The objective for bringing together the content of this notebook was to try to convey a personal appreciation of the essential depth to pre-industrialised Britain, not because it is a model to return to, but because it is something to learn from. With our materialistic and superficial way of looking at things, it is commonplace to under-value the simultaneous worlds of the human imagination and to see the past of no direct relevance to our here and now. It is possible for people to go through their entire lives without moving beyond the home base of a physical life and this is simply not good enough for a society which believes it is the best society ever, just because it can display such cleverness.
The intention has not been to find answers to questions, but to raise questions. The wish is to draw people in, to appreciate the complexity of human cultures that can be demonstrated through historic buildings and to engender the faculty of raising questions to keep questions alive instead of answering them in order to bury them. History is now and this must never be forgotten - the lives of the medieval masons are not Beatrix Potter stories, they are all part of us and in a respect, we are all part of them. We are physically more comfortable and we live longer, but we would find ourselves suspended over an existential black hole by living as if only the present moment has meaning.
In order to develop our present ‘industrial’ societies we need to be embracing the accumulated human experience of life from the past and using the lessons to generate a better future and perhaps a civilisation.
All of the photographs in this booklet were taken during nine months funded by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings - an annual and relatively unusual scholarship for two or three young building professionals. The SPAB organised six month’s study of historic building repair techniques and contributed to a three month period of study of historic country houses from the Patrick Plunkett Memorial Fund. During these three autumnal months, the author walked from London to Cirencester between objects of study, becoming intimately related to the English landscape, the beauty and limitations of natural light and the generous English people who willingly accepted a stranger into their lives.
It is clear from the text that it has been written from an English perspective for an audience primarily in the Industrialised countries which is not to negate the majority of humankind, who, in counterpoint, make this work possible.
Peter Ayley is an architect who trained at Bristol University and the Royal College of Art, before undertaking the S.P.A.B. Scholarship. He has much experience with buildings for the Performing Arts as well as working internationally in historic building repair. He has two other passions: clay buildings - which can involve direct creation - and sundial design - which reminds us where we are with regard to Creation.
The neglect of skill will deprive the historian of the means to interpret style as expression.