Church architecture in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, art, books, and whatever crosses my path

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Beastly Cambridge

An animal anthology of carvings in Cambridge.


Crocodile on the wall of the Mond Laboratory on the old Cavendish site. It was commissioned by the Russian scientist Peter Kapitza as a humorous reference to Ernest Rutherford, the director of the Cavendish Laboratory. 'The Crocodile' was apparently Kapitza's nickname for Rutherford; the University's website claims that this was either because Kapitza was afraid of getting his head bitten off by his boss, or because Rutherford's loud voice could always be heard long before he arrived, like the ticking of the alarm clock in the stomach of the crocodile in 'Peter Pan'.

Since the Physics Department's move to the West Cambridge site, the building has been occupied by the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit.


The crocodile was carved into the brick by Eric Gill in 1933. He signed it with his monogram wittily replacing the tongue. We can assume that crocodiles were one species that he didn't try to have sex with. 



Iguanodon and very cuddly-looking ground sloth (which seems to be clutching the palm tree for support, as if under the weather after a night out) on the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences in Downing Street. They were carved c.1904 by the firm Farmer and Brindley, who also made the numerous animal sculptures that populate the Natural History Museum. In the Earth Sciences Museum is a real iguanodon skeleton (or, more accurately, a cast of a real skeleton).


A mammoth from the Earth Science Museum.






Bears and bison from the Earth Sciences Museum.


Sculpture of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, outside the Earth Sciences Museum. It was made of welded sheet metal by Ian Curran, a blacksmith from Doncaster, and was originally commissioned by Clare College as the centrepiece for a May Ball. It was moved to its present position in 2015.

More Cambridge beasts to come . . .

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Arson at Royston church, Herts



View from the north. The tower, now mostly Victorian, was originally the central tower of the church of the monastery of Augustinian canons. The original nave was to the west, ie the right of the picture.
The church of St John the Baptist, Royston, Herts, was badly damaged by fire in the early hours of Sunday 9 December (local news report here). Apparently it was an arson attack, an act of ignorance and barbarity. It is currently unclear exactly how bad the damage is; it is said that the roof has partly collapsed, and the tower is smoke-blackened, but the walls are standing to their full height and the glass in the north windows seems to be intact. Nevertheless, judging from the flames in the news photographs, we should be prepared to learn that the interior is almost entirely lost.

The church has, or had, much to interest aficionados of architecture. It preserves the remains of a monastic church and dates mostly from the 13th century, though much altered in later eras. I haven't time to write a complete article about it now, but here are some not very adequate photos taken on my most recent visit, in 2015, with brief captions.

North aisle exterior; on the right an 18th cen memorial; the two windows in the centre with elaborate ogee canopies are c.1830

Two views of the remains of three 13th century Early English lancet windows, with dogtooth decoration, from the original monastic chancel, now on the south of the nave.
A complete lancet, very chic with its clustered shafts, from the original chancel, now on the north of the nave.

Three charming angels in the tracery lights of a 1890 window by German firm Mayer and Co, the only bearable part of an otherwise heavy and lurid window in the south chapel.


Two 14th century angels with an embarrassment of wings in the north aisle.


An ostentatiously fierce heraldic leopard.

Pulpit, now presumably ashes, made up from fragments of a late medieval screen.

Damaged 15th century alabaster figure of Mary and child, now perhaps dust.


Alabaster effigy of a knight, c.1415. According to Pevsner it's the only late medieval alabaster effigy in the county, so if it's been damaged or destroyed it's doubly tragic.
Handsome 13th century nave arcade.

Arch at the west of the nave. The details are consistent with a 13th century date, like some of the rest of the nave, but the arch is round, not pointed. Presumably this indicates a late 12th (or early 13th) century date.

South aisle roof, with probably 15th century angels, their details very fetchingly picked out in gold. It remains to be seen if they've survived the fire.