|Westminster Hall's Hammer Beam Roof Commissioned 1393
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Westminster Hall, the starting point for my recent let's-get-away-from-the-desk meanderings. As most people are aware, very little of the medieval palace survives, most of the complex having been destroyed in the 1834 fire. Remarkably, however, given the fires, floods, bombs and death-watch beetles which had other ideas, the hammer beam roof commissioned by Richard II in 1393 remains intact. The hall itself was begun in 1097 but it was Richard who had the Norman pillars removed and the wooden arch (the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe) installed. It spans 60 feet and was incredibly dangerous to construct as the great beams, which together weigh over 600 tons, had to be hoisted to a height of over 90 feet. Crane up and you can see the carved angels and tracery work that was started but not finished and crane up again and there is Richard's white hart badge still edging the walls. It is a vast space, still filled with scuttling people clutching papers and quite a contrast to the labyrinth of corridors and tiny chambers that make up the back stage of the Palace - I was lucky enough to get that tour too - although that also retains a medieval feel, all shadowy corners and plots.
|Medieval shield painted onto the nave wall
|Citta Sul Mare, Sassetta
|Tower of Hallbar & Me
Nowadays we often associated high rises with the damage caused to working class communities or the horror of Grenfell. The new builds dominating our skylines, however, are increasingly once more becoming the preserve of the wealthy - we are again looking up at temples to power and greed but perhaps our shivering needs a different aspect. London's 95 storey Shard, owned by the Qatari royal family and the city's tallest building at 390.7m, currently has 10 of its multiple million pound apartments lying empty and is the target of protesters infuriated by such wasted space in a country in the grip of a housing crisis. The spectre of ghost towers - high rise homes built for the wealthy but standing empty - is becoming a real issue in the capital. The Observer newspaper recently revealed that builders are currently constructing towers in London containing 7,749 homes priced between £1m and £10m, and have planning rights to build another 18,712 high-end apartments and townhouses, despite concern over the number already standing half-empty and the lack of affordable housing. In 2016-2017 only 6,432 affordable homes were built.
When we look up now at the works of the mighty, it really is hard not to despair.