And so ignorant myopia of my teenage self is corrected – the elements of Hexham Abbey which were of no interest to me then but which entranced me on my recent visit to the church. I wasn’t alone either, for on my arrival one of the women running the gift shop asked if I was there to meet the photography group, and no sooner had I entered that I came upon a group wielding what seemed to be the largest number of tripods I’d ever encountered in one place! Led by a local professional they soon disappeared, presumably to scout the exterior, giving me the freedom to explore and frame my shots without external influence.
My recent visit to Manchester Cathedral converted me to the art of the carpenter, and it was the wooden elements in Hexham that really captivated me (and later the other photographers). Like Manchester the choir is separated from the nave by a wooden screen which I assumed to be a rood screen but apparently is some different; a pulpitum, which not only kept the canons apart from the hoi-polloi but proved a barrier against draughts too! So many English churches, that were colourfully decorated in medieval times fell victim to the Reformation or to the later Victorian restoration movement. Hexham gives some hint of what might have been, though the artwork was restored in the 20th century, and the structure has seen a number of alterations in its lifetime such as the removal of the wooden staircases used by readers and preachers, now replaced by the metal spiral.
Elsewhere there are other wooden treats; an older screen featuring pained panels depicting the “Dance of Death”, a towering font cover, even the doors that greet your arrival. It’s not all wood that impresses of course, but Hexham seems to be a real treasury of the material.
For the photographers present that day (what is the collective noun for us?) there seemed to be one feature that proved more attractive than any other. The panelled pulpit.