Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Literary brick: Bleak House by Charles Dickens

The brickmakers mentioned in Charles Dicken's Bleak House lead wretched lives. This is true to life, unfortunately. The work was seasonal in nature, which meant that most brickmakers were laid-off during the winter ensuring poverty. The online version of Bleak House is searchable, so it's easy to find the brick references. Chapter Eight gives a good description of the surrounds - wretched hovels in a brickfield ...

In the BBC's current sublime version of Bleak House, the Brickmaker and his wife Jenny have been seen in the first couple of episodes. Jenny had just lost her baby and her husband was aggressive and threatening.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Literary tiles: Ben Hur by Lew Wallace

More tiles in literature: in Ben Hur by Lew Wallace, young Judah leans over the parapet of his house roof and dislodges some tiles. This scene also appears in the film starring Charlton Heston, though if I remember correctly, it's his sister who leans on the tiles, and Judah takes the rap. I've tried to find an online photo of this incident, to no avail. I've no idea what sort of tiles they are likely to be (presumably some sort of Greek type?), though in the film they look like the standard tegula and imbrex we know and love in the country. The moral of the tale is: tiles can be dangerous if you don't look after them...

Edit: As requested by Gabriele, here is a link to the main page for Lew Wallace's Ben Hur online text.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Literary tiles: Wives & Daughters by Mrs Gaskell

I like a good land drain. They often come up complete, so get handed to me for identification. Lucky me! The most interesting ones are early-mid 19th century. If you're wanting to see land drains in action (and let's face who doesn't!?) a great place to see them is in BBC tv's 1999 serial Wives and Daughters. The original novel is by Mrs Gaskell, and adapted for the Beeb by Andrew Davies. In the serial, there are three scenes with land drain digging. Squire Hamley is trying to improve his land, and one way to do it, is to install drains. Well worth a look - get it from your local library and look at the beginning of episodes 1-3. I'll shortly be having a look to see exactly where the land drains where mentioned in Gaskell's original text.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Fired Up - Celebrating Ceramics ...

Well worth a look is Fired Up - Celebrating Ceramics from York’'s Collection which is on exhibition at York Art Gallery, UK, till 15 January, 2006. Included are all sorts of tiles, including a Roman chimney, an antefix, a scored flue tile, and also later tiles such as a Polychrome Relief tile (10th-12th century), delftware tiles, and later items. There are also lots of pots, from Prehistoric to the 21st century. There's even a bathroom sink on display. In fact, the exhibition has a refreshingly broad interpretation of ceramics.

There is also a short film of three experts looking in depth at four pots - the Severus Roman head pot, a Medieval Medallion jug, Delftware charger, and a modern piece by Kate Malone called Bursting Dense Garlic Bud Life Force. Very illuminating.

Free admission!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Is it a stoat? No, it's a cat!

Spurriergate is a great site for ceramic building materials (my assessment for the first phase of work is not yet on the Web as it was done in 2000, and I leave these things at least five years before putting them into the public domain, just in case the client has some objections). Not only has Spurriergate got very strong early medieval (11th-12th century) roofing material sample, but it's got a lovely collection of Roman material.

Chief amongst the loveliness is a small collection of imprints. There are some good hobnail prints, but also some animal pawprints. As well as dog and sheep/goat, there was one I was uncertain about. Could it be a stoat? The prints were very faint and I had difficulty with matching it with my big book of animal prints (aka Collins Guide to Animal Tracks and Signs by Bang & Dahlstrom). Thought in might be a stoat because it was very small, though the claws didn't show, but this could be perhaps because the clay might have been fairly dry. However, the small prints could be small because of the shrinkage of clay ... Going round in cirles here. So ...

Time to call in the expert! Will Higgs has done a goodly amount of work on animal prints on tiles. He was able to say that it was in fact a cat. I was disappointed, as previously I had managed to identify stoat pawprints on a tile from Layerthorpe (see my publication report here).

Since not everyone can get hold of the excellent Will Higgs or the Bang & Dahlstrom back-up, I checked out the Web for some animal track links: - as you might suspect, this is a US site, but there are one or two animals on their list that appear in the UK. There are some good pictures of cat pawprints. - good on gait patterns

Never mind, there's always another tile sample to play with! And I'll be back on a Roman one on 16th November when I teach the Brick and Tile workshop at the Yorkshire Museum. Initially, I had my eyes on the Bedern sample (see my notes on some of the cbm from this site here), but changed my mind. Bedern is a medieval sample, and all that implies - basically flaming bewildering for beginners; too many forms, way too many fabrics, plus probably residual Roman material mixed in. Nightmare!

Roman material in York tends (but not always) to have less fabrics, and a relatively limited amount of forms. So I've gone for the sample from Blake Street, York instead. It's an all singing, all dancing Roman site, dug in the 1970s and the sample's never been assessed, let alone recorded. Perhaps there'll be some animal pawprints for the beginners to find as well!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Kate Tiler

Kate Tiler demonstrates medieval tile making. Her website can be found here. She has just started a blog, and hopes to document some of her projects. Should be interesting!