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east coast Decorated

Boston - E window

Boston – E window


The great Curvilinear Decorated works that line the north and east coasts of England, from Carlisle’s east end through York and Selby and the parish churches of Lincs and north Norfolk to Ely’s lady chapel and on, can seem like a curvilinear boiler-plate Dec when viewed from the point of view of the pyrotechnical experiments of the Court and the south west. But the more I look at them, the more I think this is an underestimation.

These chaps coined some of the most original things in the genre, such as (at Lincoln, if a little earlier) the flying rib. They also, in spite of the dozens of buildings produced by them, can do sophisticated things time and again: change mode, so that a supporting part of the building is plain even when an sacred part if rich (Snettisham, Michaelhouse, Cambridge); and in liturgical set pieces come over as original as anything in the south west: the galilee porch at Snettisham, Norfolk is just one example; the bosses and Prior’s Door in the e walk of the Norwich cloister another, the entire church at Patrington, especially the (Marian image-cult related?) detailing of the south transept and its approaches, is a third.

More to the point, their work begs a whole load of questions. Just how many workshops are churning this stuff out, given its ubiquity across east Anglia, Lincs, and south/east Yorks, and its strong commonality, and astonishing maintenance of quality throughout? if this great strip, with its extraordinary epicentres of wealth and scale around the Wash and the Humber estuary, is the homeland of Curvilinear, what is its relationship with Continental Flamboyant? The experiments of the west country have been mined for their relationship with central European architecture, but this question is equally significant.

And closer to home, what is their relationship with Perp? On the surface again, it is Bristol, Wells and Gloucester which take up the ideas coined in St Stephen’s chapel, Westminster and run with them; yet William Ramsey, coming up with Old St Paul’s chapter house in the very year of the Gloucester south transept, was a Norwich man. And, while the genre has significant roots in the C13 (Grantham), it is in the early C14 that the great barn churches which in the Perp guise we call wool churches become widely accepted, from Cley to Hull. There is repetition here, and spaciousness: one of the reasons for E. coast Dec’s boiler-plate image: but the search for such effects may be precisely the point, and also the reason why east coast architects did not abandon Dec motifs when Perp came along, or not to the extent of those to the south and west. As far as they were concerned, perhaps, they were already halfway there.

Heckington - Easter sepulchre

Heckington – Easter sepulchre

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