Medieval Decorative Ironwork in England by Jane Geddes Jane Geddes

Medieval Decorative
Ironwork in England

English ironwork from 1050-1550


411 pages, over 600 illustrations,
Size 8" X 10-1/2" Hard bound

Review by Bruce "Atli" Blackistone

I love books, but itís a rare day that I invest in such a pricey tome. Still, the subject was right down my muddy medieval alley, and with over 600 photographs and drawings I figured that I would find it of at least some inspiration. I was especially happy to be proven right, and it is now a valued inspiration and part of my reference library.

#3 'C' Strap hinges on right with 19th century elaborations on the left on the chapter house door at Ripon Cathedral, North Yorkshire.  1.16M X 2.15M.  14th century?
This book is a scholarly work, long on observation and cross-cultural comparisons and VERY short on technique. If you are not willing to study the text and do a bit of reverse engineering it could prove frustrating. Because different examples of varying techniques are drawn from different chapters and sections, patience is advised. To get the most out of the book you have to actually start at the front and work your way through, making an occasional marginal note on the way. Most of the apparent puzzles and gaps sort themselves out by the end.

RIGHT: "C" Strap hinges on right with 19th century elaborations on the left on the chapter house door at Ripon Cathedral, North Yorkshire. 1.16M X 2.15M. 14th century? Click images for enlargement.

#6 Inner lock plate, Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk. The period covered, 1050-1550, is a little light in the early stages, and I would, of course, be more interested in pre-conquest work. It is obvious from the book that there just wasnít that much to begin with, and much of that didnít survive the ages. Also, being decorative, the sampling is almost wholly ecclesiastical. Still, itís fascinating to watch how the work evolves over the ages, and the persistence of certain motifs through the entire period (and right up to the present day).

LEFT: Inner lock plate, Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk. 220mm(?) top and bottom, 220mm left edge, 250mm right edge. 1504-1529.

One of the highlights of the work is several chapters on stamped ironwork. This is a technique where certain decorative motifs, terminals and elements were formed by hammering the iron down into a die. (Or, perhaps, the die was hammered down on the iron. Itís sort of chicken vs. egg: was the iron cut with a chisel or with a hardy?) As mentioned above, there is very little on the actual details of the technique(s) used, and Iím looking forward to experimenting in this area. Others, more experienced than I, may leap to successful conclusions.

Fleurs-de-lis strap hinges on south door of All Saints Church, Lockinge, Oxfordshire.  1.14M X 2.21M.  Late 15th to 16th century? Ring plate with stamped work, great hall entrance, Bisham Abbey, Berkshire.  508mm across.  Circa 1270-1300 (handle renewed)
ABOVE: Ring plate with stamped work, great hall entrance, Bisham Abbey, Berkshire. 508mm across. Circa 1270-1300 (handle renewed).

LEFT: Fleurs-de-lis strap hinges on south door of All Saints Church, Lockinge, Oxfordshire. 1.14M X 2.21M. Late 15th to 16th century?
This is not a book for everybody, and given the price I would not suggest its acquisition as just an addition to a blacksmithís general reference library (unless the smith is really well heeled). Secondly, the whole is almost entirely drawn from doors and chests in churches. This is not a book of tools, weapons, armor or implements. However, if you have a deep interest in, or specialize in medieval ironwork, and you are willing to give the book a careful reading, it is worth every cent of the price, for both inspiration and education.

#5 Chest with stamped and cut work, Noyon Cathedral, France.  14th century?
Chest with stamped and cut work, Noyon Cathedral, France. 14th century?

I am already working on a chest for my daughter-in-law incorporating the decorative elements from a chest dated to the 12th century and then ďmodernizedĒ with fleurs-de-lis in (perhaps) the 15th century.

Helpful hints:
  • Keep a magnifying glass handy. The photographs are small, but finely done and bear close scrutiny. I found a magnifier with a higher-power lens inset to be quite useful.

  • You might want an English/metric ruler nearby and a pair of dividers for scaling up some of the elements in the illustrations.

  • Lots of bookmarks are useful, since the text skips to illustrations in other sections of the book.

  • Illustrations are numbered by Parts (6) rather than Chapters (24). This can be a tad confusing at first.

  • The catalog in the back and the maps in the front would be wonderful if you plan a trip to England in the future. The catalog also gives further details of the specific artifact, estimated or provable date, and (most importantly) dimensions. Iíve been embarrassed several times by misinterpreting the scale of various artifacts, so Iíve learned to pay attention.

#1 'C' strap hinges. on west doors, St. John the Baptist at Burford, Oxfordshire.  Each door 7.9 M X 2.74M.  Ca. 1160s Medieval Decorative Ironwork in England
by Jane Geddes
© 1999 The Society of Antiquaries of London
Burlington House
Piccadilly, London W1V 0HS
ISBN 0 85431 273 0; ISSN 0953-7163; 411 pages; $125

Available through Norm Larson Books
5426 E. Hwy. 246
Lompoc, CA 93436

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