John Carter

The news of the proposed alterations to Durham Cathedral spread soon after Wyatt had presented his plans in September 1795. Already in October, 'Viator' wrote in the Gentleman's Magazine wondering that after all that had been said about Salisbury, Durham should also now be a target for destruction. On 26 November 1795, John Carter (1748-1817) presented at the Society of Antiquaries a set of still unfinished measured drawings of Durham Cathedral, commissioned by the Society the previous summer. He was introduced by the chairman, Sir Henry Englefield Bt., who informed the members about the works initiated at Durham under the direction of James Wyatt, the highly respected architect of the Pantheon. Not wanting to blame Wyatt personally, Englefield still doubted whether he had really understood the spirit of mediaeval architecture. Sir Henry emphasized the grand and picturesque effect of the irregular intricacy of the mediaeval plan, though often the effect of chance, and regretted the 'trim neatness' and strict symmetry resulting from modern work, not to speak about the destruction of ancient works of art, and continued:

When I hear that a gravel walk is to be substituted for the Galilee, when I know that the areas round other Cathedrals have been reduced to the same insipid state of trim neatness, a sort of ludicrous Indignation fills my mind, and I should not wonder if I saw the Knights, recumbent on the Tombs within, dressed out in silk stockings and neat Buckles. Surely the turf 'heaving in many a mould'ring heap', Nay even the Thistles and Nettles, that flourish with melancholy Lux

John Carter Cathedral
Figure 5.4 Durham Cathedral, measured drawing of the west elevation by John Carter, dated 1801. Instead of simply drawing the actual situation, he attempted a partial reconstruction. (The Dean and Chapter of Durham)

uriance amongst the ashes of past Generations, accord better with the grey walls of the stately Pile, which rises amidst them, than this poor shaven substitute, which gives no Idea beyond a Tea Garden and Bowling Green. (S.A.L., 1793-1796:xxv,486)

Carter emphasized the 'pleasing Diversity of Forms', the 'uncommon and striking Effect' of the west front, and the great central tower 'in all the magnificence of ancient splendour'. He pointed out the singularity of the design of the Galilee, and noticed 'the unusual Effect of the Light and Shade'. The visual effect, picturesqueness and sublimity seemed to him perhaps even more important than the historical value. He objected to the alterations that had already taken place so much that he refused to draw them; instead he made use of old prints and drawings for a reconstruction drawing of the building as it would have been prior to the start of the works. He referred to

Hutchinson's History of Durham and showed the building slightly idealized with neat battlements on the western towers. Carter tried to convince the authorities to adopt a more sensitive treatment, and probably succeeded in part: the Galilee Chapel was again repaired, and the interior was not unified as yet. When Wyatt was proposed to be elected to the Society of Antiquaries he was black-balled in the first election; in the second balloting in 1797, however, he was elected with a great majority. As a consequence, Gough resigned from the Society's presidency, and Carter was forbidden to present more drawings to the Society without special invitation.

Carter had already been employed by the Society of Antiquaries to prepare measured drawings of historic buildings since 1792. He thus worked on St Stephen's Chapel at Westminster, the cathedrals of Exeter and Durham, and the abbey church of Bath; these records were later published. In addition, he published several volumes on English mediaeval art and architecture, but his best known literary work is probably the series of 212 articles, 'Pursuits of Architectural Innovation', that he published under the pseudonym 'An Architect' in The Gentleman's Magazine from 1798 till his death. The 'Pursuits' were first intended as a critical survey of the restoration of mediaeval buildings, but gradually this developed into a history of English architecture. It had the subtitle: 'Progress of Architecture in England', and covered the subject from the early times till the reign of Queen Anne. He travelled extensively to various parts of the country, and usually described one building in each article; more important ones, such as some cathedrals, Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle, needed several. He seldom gave praise, though it happened sometimes - as was the case even at Salisbury, where he thought the cloisters to be 'in good hands'. However, he did not spare criticism either, and concluded his article on Salisbury:

Before I quit this cathedral, let me once more shed a tear in pity for the innovated and modernised architectural state of the service part of the arrangement, and sepulchral relicks remaining therein; where new-fangled decorations have been set up, utterly irrelevant to the style of the fabrick, without order or propriety; where monuments have been either destroyed, removed, or their particular parts huddled together, to the confusion of Architectural design and historical evidence. (GM, 1810:511)

Carter's vocabulary contained such concepts as: alteration, beautifying, damage, destruction, improvement, innovation, repairing, and restoration, which all, in the end, meant different degrees of negative or destructive treatment of historic buildings. 'Beautifying' was 'whitewashing the interiors of our antient churches, new-glazing the windows . . . knocking out their mullions and tracery altogether; filling up the aisles and body of the churches with pews . . .' (GM, 1802:1118). 'Alteration' was understood as:

removing the tombs and monuments of Founders and Patrons from their original and appropriate situations at the East ends to the West ends of such holy fabricks; driving out the choirs (first taking down the altar-screens) into the Lady-Chapel . . . reworking and making additions in the Roman and Grecian styles to some parts of these structures; and, finally, to pull down and destroy their several appendeges, such as chapter-houses, altar-screens, monuments, &c. (GM, 1802:1021)

'Repairs', to him, were too often 'militations' against the remaining precious memorials resulting in careless imitations or mutilations (GM, 1804:328). 'Restorations' were just one step further; in practice these were left to the inattentive hands of workmen, and had 'very little or no connection, resemblance, or proportion to the old works of art' (GM, 1804:328). Taking the example of Henry the Eighth's Chapel at Westminster Abbey, he exclaimed:

when Restoration comes - why then the original will be no more. For my part, I am for no restoration of the building; I am content with it even as it is. For repair, indeed, I am ready enough to agree to that; such as carefully stopping open joints, making good some of the mullions of the windows, putting the glazing of the windows in proper conditions; but no further would I go. (GM, 1804:739)

It is probable that Carter's reluctance to accept restorations resulted partly from his detestation of the early forms of Gothic Revival architecture of his time. He insisted that the imitation of original architectural details should be properly understood so that the work would 'become of consequence from its historic reference, and continue as example of genuine taste and true imitation' (GM, 1801:310). Here Carter anticipated Pugin's criticism of Gothic Revival, although from a purely antiquarian and aesthetic point of view. On paper, he himself made some restorations; as for example at Durham, or at Lichfield, where he 'restored' the west front with statues that had been removed earlier.7 His main effort was to defend the authentic heritage of his country, and he closed his last article with the following words:

If the Society of Antiquaries be disposed, as doubtless they will, to 'give credit to the yielding disposition' of him who saves the devoted pile; can other minds, claiming possession of

'taste' and sensibility like them, refrain from heartily rejoicing? We once more cry out in joyful strain, thanks! and conclude with this self-congratulating effusion - OUR LABOURS ARE NOT IN VAIN! - 'AN ARCHITECT'. (GM, 1817:225)

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