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Inigo Jones’s roof structures

  • David Yeomans


When Inigo Jones introduced Italian architectural ideas into Britain, he also brought a new kind of roof structure that facilitated the construction of large scale spaces. The unsupported ceilings of the Banqueting House and St Paul’s, Covent Garden, were both over 50 ft and although similar spans had been built before, they had relied upon quite different structural methods which created a distinct architecture. The roofs of Westminster Hall and those of many lesser halls, like those at the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, used either arch or hammer-beam forms whose open structures dominated the rooms. These structures were quite unsuited to providing flat ceilings or roofs which, when required, had relied upon massive tie beams. Instead of this rather crude structural method, Inigo Jones supported his flat ceilings and roofs by using the much more efficient trussed roofs which were in use in Italy at the time and were shown in the drawings of Palladio and Serlio. These structures allowed large spans to be constructed with timbers of smaller scantling, particularly for the tie beam which no longer needed to carry the full weight of the roof and which no longer needed to be built in a single length. It might be argued that the use of this new structural form was essential to the development of the new classical style of architecture in England but, although he was the first architect to use it on any scale in Britain, the influence of Inigo Jones on its subsequent use and development is questionable because of the interruption to building by the Civil War and the re-discovery of the form by others thereafter.



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1 Palladio, Andrea, I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (Venice, 1601), 11, 42 .

2 Allsop, Bruce, Inigo Jones on Palladio (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1970). The annotations on sizes of beams are in I Quattro Libri, IV, 19, 25, 33, 45 and 131.

3 I Quattro Libri, IV, 20.

4 Reproduced by Parsons, W. B. in Engineers and Engineering in the Renaissance (London, 1976), 486-87.

5 I Quattro Libri, IV, 15.

6 Baldi, Bernardino, in Mechanica Aristotalis Problematica Exercitationes (Mainz, 1621), 102-03.

7 SirWotton, Henry, The Elements of Architecture (London, 1624), 79 .

8 Barbaro, Daniello, I Dieci Libri dell’Architettura di M. Vitruvio (Venice, 1552), 168 . Jones’s annotated copy is at Chatsworth.

9 Ibid., 168.

10 For a description of French king-post roofs see Meirion-Jones, Gwyn I., ‘The vernacular architecture of France: an assessment’, Vernacular Architecture, 16 (1985), 117 .

11 For the regional distribution of traditional English king-post roofs see Mercer, Eric, English Vernacular Houses (London, 1975), 109 .

12 Reproduced by Hill, Oliver and Comforth, J. in English Country Houses: Caroline 1625-1685 (London, 1966), 75 .

13 Campbell, Colen, Vitruvius Brittanicus (London, 1715), 1, pl. 5 .

14 Kent, William, Designs oflnigoJones (London, 1727), 51 .

15 Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth, album 8, John Webb, The Original Designs for Whitehall,. 6, sheet numbered 51.

16 Nicholson, Peter, Practical Carpentry, Joinery and Cabinet Making (London, 1826), pl. 20 . The drawing is by M. A. Nicholson.

17 Ibid.

18 PRO Works 4/5.

19 PRO Works 6/15/172.

20 PRO Works 6/15/258.

21 RBA Smythson Collection 1/14.

22 Field, H. and Bunney, M., English domestic architecture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (London, 1905), 15 .

23 Worcester College Collection, Gotch 15.

24 Langley, Batty, Ancient Masonry (London, 1736), 11, pl. 44 .

25 RIBA drawings collection, E5/25.

26 Colen Campbell, op cit., ii, pl. 20.

27 The Survey of London, 36 (London, 1970), 104-07.

28 PRO SP 16/402/75 dated 30 November 1638.

29 Thejudgement given on 24 May 1639 (PRO SP 16/421/150-3), rejected many of the parishioners’ claims.

30 Westminster Public Library H802 fol. 105.

31 Ibid., fol. 110.

32 Westminster Public Library H913.

33 DoE Photographic Collection.

34 Wren Society, 6 (Oxford, 1929), 59.

35 Worcester College Collection, Gotch 1 58k verso.

36 Ibid., G 17c.

37 Ware, Isaac in Designs of Inigo Jones and others (London, 1757), reproduced a design purportedly by Inigojones for a circular theatre which also had a king-post truss.

38 These and subsequent drawings by Webb, referred to here, are all in the Worcester College Collection.

39 William Kent, op. cit., 28, 40, 43, 46 and 47.

40 Margaret Whinney, ‘Some Church Designs by John Webb’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 6, 14, suggests that one of these (Worcester College Collection 1, 42) was probably intended for publication.

41 Yeomans, David, ‘Structural Understanding in the Eighteenth Century: James Essex and the Roof of Lincoln Cathedral Chapter House’, Design Studies, 5, No. 1 (January 1984), 4148 .

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Architectural History
  • ISSN: 0066-622X
  • EISSN: 2059-5670
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