Salvage or the Skip?

Blacker Hall FarmOne approach to the restoration of a building is to rip everything out and produce a space fit for purpose for the 21st century. The approach that I prefer  – as here at Blacker Hall Farm Shop – is to compromise a little and keep the old features that give a building character and give us a sense of its story.

I’m always sorry to see history thrown in the skip because so many bits and pieces can be recycled. But even architectural salvage only gives you half the story because when you wrench some prize feature from a building and pop it into another it’s like cutting and pasting a paragraph of Charlotte Brontë into a Charles Dickens novel. You might have just about got the right period but you’ve lost the vital context.

barn, Blacker HallHaving said that, I suspect that, several hundred years ago, whoever built this barn – which now houses the farm shop restaurant – went down the architectural salvage route: each of those beams looks as if it had a history before it ended up in its present position.

Link: Blacker Hall farm shop

Roofina the Gargoyle

 Blacker Hall Farm Shop Cafe

gargoyle Blacker Hall farm cafe

gargoyle Blacker HallYou ask me why the stony face?
Well, you’d look like that in my place;
I sit at table 23
But no one seems to notice me.
Five hundred years at Blacker Hall
And now I’m stuck here in this wall!
Most gargoyles have a tusk or horn,
No wonder I feel so folorn;
They gave me something else instead,
A bloomin’ ridge-tile on my head!

gargoyle sketchesgargoyleI hadn’t spotted this small carving in the converted barn at Blacker Hall until we happened to sit at table 23 in the farm shop cafe.

Drawing from the left side I assumed this was a clean-shaven man or a child. It was only when I drew the pencil sketches above from some photographs we’d taken that I realised, especially when seen from the right, that this looks more like gargoylea woman.

She reminds me of Tenniel’s drawing of the Queen of Hearts in the trial scene in Alice in Wonderland. A Wikipedia article suggests that Tenniel based his drawing on a stained glass window painting of of Elizabeth de Mowbray, Duchess of Norfolk (c. 1442-1507)

Tenniel's Queen of Hearts
Tenniel’s Queen of Hearts

which means that roof-shaped headpieces were in fashion towards the end of the Wars of the Roses. I’m sure that Blacker Hall dates back to that time and the weathering on the bedding in the sandstone suggests that the carving has been subject to the elements for hundreds of years.

gargoyle cartoon

I’ve been trying to imagine what kind of character ‘Roofus’, or as I now realise ‘Roofina’ would be.

We went to see the Aardman Animation movie Shaun the Sheep today and I thought that I’d try to work up the gargoyle into an Aardman style character. That’s not so easy as they make it look. If you do get to see the movie, it’s worth making the effort to sit out the credits as they’re illustrated with what look like production sketches of the characters.


RoofinaIf I had the time and enough Newplast modelling clay I’d try modelling her.

Developing Roofina as a medieval character didn’t seem to work. I think that it’s important that she remains a gargoyle (although I guess intended to be a fashionably dressed lady of the period, not anything scary).

RoofinagargoyleI imagined the male version of the character, Roofus, grumbling about his film career as a gargoyle extra;

‘I auditioned for The Lion in Winter and, would you believe it, they used French gargoyles for that title sequence! Talk about overacting! And a couple of them hadn’t even called in at make-up to get their cobwebs removed!’