heater, a kettle, a shower-head and a piece of tube - I arrive in Lincoln feeling anxious.
The west front of the cathedral at Lincoln is free of scaffolding. I haven’t seen the west front without scaffolding for a long time, so I want to get the shot.
Before I head up to the castle I find myself besides a plain wall. It seems to amplify my anxiety. I turn to walk away until I’m snagged by the curious bend in the street. I get my camera out and let it lead the way. It settles me.
My lens tucks into the curve of the street and rests on a stud and timber gatehouse. The walls are topped by slate and pantile. Pantiles are my favourite roofing material. Their form is a kind of sculptural onomatopoeia: egressing along the rivuleted tiles run the rivulets of rain.
I photograph the walls and feel oddly comforted.
The walls are not mute. They tell me of the people that first came here, they impart the clay that lies beneath, they teach me of the geology of this place and reflect the pattern of nature. They consummate boundaries that are possibly two thousand years old, and protect plots of land that were once tilled by Romans: the soil here is rich with their detritus.
In Kassel, Germany there is a brass rod that presents itself on the surface as a disc that's 5.1cm in diameter. The rod extends into the earth by one kilometre and I've heard that standing on the spot induces a peculiar sense of objectivity and a wider perception of your place in this world. These walls are just like that.
This street, James Street, was once called Vinegar Lane - which in turn was thought to be a corruption of Vineyard Lane - indicating the existence of early vineyards in the area. Time-lapse these boundaries back to their origins and they might shrink in size, then morph from oolitic limestone and brick into staves of ash, and then, into a gravelled ditch skirting the edge of a vineyard that flows like the pantiles I photograph today. These walls echo the bounds of centuries of activity - they are rooted back in time like the Vertical Earth Kilometre.
These days we are told that it’s best to be in the moment, to be present. For me, places like this justify, affirm and underpin the small brass circle of the here and now. They add a sense of rootedness and continuity; a relieving shift from our ‘just in time’ world, one that offers a relationship with the present that’s nourished by the past.
I’m reminded of David Whyte’s words: "Let the rest in this rested place rest for you."
I feel satiated.
This place, decanted through human occupation, has resolved itself. It is its rested state that is so powerful.
Photography at Southwell Minster takes me via Blyth and Lincoln with a stopover at the village of Cromwell.
I visited the historic core of Lincoln which for 200 years was home to the worlds tallest building: Lincoln Cathedral. Some of the streetscapes and views and vistas are not dissimilar to those seen in medieval times. Photos from my visit to the cathedral will be in next weeks digest.
Pantiles and hand made brick. Georgian rubbed voussoirs and timber framed jetties. Wonky roofs, casement windows and jaunty gas lamps.
The Buildings of Lincoln
Pattern and Decoration
An early start at Milestone campsite in Cromwell in Nottinghamshire - ready to hit the road for the promise of sunrise over Southwell. My van has an electric hook-up which connects into the on-site electricity. The cable for the electric hook-up was stiff with cold, first thing, and covered in flakes of ice. I had a job and a half trying to roll it up. The temptation is to throw the lot (unrolled) into the back of the van - but it's a slippery slope..
More on Southwell next week.
On My Coffee Table
It was probably over ten years ago that I met Melanie at a heritage event in London. This is the first of her books on House Histories - it delves into the secrets behind the magnificent and the mundane.
Our bathroom refurbishment has revealed (underneath some plain wallpaper) a tulip pattern that took me back to the 50's. It's simple, but transformative, experiences like this that Melanie documents in her book.
From The Charo's
English Stained and Painted Glass, Christopher Woodhouse, Oxford at the Clarendon Press 1954.
From the studio library of Richard Shirley Smith, Painter & Engraver.
Bought from Oxfam, Oxford: £3.99.
A 5,000-year-old chalk sculpture named the "Burton Agnes drum" is hailed as a "significant find".
As a national conversation is launched about the future of local station design, we explore the wonders of prefab design on the railways
It may only rarely get built, but imaginary architecture is a crucial support for many stories, from Jane Austen’s Pemberley to Kafka’s Castle and Ballard’s High-Rise
Film and Sound
Melvyn Bragg explores the ideas architecture expresses about our past and identity.
From the Twittersphere
Had a telling photographic response from Geoff Carter on twitter to my post on the Southwell door...
Andy Marshall 📸 on Twitter: "A real treat for the early birds: worth a pilgrimage in itself - the delightful C14th oak door in the north porch at Southwell Minster.… "
Become A Member
I love creating this digest - it’s a labour of love - and it remains free to all - posted out on a weekly basis, more often than not, from my travels in my van. It documents my engagement with our increasingly threatened historic built environment (heritage). I help others form attachments, ties and obligations to place.
From a Victorian trading shack in Oregon, USA to a medieval church in Stratford, England, our heritage is a vital part of our wellbeing - it nourishes us and contributes to a sense of identity. The aim of this digest is to underpin the significance of our heritage and share it with others to confront creeping baseline syndrome and help others develop new ways of seeing and interacting with the historic environment.
It takes a day every week to produce this digest and you can opt in to support my work by becoming a member. There are some juicy member benefits too - become a member here.
Thank You. 📸🚐🏛
A huge thanks to those that have signed up for membership.
As well as the weekly Digests, you’ll also receive an exclusive ‘Patina’ monthly digest at the end of this month. Here you’ll be able to glimpse insights into how my book is developing (with extracts) and also get a link to your free digital download.
New members can access the other Patina digests here. Click on the relevant Patina issue and follow the instructions to read. This is the best way to read my book excerpts from the start.