Ways of Seeing the English Domestic Interior: Workshop 3

Through my supervisor Graeme I have become involved with the Ways of Seeing the English Domestic Interior, 1500-1700: the case of decorative textiles research network. I attended the first workshop in Southampton which introduced everyone to the network and began to explore how we can apply computing techniques to further explore how we might enhance our understanding of how the domestic interior was experienced in early modern England. (This might sound a bit familiar…)

On the 19th March I attended the third workshop. The aim of the day was to explore how eyetracking technology can be exploited towards the understanding of visitor experience of 17th century painted cloths at Owlpen Manor in Gloucestershire.

Owlpen Manor, Gloucestershire.

Owlpen Manor, Gloucestershire.

The day began with two groups of volunteers being “wired up” to the eyetracking hardware. The first thing to consider and why we can undertake this kind of experiment is that the eye does not work in the way we think it does. Eyes do not pan smoothly like in a film instead move in a series of small jerks. They actively only focus clearly on a very small area at the centre of the eye. The best way to think about it is that they essentially create lots of static images that focus on a small area. This means you are never too aware about exactly where you are looking and you can’t try and think too much about where your looking and don’t understand so the effect of wearing the headset is not to great.

Example of how someone is wired up the eyetracking equipment

Example of how someone is wired up the eyetracking equipment

How the eye captures information

How the eye captures information

The first of these groups was a group of undergraduate and masters students while the second comprised of *experts* from the research network. The intention was to explore the effects of expertise on the way people are viewing the interiors of the room and the effect of knowledge. Each person was individually wired up to the equipment and given time to get use to wearing it. Then they were taken to the Great Chamber (Queen Margaret’s Room) here their responses to the room were recorded a number of times. The first observation was recorded to observe the difference between the two groups of volunteers. Each individual was then provided with more information about the room and the wall painting and sent back into the room with the intention to observe which areas were focussed on in more detail or not.

Queen Margeret's Room

Queen Margeret’s Room

Some preliminary results saw a huge difference in the way an expert was looking at the room as opposed to the student they were compared with. Students tended to move their gaze to try and take in everything whereas the expert took much more time paying close attention to the painted cloths.

The day then turned to a series of talks by people involved with the project, firstly with an outline of the project to date. This was followed by a talk on Owlpen Manor and specifically the Painted Cloths displayed in the Queen Margaret room which we observed during the eyetracking experiment. The painted cloths are thought to be the only complete example of a decorative scene of interior decoration of this form the scene details the biblical story of Joseph. They were a cheaper substitute for tapestries before the introduction of wall papers and were produced by guilds until around 1502 and were considered out dated by the 17th century. Although no longer in situ they represent a complete scene and only are missing the bottom border when in the 1960s they were moved from a different bedroom during a cleaning at the same time. This move has been questioned as to whether the move would have affected the story at all? Whether areas of the border would have an effect or whether they are placed into a different order or were designed for the original space. The talk also touched on whether the effect of the cloth on walling affected the experience of the space if they had been painted with the same scenes with some discussion on the acoustical effects on the space.

This led into a discussion of the direction the research network wishes to go in. In September 12th and 13th there will be a conference presenting the results of the research network. The papers from the conference are to be published in a Textiles journal, should be consider publishing more widely? Especially considering the number of methods used. We discussed the achievements of the network so far. Feel that with a range of specialities have allowed an engagement with objects and spaces that has not been possible until now. Highlighted that there are different kinds of viewing and the type of space or display affects the interaction with the objects or textiles. Particularly in reference to this was the assessment of the critical eye. We do not just look with our eyes but want to manipulate the objects in the space they are in or change the lighting conditions. In reference to this context is very important to link the space and object when considering them in their historical context and how they were experience in the past. For example the lighting conditions at Owlpen Manor were very different and had a different effect on the viewers to examining objects at the Ashmolean. As such when we are considering the experience of an object we need to respond to how we think about the narrative associated with these objects or spaces.

Following the conference it was unanimous that the research network did not want to be downgraded but hoped it would continue in one way or another, maybe setting up a research project. Consider moving forward into looking more at how the computer techniques that have been demonstrated could further the work. There was a bit of a struggle considering whether we could apply them appropriately there is a lot of archaeological theory associated with how visualisation technology can be applied to explore these issues and whether we can examine the experience of those examining/ creating these items when they were created. Whereas the heritage professionals wished to apply the technologies as a technique for reverse designing for museums and engagement impact in schools. Consider more how people are engaging with objects today and allowing greater access to collections. Consider if these techniques can be used to track engagement with real vs. non real objects. With a focus from the Shakespeare Birthplace staff suggesting it would be interesting to examine audience perception of performance props costume etc.

I found it really interesting to engage with people who did not have such a background in computing and survey. They were very interested in engaging with new technologies in the same way as I am working in for my thesis but without the background understanding of visualisation and archaeological theory. Whereas I had not thought so much about the cultural heritage applications. It was a really interesting day and I am hoping to become more involved with the network over the coming months.

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First renders and thoughts on beams

I had a supervision yesterday with my supervisors Prof. Matthew Johnson and Dr. Graeme Earl where we discussed the first renders I had produced of my model so far. These images just detail the internal space: windows, fireplaces and doorways, and my first attempts at putting a roof and floors on the building.

I had been reading a lot around the subject of timber building construction to try to understand the appearance or these types of building. My first port of call was Richard Harris’s Discovering Timber-Framed Buildings this excellent little book explains the construction of these buildings in great detail with lots of helpful, clear diagrams. Based on his writings I started to plan the distances and shapes of my beams and how they would slot together. The following image is the results. I have just added some basic textures and materials to the renders to give an idea about the space that is not bright pink. I also realise that my smoothing groups need playing around with a bit.

Shape of beam bays

Internal beams upper floor

Ground floor showing beamed roof

A window and fireplace from the upper floor

The space the beams need to cross is quite short (about 5m) so there was no need to think about having to bridge the gap using a tie beam or similar approach. The distance the bays are placed apart does not seem to be set. I choose to space them evenly across the entire span about 5m apart as this “looked right” based on photos of other Medieval Roofs I had been using for reference (see below). Before spacing them apart I had to also consider the shape of this part of the frame. I had been looking at the above images of roof beams and decided to not go with a Crown Post and instead use 2 slanting Queen posts.

Wilmington Priory timber roof

Portchester Castle

Brockhampton Estate: The Great Hall

Presenting these images to Graeme and Matthew highlighted a few errors. Matthew suggested that the angle I had used for the Queen Posts was much too slanted, which is indicative of later buildings. Instead he suggested that it would be much more interesting to include a Crown Post or make the Queen Posts vertical.

As there are a number of options instead of just making one decision about how the roof is structured Graeme suggested that instead I create a number of different models with different roofing options, including a crown post and not, moving the number and position of bays around a bit to see if there are any obvious options for lining them up. We also discussed whether there would have been a ceiling concealing these beams. I had always assumed that the rooms would be open to the roof as this is common in halls. I had not really considered putting a ceiling in place on this upper floor.

What I had not considered was how much this changed the appearance of the upper apartment. Until now I had been thinking about them as looking fairly similar situated one above the other. However. when the roof is in place it will transform the upper apartment making it feel much larger and more open. Whereas the lower apartment will feel much more contained.

The second discussion point coming from the meeting was in reference to the beams and how decorated they were or not. We had been discussing them in terms of ornamentation of the type found at Ightham Mote (see previous blog). I asked whether, considering the lack of architectural ornamentation found at Bodiam, the beams, which would be cheaper to carve, would also be devoid of decoration. I had been thinking about it a lot as I need to decide whether I am going to shape them sooner rather than later. Matthew suggested that the question was even more complex as unlike a lot of slightly earlier buildings the household was not a peripatetic one, it was solely based at Bodiam. Which we would have assumed that more of the building would be decorated as it would not have had to have been moved around. So wondering whether the more decayed areas of the building are as plain as the rest of it is a very hard question, which I have yet to find an answer for.

Courtyard Windows

The work on the model continues, I have been working on the complicated courtyard windows. As discussed in a previous post I had been thinking about how I was going to make the windows overlooking the courtyard and as they no longer exist in the area I am focussing on. The windows overlooking the courtyard all appear to have been of a similar “type”, so my first decision has been to model them all on that design as unlike the exterior the courtyard seems to have been fairly uniform.

Second Floor Windows

First Floor Window Seat

I then had to decide on the number of windows that would be present along this side of the building and their positions. For this I have worked from a combination of observing the standing remains and looking at other reconstructions.

The building itself only offers one clue for these windows right at the northern extreme of the range. Here can be found the bottom of what appears to be a window seat detailed in the photo below. Apart from this much of the standing remains are below the first floor level.

Bottom of window seat at northern extent of range

Moving onto other peoples representations of the building. The National Trust provide a couple of sources for visitors to look at to try and picture that area of the building. The first is featured in the official guidebook and can also be found in John Goodall’s book The English Castle. It shows a cutaway reconstruction of the entire Eastern Elevation from above in a hand drawn style and in another image the courtyard. You can see areas of the courtyard walls detailing windows that are no longer present and internal areas of the building. The view is from a height above the building. The windows shown in these representation are of the same type I have suggested and are pictured below. They position the windows for the second floor directly above those for the first floor and there are four sets spread along this length of wall before you reach the spiral staircase.

The second is used as an aid for the guided tours for children as an interpretation tool. It is a series of stills used in the film shown at the castle and for sale in the shop. The images are based on a 3d model built of the castle by a digital media company for the National Trust. The ones we are concerned with show the courtyard and one of the rooms of the private chambers.The image of the courtyard shows the walls on the eastern edge of the courtyard. It shows the same type of windows as I have intended to use and the same as feature in John Goodall’s book. Again this image details four sets of windows along this section of the building.

Guided Tour Reconstuction

The final source is the model of the castle found in the Northeastern tower in a room above the introductory film about Bodiam Castle. An image of the model can be found below. Instead of lining up the windows on this model they are alterate on the first floor and second floor and on the first floor show alternating single and double windows.

Model of Bodiam

I have decided to go for the same approach as John Goodall as I think this fits more in the style of the other areas of the building. I have decided to feature four sets of windows and space them equally out along the range as I feel this reflects the buildings projected symmetry.

Moving on from these windows the final piece of wall that I had to produce was the gap between spiral staircase and the southern wall. I firstly inserted a set of doors (one on each floor) at the point where the staircase would have been entered. As a reference I used the same doors that had been used one above the other as used for the entrance to the eastern tower as there is no evidence what type of door would have stood there. I felt that if these doors were found in the same space they would look fairly similar.

I made one final decision and this was to place a squint in the wall overlooking the Great Hall. There is no physical evidence for this existing as the wall is entirely gone. I decided it would be appropriate having visited a number of other buildings which have this feature including Ightham Mote and Great Chalfield Manor. I decided as a similar feature is found overlooking the chapel at the other end of private chambers it would make sense to model it on this window.