I’ve just sent the last captions to the printer, ready for installing the first version of the ‘Thomas Rickman (1776-1841) Architect and Antiquary’ exhibition in the Sydney Jones and Harold Cohen Libraries next week. We’re installing the show on Wednesday 17th May, so everything should be in place by Thursday, in time for our conference, which opens on Friday 19th May, and for Liverpool’s Light Night on the same date. Although the Rickman exhibition isn’t part of the official Night Light programme, we think that its focus on dating and chronology is very pertinent to this year’s theme of ‘Time’.
As usual, the research for the exhibition threw up some interesting and unexpected findings. I had been keen to include a geological chart, showing the sequence of geological strata, because this knowledge was under formation at the same time as Rickman was writing and we know that he was very interested in geology. He attended lectures on the subject by Dr Thomas Traill at the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Institution in 1810. In his diary, Rickman declared himself a ‘Neptunian’, accepting the theory proposed by Abraham Gottlob Werner (1749-1817) in the late 18th century. Werner argued that rocks had formed from the sedimentation of minerals on the seabed at a time when the Earth was entirely covered by ocean. The alternative theory – which Traill may have propounded – was known as ‘plutonism’ or ‘vulcanism’. This emphasized the importance of volcanic activity in the formation of rocks. Geologists now recognize that the igneous and metamorphic rocks are the products of volcanic activity and the sedimentary rocks are formed by sedimentation. The identification of geological strata, each representing a different era in the Earth’s history, was paralleled in the recognition by Rickman and others that a single building could include numerous styles, but that work of a later date would usually be found above work of an earlier period, as buildings are generally erected from the ground upwards.
I was hoping to find a contemporary book on geology that Rickman might have read, however the University’s Special Collections couldn’t come up with anything suitable. However we did find a large fold-out chart by one Alfred William Morant, published in 1854. This chart is fascinating because alongside the geological strata, Moran included other information, including architectural content. This piqued my interest and I set out to find out more about Morant.
Standard genealogical sources gave him an additional name (Alfred William Whitehead Morant), parents George and Emma, and a marriage to Laura Selima McAlpine in 1849. He apparently grew up in London, then moved to Great Yarmouth (Norfolk) and became a Freemason of the Lodge of Friendship, Great Yarmouth in 1856. In the 1861 census he and Laura had four children: Laura, Julia, Jane and Alfred. In 1871 he was staying at the Bedford Hotel on census night, but the 1881 return records more children: Maud, William, Augustus, Catherine and Mary.
An obituary in the Proceedings of the Association of Municipal and Sanitary Engineers and Surveyors, volume 7 (1881) provides further information about his career. Morant was articled to James Simpson, at one time President of the Institute of Civil Engineers, under whom he gained extensive experience in the waterworks at Liverpool, Newcastle-on-Tyne, York, Bristol, and Carlisle, as well as the Hartlepool docks and Southend pier. At the time when his geological chart was published, he was assistant to Mr. J. G. Lynde and managed the construction of the waterworks at Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft (Suffolk). He became Corporation Surveyor at Great Yarmouth, where he was involved with a number of sea defence and drainage projects, as well as the restoration of some local churches. He then moved on to a similar role in Norwich, where he created a new sewerage system, followed by appointment as the Borough Engineer and Surveyor of Leeds. There he worked on the borough’s sewerage, the extension to the Kirkgate Market and designed a number of local bridges.
Like so many scientific and professional men in the nineteenth century, Morant’s leisure time was spent on antiquarian pursuits. Heraldry was a particular passion – he contributed to his cousin John Woody Papworth’s Ordinary of British Armorials and his notes on heraldic matters are now at the Bodleian Library (MSS Eng misc c 149-51), the Society of Antiquaries of London (MSS 353, 389-90, 399, 460) and the British Library (Add MSS 31960-68, 46131). Further papers on local history and seals are in the Norfolk Record Office and the Borthwick Institute.
However Morant’s first publication of 1853 shows a concern with matters of architectural dating. Notes on English architecture, costume, monuments, stained glass, emblems of saints, &c., intended to assist in fixing dates when visiting and examining churches, &c opens with a ‘chronological table’, with dates and stylistic labels taken directly from An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of Architecture. Following this comes a page long, or shorter, précis of each style, again borrowing heavily from Rickman (without acknowledgement). Next is a chronological account of costume, followed by military costume, again classified using Rickman’s terminology, sometimes subdivided by royal reign. Stained glass, which comes next, is described by century rather than style (rather odd, this, because acknowledged expert Charles Winston [1814-1864], in his 1847 work An inquiry into the difference of style observable in ancient glass paintings especially in England, with hints on glass painting, was apparently happy to use Rickman’s terminology for classification, adding only the ‘Cinque-cento Style’ and the ‘Intermediate Style’ as additions following the Perpendicular). Morant returned to architectural styles for classifying church monuments and the book finishes with a series of lists of emblems of saints and other iconography found in medieval art. Its succinct style and appropriate Gothic font were apparently intended to appeal to contemporary ‘church-crawlers’, but the lack of illustrations would seem to have rendered the work practically useless to anyone who could not already recognise such features as ‘projecting corbel tables’ (Norman), ‘triforium arches and arcades open with trefoiled heads’ (Early English), ‘bases generally formed of quarter round and scroll moulding’ (Decorated) or ‘canopies of ogee character, richly crocketted’ (Perpendicular).
The work seems to have been reissued in 1863 and formed the basis of an article in The Architect, which was published as a separate work in 1870, entitled Indications of Date, compiled by A. W. M. Finally, in 1903, appeared another work, which I’ve not yet seen (it’s not in the British Library but I’ve ordered a copy from a book dealer). Its title, Typical Examples of the Four Periods of English Gothic Architecture – Indications of Date, seems to suggest illustrations – I’ll report back when my copy arrives. The publication details in the bookseller’s catalogue: ‘by the author’, are impossible, given that Morant died in 1881, unless it is in fact the work of his son, Alfred junior. He had followed in his father’s footsteps and in the 1901 census is recorded as an ‘Inspector of Sewage’ in the Leeds City Architect’s Department.
So what does all this tell us about Rickman’s work and its later nineteenth-century reception? Firstly, Morant provides yet another example of a professional man, with scientific interests, who was also devoted to antiquarian pursuits. Despite what must have been a heavy workload, ill-health (he suffered from diabetes) and family commitments, he must have spent long evenings compiling his pedigrees; he was also responsible for editing the revised third edition of Thomas Dunham Whitaker’s History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven in the County of York. That he came from a family with antiquarian interests no doubt supported his hobby; nevertheless, his local researches did not revolve around his own family’s history but his professional postings, supporting local identity rather than personal genealogical aggrandizement. Secondly, it is clear that by 1853, Rickman’s stylistic labels were of such universal currency that there was no impropriety in using them without citing their originator. Morant either had no truck with Sharpe’s seven periods or had not encountered them – but the latter seems unlikely for an active contributor to the Architectural Publication Society’s Dictionary. Thirdly, as a surveyor working in Great Yarmouth in the 1850s and 1860s, he felt that there was a ready readership for a summary of Rickman’s system – the market had not yet been saturated by Parker’s publications. He also thought that the same information would be useful for architects in 1870 – was he perhaps a die-hard Goth with English proclivities, disappointed at the direction taken by the Gothic Revival, which was about be succeeded by the fashion for Queen Anne, or was he simply unaware of the turning tide of taste? It would be fascinating to know where and when Morant first encountered Rickman’s work – which edition fell into his hands – or did he encounter Rickman’s ideas second-hand through a work such as Parker’s Glossary? Unless his manuscripts can tell us, this information may forever remain unknown, but it is clear that Morant was another of the many authors and scholars who perpetuated Rickman’s ideas across the nineteenth and into the twentieth century.