Architecture in Britain: The Middle Ages

Architecture in Britain: The Middle Ages

Architecture in Britain: The Middle Ages

Architecture in Britain: The Middle Ages

Excerpt

In a book which covers such a long period of time as this the most important problem for the writer to decide is what to leave out. The most obvious omission from this book is that of military architecture. There is in it no discussion of the development of fortification -- a particularly important omission in regard to England, where examples of motte and bailey castles, twelfth-century keeps of various forms, and of later thirteenth- century castles, culminating in the splendid and well documented examples erected at the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth centuries, especially in Wales, form a series of the greatest importance to the history of this subject. The decision to omit these monuments, or only to discuss parts of them such as the great halls and reception-rooms which they contain, was a difficult one, for clearly the quality of the work of the masters who carried out the greatest castles -- and they were often the same men who built the great churches -- gave to the result characteristics which are occasionally of the highest architectural interest. I decided, however, that the test of what should be included should be whether the appearance of the building was primarily dictated by non-material considerations, one might almost say by an appeal to the imagination. This is clearly true of the great ecclesiastical buildings, and in an only slightly lesser degree of the great halls of castles or houses and the comparable buildings of monastic establishments, which were built to impress quite as much as to provide the necessary physical accommodation, for worldly splendour is also an appeal to the imagination.

There are, however, other omissions less obviously striking than that of military architecture, which are in these days perhaps more difficult to defend. The character of modern historical study has been much influenced by economic preoccupations, deriving not only from the studies of the economists themselves, properly so called, but also from the nature of modern methods in archaeology, a field where the nature of the material available has dictated a largely economic approach. It would be possible to write a history of medieval architecture in the British Isles which was founded entirely on the examination of the social and economic forces which brought about the erection of buildings of different types, and it is to be hoped that this will one day be done. Equally, the subject could be treated from the point of view of the materials used and their regional distribution, the techniques employed and the structure of the building trade itself, as well as the sequence of technical devices. From the later nineteenth century onwards much work has been put in along these various lines, and it will be clear to the reader of this book that some of this accumulated knowledge has been drawn upon in the pages that follow; particularly of recent years, our knowledge of building accounts and documents of all sorts giving evidence of how building enterprises were organized has been greatly increased, especially for the period from the mid thirteenth century onwards. From the time of Henry III's rebuilding of Westminster Abbey we are abundantly provided in this country with documentary material of this kind, and it can quite . . .

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