Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

His elegant, minimalist and wholly practical solutions need to be widely appreciated.
This is a start.

TURTON TOWER, Turton District, Bolton, Lancashire, UK


The tower itself was modelled on the Scots Border pele towers. It was built in 1420.
This was the same period as the Scottish pele towers. They were fortified farmhouses, built for defence in the centuries-old feuds and political claim-and-reclaim of territory between Scotland and England that was the Scottish Borders.

Why Turton should have a defensive tower, and built by whom, are questions for which we do not know the answers. The setting is that of dominant position between two high land areas: the Winter Hill region to the west, and the Holcombe Hill region to the east. To the south is Bolton, and the north Blackburn.
Bolton was settled by Flemish weavers in the 14th century.
A centre for weaving denotes the area had ideal conditions for, at this period, wool weaving, that is, of continual damp. Bolton and close by Bury were both important towns which came into importance at this period.
Blackburn similarly owed its founding to Flemish weavers in the 13th century.
James Hargreaves, inventor of the spinning jenny, came from Oswaldtwistle, a very near neighbour town, later.

Why Flemish weavers? This is a fascinating history in itself. See as an introduction:

An Elizabethan house was built onto the pele tower, and further extensions were early Stuart period.
The Orrell family built the Tower up, but bankrupted themselves in the process. They had to sell. The purchaser in 1628 was Humphrey Chetham.

Chetham College House in Manchester


was also built around the same time as the Tower: 1421. It was part of the founding of Manchester Cathedral, and was built as a college for priests.
It was here in Elizabethan times that Dr John Dee and family were quietly settled out-of-the-way. His wife and family died of plague and were buried here.He returned to Mortlake, London.

Humphrey Chetham rescued the ruined buildings and built up and restored them to house a school and free library.The Chetham’s School was founded in 1653, in the period of Cromwell’s Protectorate.

Speaking of which:

Back at the Tower, the Orrell family rented their Tower from Chetham. Chetham, however, as many major Manchester-based families, were supporters of Cromwell’s cause. The Orrell family were not.
Humphrey Chetham stationed Roundheads in the Tower grounds as their base for the whole district. The Orrell family would indeed have had to ‘put up and shut up’ as a local phrase has it.

1835 brought a mock gothic building program to the Tower under new owners. In 1929 it was given to the Turton Urban District Council.
The tower was originally two stories, but a third was added later, along with the crenellations. The top story used to house a museum of sorts
One exhibit was the skull of a local man, hanged for some heinous crime.
The middle floor was used for Council Meetings

What I remember especially about the place, and called me back several times, is the Tower itself.
The ground floor is the homeliest place I have ever found. Amidst all the Do Not Touch displays, old paintings, antique furniture, there is a feeling of great peace, and belonging. I think it comes from this: look out of the ground floor windows and what you see…

… are almost floor-level views of the grounds. The ground floor is built into the earth. As you stand you are up to your waist, higher, underground.
That feeling of being bedded-in is wonderful, unique, and very, very appealing.


The Tower has its ghost, of course, the Lady of Turton Tower, and its dead-man’s footprint on the stone stairs of the Elizabethan part.
Even the Chetham School’s Dr Dee room has its own distinctive mark: a burn on a desk supposedly belonging to him, and supposedly due to his conjurings.


The Blackden Trust has been set up to promote and facilitate education, history and culture. The Trust is based around the life, work and experience of the writer Alan Garner.

The site consists of two joined houses, in their own grounds, set well away from the village, and other houses, farms. The site itself abuts a railway line; on the other side of which and a mile or so to the north is The Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope and grounds.

The first house has been kept as the Garner family home, and is ruefully known as T’Owd Hall (The Old Hall). The other is an old reconstructed timber-frame building, known as The Medicine House. This house dates back to possibly the 15th Century. It was bought very cheaply from part of a road-widening demolition scheme, taken apart piece by piece, and three wagon loads then brought to the new site, and the whole house rebuilt.
That was in 1970; by 1972 the house had been reconstructed and was once again a livable space. There were a number of alterations to the structure, but the overall layout has been kept, and original timbers used wherever possible.


Griselda Garner and her team of volunteers take visiting parties around The Medicine House, and allow free access to most of the grounds. A semi-permanent marquee is erected at the back of the site for visitors (and to keep the hens company).

Alan Garner and family have enhanced the site with brought-in objects from nearby finds. The houses contain cabinets of objects dug up on site, nearby, or from further afield; these are neatly time-lined, and date from neolithic arrow heads, flint tools, a medieval seal, to pottery, Civil War musket shot, and much later objects. The Owl Service table-ware is on display here as well.
One of these brought-in objects is a stone obelisk, now sited in the garden: a carved monolith, like a standing stone, and is supposedly a boundary marker.


Indoors, in the joining passageway is another carved  object: a 10th century stone head.

The grounds have been planted out with many different varieties of apple trees and gooseberry bushes, a pear tree, and a damson tree. Not forgetting a small green-house bursting and festooned with bunches of small, sweet grapes.

When the timbers from the old Medicine House were stored for reconstruction on the front lawn, they left behind herb seeds. Since then many varieties of herbs have grown. These have been arranged into beds, and all labeled.

Alan Garner has been active in the restoration of many old properties in the area.

Griselda Garner showed us many interesting aspects and secrets of The Medicine House. It was once two houses, but now has been combined into one. The fireplace is the where the two join. Now that closed fireplace is an open fire area in the middle of the house, with the chimney open to the roof cowl.

Griselda told of objects found in a window space. They were owner-objects, a declaration of the house as space belonging to its owners. The house has also been provided with protective symbols in its most sensitive areas: doors, windows etc.

The most important of these found objects was a small squashed lead bottle. It had contained holy water, and was decorated with two interlocking V’s on one side, and on the other a daisy wheel.
The bottle was from the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, in Norfolk. It would have contained water from the shrine.
This symbol of two interlocking V’s. spelling out the W for Walsingham (also Vivat?), when reversed also gives M, for Mary mother of Christ.

In post-Reformation, newly Protestant times, the house had been made safe by these hidden symbols on the beams. They are very hard to read among all the wear and tear and time’s ravages. Also, the beams were plastered over for some period.

Griselda showed how each corner of the main bedroom was marked on the beams with the scratched protective Walsingham initial. This is the only room to be marked out like this.
She suggested it may refer to a protective charm, with a spell attached. We have something like it still, in form of a Bedtime Prayer:

Matthew, Mark, Luke & John
Bless the bed I lay on.
Four corners around my bed
Four angels around my head.
1 to watch
1 to pray
2 to take my soul away.

There are older versions of this prayer, she said. One is Jewish:

In the name of Adonai the God of Israel;
May the angel Michael be at my right,
and the angel Gabriel be at my left;
and in front of me the angel Uriel,
and behind me the angel Raphael…
and above my head the Sh’khinah.

This one is particularly interesting.
I was thinking further on this. She mentioned the four corners of the room marked for protection, and with the ways of superstition and magic being to make use of everything from everywhere, this Jewish canopy-prayer could well be pertinent.
Visually it provides us with a square-based pyramid of protection in this room, connecting above with the Almighty, Sh’khinah, keeping watch

.A lot depends on whether there is a protective mark also, on the ceiling’s centre beam.

You can take this still further.
This pyramid symbol, is it also the alchemical symbol for fire? It may just be possible to imagine an invocation here of the archangel associated with fire (Michael), to protect the timber-framed house. This use of fire to protect from fire, is very much an example of what is termed ‘magical thinking.’

And yet, the symbol for fire is the tetrahedron: all triangles, base as well. The one in the house is a symbol that moves from square, that is, earth, to air and fire: it is a symbol of solidity plus power – Strength.

But then, why just this room? Why not the whole timber-framed house? It was once two houses, but is now combined at the fire section, providing an open central hearth and chimney. Even this is not a clean half-and-half division; neither was a four-square house.

Is it to protect the owners during sleep, childbirth, death even: all the most vulnerable times of one’s life?

I have to admit I became very fond of Griselda in the short time we were there. She is very generous with her time, and has boundless energy. Lovely woman.


And here below is the Trust’s own labyrinth, based on the site’s existing well. The alignment of the diagonal has some connection with the constellation of Orion. Maybe the angle of the belt?


For further on the writing of Alan Garner, see the chapter on The Stone Book, in my GIFTS OF RINGS AND GOLD, Amazon kindle, 2016.
Earlier version: