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V.—Westminster Abbey: The Timber Roofs of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster

  • R. W. McDowall, J. T. Smith and C. F. Stell


The timber roofs above the main vaults of the abbey, coeval with the parts of the building they cover, are illustrated in J. P. Neale and E. W. Brayley, History and Antiquities of the Abbey Church of St. Peter, Westminster (1823), ii. These important medieval roofs are described only very briefly in an addendum to the Inventory of Westminster Abbey by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments published in 1924 (entry no. 22a, slip p. 58), and no detailed description of them has so far been published. They underwent heavy restoration at the beginning of the eighteenth century, but survived in great part until the present repairs under the direction of Mr. S. E. Dykes Bower were put in hand. By 1964 the whole of the nave roof had been reconstructed and the roof over the south transept had been taken down and reconstruction was in progress. No major repairs to the roofs of the presbytery or the north transept had been started. At this stage, by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter, the Royal Commission was given facilities to make detailed records of the surviving medieval structures. In the following account the documentary evidence relating to their building and repair is outlined, their construction is described in some detail, and, finally, their historical context and their setting in the general development of roof construction are discussed. The photographs were taken by Mr. J. Parkinson, and the work has been co-ordinated by Mr. A. R. Dufty, Secretary to the Commission.



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page 156 note 1 Ed. H. M. Colvin (1963), i, 130 et seq.

page 156 note 2 Close Rolls 1254–56, p. 104.

page 156 note 3 Cal. Lib. Rolls 1251–60, p. 300.

page 156 note 4 Ibid., p. 295.

page 156 note 5 Ibid., p. 476.

page 156 note 6 Close Rolls 1259–61, p. 68.

page 156 note 7 Cal. Lib. Rolls 1260–7, p. 203.

page 156 note 8 Close Rolls 1256–59, pp. 223, 225.

page 156 note 9 Westminster Abbey Muniments, 2345215.

page 156 note 10 Ibid., 23483.

page 156 note 11 Ibid., 23494.

page 157 note 1 Rackham, pp. 62, 63, 68–71.

page 157 note 2 Westminster Abbey Muniments, Account Rolls of Wardens of the New Works, 23539.

page 157 note 3 Ibid., 23548.

page 157 note 4 Rackham, pp. 75, 78.

page 157 note 5 Westmonasterium (1742), i. 58.

page 157 note 6 Connoisseur, July 1927; Wren Soc. xi, pls. iv, v.

page 158 note 1 Westminster Abbey Muniments, 24840.

page 158 note 2 Scott's papers have now (1965) been deposited in the British Museum, but being as yet uncatalogued are not available for research.

page 158 note 3 Deneux, pp. 49–53; Smith, pp. 111 –18.

page 158 note 4 For terminology of roof members, see Cordingley, R. A., ‘British Historical Roof Types and their Members’, in Trans, of Ancient Monuments Soc, N.S. ix (1961), 73129.

page 161 note 1 Charpentes, i, [8].

page 161 note 2 Phleps, H., Die norwegischen Stabkirchen (1958), p. 65, fig. 134. Phleps attributed the roof to the tenth century; Reinhard Reuter, Darmstadt, has suggested the later date.

page 161 note 3 Charpentes, i, [8].

page 161 note 4 A claim that the roof of Leicester Castle hall is contemporary with the mid-twelfth-century arcades is disputed. Horn, W., ‘On the Origins of the Medieval Bay-System’, J. Soc. Architectural Historians, xvii, no. 2 (Princeton, 1958), 223.

page 161 note 5 Jones, S. R. and Smith, J. T., ‘The Great Hall of the Bishop's Palace at Hereford’, Med. Arch, iv (1960), 6980.

page 161 note 6 Professor W. Horn has kindly made his unpublished drawings of this building available.

page 161 note 7 A method used in the north transept of Bayeux Cathedral; Charpentes, ii, [25].

page 162 note 1 G. F. Webb, Architecture in Britain: the Middle Ages (1956), p. 111.

page 162 note 2 Ostendorf. No English parallels are available, it seems.

page 164 note 1 Fletcher and Spokes, p. 158, have proposed the term ‘lateral longitudinal brace’.

page 166 note 1 Neale, J. P. and Brayley, E. W., History and Antiquities of the Abbey Church of St. Peter, Westminster (1823), ii, pls. xxxiii, xvii.

page 166 note 2 Rackham, passim, esp. diagrammatic long section.

page 167 note 1 Fletcher and Spokes, pp. 160–3.

page 167 note 2 Ibid., pp. 182–3; dated to c. 1190.

page 167 note 3 Information from N. Drinkwater; see also SirClapham, Alfred, ‘Salisbury Cathedral’, Arch.J. civ (1947), 144–5.

page 167 note 4 Some of the Salisbury roofs are of quite different type and presumably much later ;Britton, J., Cathedral Antiquities (1836), ii, pl. x (main south transept), pi. xviii (west end of nave).

page 167 note 5 A. F. Kendrick, Lincoln (Bell's Cathedral Series, 1901), pp. 27, 28.

page 168 note 1 Fletcher and Spokes, fig. 49; R.C.H.M., City of Oxford, p. 78.

page 159 note 2 R., and Brandon, J. A., Open Timber Roofs of the Middle Ages (1859), pl. 3; Fletcher and Spokes, p. 163. The present church is of 1881–2; N. Pevsner, N.E. Norfolk, p. 183.

page 159 note 3 The novelty of many features of the work is stressed by Webb, G. F., Architecture in Britain: the Middle Ages (1956), pp. 109–13.

page 159 note 4 The principal sources are: for France north of the Loire; Deneux. Low Countries; Brigode, S., ‘L'Architecture religieuse dans le sud-ouest de la Belgique, I … a la fin du XVe siècle’, Bull, de la Comm. Roy. Des Monuments et des Sites, i (1949), 89351, and H. Janse and L. Devliegher, ‘Middeleeuwse Bekappingen in het Vroegere Graafschap Vlaanderen’, ibid, xiii (1962), 301–80. Germany and also other countries; Ostendorf, passim.

page 159 note 5 Schnell, F., ‘Die Entwicklung des Dachstuhls am Mittelrhein’ (doctoral thesis, Technische Hochschule, Darmstadt, 1915), p. 12. Rebuilding of the Romanesque nave began on the south side c. 1250–70 and was continued on the north side after 1292, the east bay of the nave not being completed until 1307; thus the roof cannot be dated safely before the early fourteenth century although it could belong to the earlier phase: Gloel, H., Der Dom zu Wetzlar (Wetzlar, 1925).

page 168 note 6 Ostendorf, fig. 41 aa date, Dehio, G. and Gall, E., Handbuch der deutschen Kunstdenkmäler, [i], Niedersachsen u. Westfalen (1949), p. 21.

page 168 note 7 Ostendorf, p. 16 and figs. 32, 32a.

page 169 note 1 Ostendorf, fig. 219; date as C. Enlart, Manueld'Archeologie fran¸aise, pt. 2, ii (2nd ed., 1932), 869.

page 169 note 2 Tours: Charpentes, ii, [42], there dated to c. 1243, when the choir was begun. If original it must be before 1267, when relics were transferred to the new choir: F. Salet, La Cathèdrale de Tours (Pet. Mon., 1949), p. 10. Salet, however, ascribes it to c. 1431, with the nave roof, despite considerable differences of detail; ibid., p. 57. Sens: Charpentes, ii, [43], there dated to c. 1267, i.e. after the collapse of the south-west tower in that year. Actually the work of rebuilding was in progress in 1289; Chartraire, E., La Cathédrale de Sens (Pet. Mon., 1943), p. 21.

page 169 note 3 i.e. an upright timber reaching to the apex of the roof but not supporting a ridge piece. See R. A. Cordingley, in Trans, of Ancient Monuments Soc, N.s. ix (1961), 73–129.

page 169 note 4 R.C.H.M., MS. report.

page 169 note 5 Mason, R. T., ‘Fourteenth-century Halls in Sussex’, Sussex Arch. Coll. xcv (1957), 7183; idem, Framed. Buildings of the Weald (published by the author, 1964), PP 57–59.

page 170 note 1 e.g. Shere and Newdigate (personal observation).

page 170 note 2 Below, p. 174.

page 170 note 3 V.C.H. Essex, iv. 47–49; Smith, J. T., ‘Medieval Aisled Halls …’, Arch. J. xcii (1955), 7980; Fletcher and Spokes, p. 160, table in, where it is dated simply late thirteenth century.

page 170 note 4 Deneux, p. 66.

page 170 note 5 Charpentes, ii, [7–15].

page 170 note 6 No full-scale study of the cathedral was undertaken when the Congress of the Société Française d'Archéologie met at Poitiers in 1951; the dates quoted are given by Grodecki, L., ‘Les Vitraux de la cathedrale de Poitiers’, Congr. Arch, cix (1951), 138. Ostendorf ascribes the roof to the end of the twelfth century and discusses, but does not illustrate, the rafter braces, p. 55 and fig. 108.

page 170 note 7 Charpentes, i, [29–30]; dates as Kautzsch, R., Der Romanische Kirchenbau im Elsass (1944), p. 236.

page 170 note 8 Ostendorf, p. 22 and figs. 41–41a.

page 170 note 9 Ibid., p. 140, figs. 213–213a.

page 170 note 10 H. G. Griep, Goslar (1959), p. 49 and pl. 19b.

page 170 note 11 Elna Møller, ‘Romanske Tagkonstruktioner’, Aarbeger (1953), pp. 145, 150.

page 172 note 1 Exceptions are East Prussia and the greater part of Pomerania, where it is common in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the easternmost example published of medieval rafter bracing on the Baltic coast and its hinterland appears to be the nave roof of the Dominican church at Stralsund, of the first half of the fourteenth century: Ostendorf, p. 56, and Abb. 110, 110a.

page 172 note 2 Ostendorf, p. 16 and figs. 44, 44a.

page 172 note 3 Ostendorf; Deneux; Schnell, F., ‘Die Entwicklung des Dachstuhls am Mittelrhein’ (doctoral thesis, Tech nische Hochschule, Darmstadt, 1915).

page 173 note 1 The flying plates at Bayeux provide a rare exception to the French rule.

page 173 note 2 A comparison of twelfth-century roofs with those of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries brings this out clearly: Deneux and Charpentes, i-iii.

page 173 note 3 Deneux, pp. 53, 57; Charpentes, ii, [1–2]. In reading Deneux it should be remembered that not only is his work confined to France north of the Loire, but that, being begun before the First World War, it excludes Alsace and Lorraine.

page 173 note 4 Charpentes, ii, [22–27]; for the date J. Vallery-Radot, La Cathédrale de Bayeux (Pet. Mon., n.d., c. 1922), p. 16.

page 174 note 1 Drinkwater, N., ‘The Old Deanery, Salisbury’, Antiq. Journ. xliv (1964), 4159. Earlier dates have been suggested for certain Berkshire and Sussex crown-post roofs: Fletcher and Spokes.

page 174 note 2 Charpentes, ii, [27], gives details of the joint; cf. Drinkwater, op. cit., p. 51.

page 174 note 3 Op. cit.

V.—Westminster Abbey: The Timber Roofs of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster

  • R. W. McDowall, J. T. Smith and C. F. Stell


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