A Wall Will tell a 1000 Stories

A wall can tell so may stories. All the scars, knocks and scrapes tells of a wider picture of what was going on. It’s not just architectural history of a building I’m interested in, but what created the scars. There are the low lying stories of the people who lived and worked in them, who made an impact on teh fabric. Their aspirations, the care, lack of care, successes and failures, all human traits that are behind the scrapes and scratches we see now. I walked around a village in Suffolk early one morning, stumbling across such blemishes and modifications, and photographing them.

In just a small area I saw the re-use and change of use from a brewery, to barn, to accomodation. There were the extensions, past extensions, lost verandas, filled in windows (tax avoidance) and doors. The decay when a building is not looked after, follwed byt the restoration, and sometimes, failed projects. They show us the aspirations of people, their successful businesses, and the decline of them.

There were the bits of older walls from somewhere else, cut and fitted into another. People had been inventive, solving problems, and being creative. Occassionally there was cost-cutting, going on. I’ve mentioend already the filled in windows, reducing the cost of Window Tax during the 1`8th and 19th centuries. Windows were bricked up rather than being incorporated into a seamless wall, shoing us the hope of returning to a time when the windows could be replaced. I was staying in a large L-shaped building, that had a series of doors runnign along the exterior walls. I hadn’t clocked it at first, but it would have been a number of much smaller cottages, that were joined to reate a single larger building. I presume it was the converting small poorer abodes into something worthy of the “great and the good”, indicating a town on the up.

I’m not talking about ruins and monuments here, but actual buildings where people live and work. What’s fascinating is, we don’t cover this up; we like the story on show, even the graffiti, names, initials and dates. There are the buildings with the stuccoed and the plastered walls that can cover all this up, but on the whole, we leave these scars for all to see. We are more likely to cover up the blemishes on the inside.

The scars become part of the building, its patina, shapes, forms and patterns. After a while they become the “character of the building” and have to stay.

When you look at an older building, you don’t see the original design and purpose. You see what’s left after centuries of change and adaption. It’s often described as a palimpsest, which for some reason, is a word I don’t like. In fact, sometimes, when a building has been reconstructed, made to look like it was when first built, people don’t like it. They complain, “it looks too new”.

These are all pretty old buidlings going back 200 years or so. The patina gives the sense of the old, of stabiltiy and memories. In fact, sometimes, these scars and blemishes are considered in the character of Conservation Areas, which is a legal protection. The scars and the display of them, are protected.

With newer buidlings, we don’t want to see what’s underneath the plaster and we cover up the changes. Who wants to see concrete, breeze blocks and standardised cheap bricks? That’s our opinion now, but what about our descendants in 200 years?

I also blog – I Take Photographs of Walls.

6 thoughts on “A Wall Will tell a 1000 Stories

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