Thursday, 8 December 2011

Touching Bosses at Southwark Cathedral:Gazing at The Shard

My last post on Tate Modern described a walk from Southwark Underground to Bankside on the River Thames and the Embankment.  The station at Blackfriars may offer easier access to Tate Modern and I will try it out on a Thameslink trip. 

From the terrace of Tate Modern I could make out the Millenium Bridge and St Paul’s in the City of London and further to the east the development known as The Shard.  In between these two buildings sits Southwark Cathedral, though I could not discern it at first.  I have been to St Paul’s on my own and was at lunch down the hill a couple of weeks ago, when the protestors were being given the notice to quit. 

Southwark Cathedral is more tranquil at the moment, though has also had moments of glory in its own way.  My friend is always looking out for aspects of architecture and masonry for me to inspect.  Concrete, rag stone and Portland stone have to be inspected.  This Anglican Cathedral has an interesting past and the status of the cathedral and diocese may be of interest to some.  Patiently reading the notice board to me, my friend noted the heraldry on display.  We know enough heraldry to squirm at the faux pas ‘Bar Sinister’ beloved of creative writing.  (Heraldists claim that Heraldry is a Science and in my mind it is as relevant as ornithology to birds, to quote the late Richard Feynman, but I could be treading on dangerous waters.)  Suffice it to say that terms such a: rebus, canting, charges, chevron and quarters are familiar. 

We wandered round the cathedral and there was a rehearsal for a service to be held on World Aids Day.   On completing a circuit of the building, my friend picked up an information leaflet and dropped a donation in the box.  Just then, I was approached by one of the cathedral guides who asked me: “We have a copy of this in large print if it would be of help?” 

This was a kind gesture and on establishing that I could not read we were then invited to touch the bosses.  Seating was cleared and we made our way beside the font where some ungilded medieval bosses were on display.  While these objects are interesting to touch they are designed to be on display and to be looked at from below.  The carved bosses are optical tricks and though interesting to touch they do not give a description of the object.  Luckily our guide was able to take me round the boss, which depicted a pelican with a curved neck and beak forming a circle.  The bird was attacking an infant.  I had more luck with the heraldic bosses which are carved with minimum relief.  Knowing some of the rules of blazon and emblazon I could make out the shield of the Gurney and Burton arms.  Burton was a rebus; a play on the symbols a burr (thistle) and tun (barrel). 

There is a concept of canting or puns in heraldry.  The late Queen Mother had bows and lions in her own arms (Elizabeth Bowes Lyon) At this point the guide told us many other things going on in the cathedral community.  My very first post (Blind Faith) was critical of some Church of England churches in the Diocese of London.  The recent problems at St Paul’s may indicate that it is not just a blindness awareness issue.  Many thanks to the guide at Southwark Cathedral for engaging with a visually impaired person.  I felt we were all enriched by the visit.  It may even shed some light on the saying “Gone for a Burton

On leaving the cathedral we passed by Borough Market and approached London Bridge Station.  London Bridge Station is not for the fainthearted.  The station is shared with Underground and National Services.  Before seeking the Underground we gazed at The Shard.  I have often noticed this building as it is visible to me on my peripheral vision, but have always ‘seen’ the triangular figure from a train in the London Bridge area or from a boat on the River Thames.  (I’ve even managed to incorporate The Shard into one of my own paintings, see below.  The image is copyrighted, by the way!)  This was my first gazing at the building from ground level.  It is just possible to get an idea of the building from the taxi rank underneath the canopy.

There is a lot of construction at London Bridge.  By the time you are acclimatised to the layout it may well have changed.  I know how to get from the National Rail platforms and ask for help into the Underground system.  If you are accompanied by a friend with an Oyster Card make sure that they follow the “touch” tour of the yellow Oyster buttons.  It is often easy for them to “touch” the wrong button and a possible overcharge may result.  This can easily happen as they check that you have glided through the gates.  TFL do reimburse an overcharge but your friend will have to apply for it.