Thursday, 30 June 2011

Bell's Guide to Beverley Minster

Beverley Minster is considered one of our greatest ecclesiastical buildings. Especially when you consider it is basically just a parish church. Yet it is lucky enough to have its own volume in George Bell & Sons series on cathedrals and churches.

These books are no doubt familiar to those who spend time rummaging around in the Architecture sections of second-hand bookshops. With their beautiful flowing front covers designs, black on dulled-down vividly coloured cloth. Red, Greed, Blue &c. They are under appreciated, because what they teach us is not just about a building, but about the attitude generations had towards these buildings.

The inside front cover of my Beverley edition has, in hand written ink, Amy K Salby Xmas 1907. Hard back, yellowing pages, black and white photos that seem familiar to us in the form of postcards by Tucks or Bamford.

The tone of the writing is serious, deferential, informative. Charles Hiatt, the author, is just plain rude about Beverley, calling the town "singularly unattractive", but acknowledges its good fortune to have two such wonderful churches (The Minster and St Mary's). The books date from the 1890s to1900s, an era when travel was still a novelty, but becoming cheaper and more widely available. The Gothic Revival was still, just about going on. Photography was the preserve of the rich, and printing photographs was in its infancy, yet 43 photographs and engraving enrich the 136 pages.

They sit in a position between architectural study and travel guide, but show serious and often academic manner in which the ordinary person was beginning to view architecture. The author's view is very much that architecture is about a few great and ancient buildings with illustrious histories. Our cathedrals and great churches seem to have been so over studied and photographed, but we need to stop and think about what these building meant to Victorians and Edwardians. God was mighty. This was the evidence.

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