I will always reply to comments and always re-reply to re-replies.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


As Chaucer has it:
"Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote....
...Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages"
(now, persevere, this is all relevant!)

In the early '60s I worked in my father-in-law's blacksmith/engineering business which specialised in wrought iron ornamental work. I did the estimates.
One day we received a request for a quote to make  7 vast ornamental gates to fit the archways of the being restored Aylesford Priory. These were to be backed with plate glass.

Such was the effort and complication involved we decided we did not really need the work and, having worked out a quote, doubled it to lose the business! Much to our amazement our quote was accepted. The plate glass sheets were a nightmare to cut and fit (we broke two) and we did point out that, as the gates were outdoors, metal expansion/contraction could well shatter the glass over time - this the architect ignored.
But fitting the gates was a wonderful experience, taking one back to the times when mediaeval craftsmen were constructing the cathedrals.

Work was going on all around us with the construction of the shrine

and at mid day all the workmen would gather for a meal in the monks' refectory, prepared in the monastery kitchens, while we were lucky (?) enough to have a monk at the lectern reading from the scriptures whilst we ate. (The food was excellent). An experience that has stayed with me all my life. When I first saw the television Cadfael series it was like déja vu!

However, the reason for Chaucer's opening lines here is that it is some years since I last visited the Priory and, although wanting a few days until April, with showers far from "soote" (sweet) at present, I decided "goon on pilgrimages" and see how all our work (which developed into more than just gates as time went by) was faring.

All gates are still OK after nearly 50 years in place, although all but one of the plate glass backings have been replaced with perspex after they broke (told you so!)

And both the great coats of arms (see first panorama shot of site, above) all fashioned in wrought iron (the lettering was crafted by "old Mac" our oldest employee with a lifetime doing such special work) still look good, although one is missing an "M" I notice.

As with our ancient cathedrals, this work should still be there in 500 years hence - a lasting testimony to the firm of  "J. Emery & Son (Maidstone) Ltd." which existed only until my father-in-law's death some 20 years ago.


Granny J said...

Thank you for this fascinating pilgrimage, avus!

herhimnbryn said...

Oh, ths takes me back. School trips and later going there myself to wander around the gardens. I knew Pop made the gates, but didn't know about the crests.

Barrett Bonden said...

Tis is the first time, in my hearing, you've referred to your artisanal origins. Estimates, eh? No doubt on parchment. But then smiths always needed someone to pump the bellows, at least in Chaucer's time. As to the architect plus ca change. At least you didn't get the job of installing the windows in the Prudential Tower overlooking the Charles River in Boston, Mass. Warned about the design the architect persisted and, afterwards, these 200 - 300 lb frames used to pop out, every so often, of the forty-storey building and crash on to the plaza below. Dimly I recall one case of decapitation.

Why was it necessary for the estimater to stay for lunch? But who am I to ask that question? I was in fact the template for Lunchtime O'Booze.

Avus said...

Glad you enjoyed it.

Not only the estimator - I enjoyed getting my hands dirty too and found deep satisfaction in learning the smith's craft over 5 years. Even now the tapping of hammer on anvil gets me itching to get back to it (hit the red hot iron twice then mark time with two taps on the anvil to cool the hammer face).

Enjoyed your mention of the Boston Prudential Tower - architects need to get their hands dirty too - then they would not make such glaring errors.

ArtPropelled said...

I'm impressed!

Isabelle said...

Wow, how lovely to have done something that has lasted 50 years. Most of the stuff I do gets eaten (if food) or stuffed in folders (if notes or marked work). Note to self: try working with wrought iron in future.

Avus said...

The gates, the crests, the central cross and all the wrought iron lamps and chandeliers in the chapels - to say nothing of all the general engineering work/welding to do with site construction.

Avus said...

But think how much food you have "constructed" and served to be eaten over 50 years.

Lucy said...

Marvellous, and great photos to do it justice.

Doohickie said...

I've been there! Very cool. it's been probably 20 years since I visited there; this fills in the gaps of my memory.

Vita said...

This looks like a brilliant setting for a nice little murder mystery. The photos are so clear and sharp, they look nearly better than being there, but all the same, I would like to visit.

Barrett Bonden said...

Your comment to my April 14 post was a single unexplained expletive. Does this mean we're parting brass rags?

Avus said...

I have replied to your latest comment at your 14th April posting.

valonia said...

That is amazing! I love looking at ecclesiastical (sp?) artwork. I can certainly imagine those doors being a nightmare to fit - but look so wonderful.

x V.

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Judith said...

Lovely post Avus. Though I just came on here really to thank you for telling me about Granny J - a sad touch to find I am sharing this comment series with her.

Out of curiosity - did you do an interview with blog interviewer? I've never plucked up courage to respond to such solicitations.

Avus said...

Like you, I have never taken up these offers.

Amy said...

Beautiful Beautiful and simply beautiful photos! Keep it up! One of my fav blogs!