Looking at Buildings

Building Types


Crossings, Towers and Spires

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Norwich Cathedral, crossing.
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Wells Cathedral. Crossing

The crossingGlossary Term, the meeting point of the four arms of a great church, called for great skill on the part of the designer. This was an important part of the church, providing lightGlossary Term and space above the choirGlossary Term stalls, which in the RomanesqueGlossary Term period often extended to the eastern bays of the naveGlossary Term, as at Norwich Cathedral. Here, unusually, the 12th century tower remains as an open lanternGlossary Term above the crossingGlossary Term. The tower is carried on four arches, and the crossingGlossary Term piers at the four corners had to be strong enough to carry its weight. It was not uncommon for crossingGlossary Term towers to collapse, and there were additional problems when it was decided to heighten the tower to accord with the ambitions of 13th and 14th century builders. The crossingGlossary Term tower of Norwich was given an impressive stone spireGlossary Term in the 14th century.

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Salisbury Cathedral, Spire and Tower

At Wells Cathedral an exceptionally bold solution was adopted for the 14th-century heightening, by introducing internal buttressing which now dominates the interior of the building.

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Ely Cathedral, Octagon

One can only guess at the motivation which inspired 14th-century patrons, masons and carpenters and designers to raise towers to unprecedented heights. A sense of rivalry, aspiration in reaching toward heaven and a fascination with novel engineering techniques perhaps all played a part. The low 13th-century tower at Salisbury Cathedral was heightened in the 14th century by c. 85 ft and given an astonishingly delicate stone spireGlossary Term 180 ft tall, to reach a total height of c. 400ft, an amazing feat of daring. The thin stone masonry of the spireGlossary Term, 2ft thick at its baseGlossary Term, reduces to 8 inches at the top. Its hidden support is an elaborate internal timber framework further strengthened by iron ties.


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