The More Portal at Northwood Prep School
This project is remarkable amongst the work that Ben has carried out recently because it neatly encompasses every one of the skills and services he offers, not only as a modelmaker but also as a surveyor, architectural draftsman, and designer. Ben was approached by Northwood Prep School in North London, now Merchant Taylors’ Prep, to help solve an architectural mystery.
Remains of the Manor
It had been known that the school and its grounds stood on the site of the buried remains of a great manor house of the late medieval period. In 1522 the manor was owned by Cardinal Wolsey and in 1527, the French ambassador, Jean du Bellay thought the house “more splendid than Hampton Court”.
Today the only visible sign of the Manor of the More is the existence of four large and beautifully carved pieces of stone. Having been discovered by grounds-men, two of the pieces were recognised by Professor Martin Biddle of Oxford University to be of Tudor origin. These two pieces were sections of columns, featuring finely carved bands of floral decoration. There were very tiny but clearly visible shapes amongst the swirls of carved stems and leaves, banded scrolls that looked a little like coronets. Professor Biddle, who had carried out a great deal of work excavating and investigating the site, attributed this carving to stonemasons working in the Italianate Classical style around 1530.
Ben was commissioned to survey the remains and make accurate scale drawings. It was hoped that these stone pieces had a direct relationship to one another. The drawings were finally able to prove this was the case, and even illustrate how the stones might have been placed together.
After the initial survey drawings were completed attention turned to how the stone elements might have formed part of a larger design in the Manor, possibly as columns flanking the entrance to the gate house or one of the court yards. Many pictures of contemporary buildings were examined to gather evidence for how a possible structure might have looked.
In the end Ben was given the job of visiting the Chateau of Gaillon in northern France with Professor Biddle to examine what remained of the gate house there. The visit was a great success as the stone carving at Gaillon had many similarities to the detail on the columns at Northwood, even down to the carved banded scrolls in the floral decoration.
A design for a Portal, a section of what could have been the outer gatehouse, much like that at Gaillon was produced incorporating the Northwood stone pieces. Having been approved by Professor Biddle and also discussed with Kent Rawlinson curator at Hampton Court, the design was then featured by Time Team, Channel 4’s archaeology programme, for an episode exploring the re-discovery of the Manor of the More. See details on www.channel4.com/programmes/time-team
The next step of the project was to go from planning and drawing to 3D modelling. Northwood Prep School commissioned Ben to produce a model of the Portal for permanent exhibition at the school. The drawings were printed to the correct scale and construction began with cutting basic blocks for the major elements of the building.
A miniature lathe was used to create a replica of the stone column. Details and proportions were transposed by hand from the drawings.
The structure and architectural details of the façade were built up in layers of wood, plastic and brass. The model took shape over several weeks.
A process of casting the column in a latex rubber mould meant that Ben could produce two identical duplicates.
It was decided that the figure of Cardinal Wolsey would be included to give a sense of scale. The figure was hand carved in resin. All elements were then painted and weathered to give a realistic quality to the model.
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