January 31, 2022|Reports
“The Men Who Built The Cathedrals” – Imogen Corrigan
Wickham History Society’s first talk of 2022 was a virtual one. We decided to stay with Zoom for our January and February meetings to hear from speakers further afield at the time of year when many of us aren’t too keen to go out in the evenings. From her home in Kent, Imogen Corrigan joined fifty-five of us to talk about the ‘master masons’ who built our amazing cathedrals in the days before computer assisted design.
They were all men, as far as we know, and could be a touchy bunch – one was convicted of ‘trampling’ an unfortunate abbot who criticised his work – but they did achieve magnificent buildings that completely dominated the medieval landscape. William Ramsey III was responsible for Winchester Cathedral’s perpendicular style in the 1330’s, coming from a long line of seven successful masons. It was however a pretty democratic profession – master masons were drawn from a range of building skills and backgrounds and became responsible for hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of workers and all the related issues of finding food, accommodation and sourcing materials and their carriage from hundreds of miles away. Most needed a ‘Parlier’, an interpreter, so they could engage with the different skilled artisans involved.
The master mason would usually compete with others to be selected, preparing models for the selection committee. They rarely lived to see their work completed and ‘poaching’ was a constant worry for the bishop or abbot who needed to provide the mason’s coat of ermine and ample remuneration. Next time you visit a cathedral have a look at some of the faces on the corbels or roof bosses – that could be the master mason’s face. If you are interested in finding out more have a look at Imogen’s book: Stone on Stone, the men who built the Cathedrals.