Anglo-Saxon Churches in England.
About the writer.
Frank Parsons was born immediately after the war, and was educated at Shoreham Grammar, in Sussex, from 1953 onward. At Shoreham he saw the wonderful Norman church of St. Mary’s and immediately realised a consuming interest in medieval churches as well as buildings generally of that period. He was entirely self taught, measuring and drawing his first ever plan (of St Mary de Haura church, Shoreham) at the age of 10, and making a scale model using his measurements (with the demolished Norman nave restored). Heights were calculated using a home-made wooden device for measuring angles, rather a Heath Robertson piece of equipment but invaluable all the same. Having a fondness for Indian ink drawings he made many sketches (some of which have survived) of Sussex churches visited, particularly during the late 50's and 60's.
The book by Doreen Yarwood entitled "The Architecture of England" (published by Batsford) was his first serious excursion into printed matter upon the subject of architecture, and those excellent pocket books, the Observer's series, with their pen and ink drawings, nurtured his interest in earlier years.
Trained as an architect in the mid 1960's his love of old buildings was to grow unabated and became a lifelong interest. His more immediate ancestors include a Victorian architect.
In the 60’s he made several suggestions to Sir John Betjeman, regarding a book the poet had published on English churches – they were well received due to John’s kindness and interest. During the 60's and early 70’s, plans that he had drawn of churches, and also photographs of medieval churches and secular buildings, were deposited with the Royal Commission for Historical Monuments in London. At Salisbury museum in 1972 he gave his first lecture on Anglo-Saxon churches.
While a teenager during the late 50's he was invited by Mr.Morley Hewitt to dig at his Roman villa site near Rockbourne (Hants). In 1968 he joined a team of amateur archaeologists attached to Salisbury Museum, making the acquaintance, and becoming a friend of Peter de B. Nicholson who was an authority on medieval buildings, and especially part timbered buildings. A man of inestimable knowledge, discussion with Peter was to strengthen his understanding of medieval buildings generally, and in particular he came to appreciate the value of being aware of the different types, and sub-divisions, of materials present in a building. Being able to clearly reconstruct, to detect and understand the stages of any rebuilding work and/or additions, are key to unravelling the history and evolution of any building. In 2013 he collaborated with Trowbridge Museum in the reconstruction of the Anglo-Saxon church set within the confines of Trowbridge castle and only known from excavation of the site. A more recent venture was a reconstruction of pre-conquest Warminster Minster church.
Work and life generally was to embrace many interests including vintage MG racing cars, photography, model yachting, and steam locomotives to mention but a few. But certainly within the last decade or so, research on ‘old’ churches was to be rekindled and with the accent again on the Anglo-Saxon era. This has always held a particular fascination, perhaps in some way due to the long time span of the period in English history and the variations and different styles found in the architecture of those times. Certainly there is much work yet to be done upon the subject, and we need a greater understanding of the development of buildings over time. Further research is required on the outside influences from 'imported' knowledge by foreign masons on building techniques and styles, none more so than in the first half of the 11th century. The methods and techniques of later stone working, including quarrying, will doubtless throw much needed light on the subject. The Saxon period in Britain was to endure for (in round figures) six hundred years. It deserves to be understood and explored, particularly for its remarkable and beautiful ecclesiastical buildings which speak to us loudly across the one and a half millennia.
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