The Hidden Ceramic of the Manor House Roof

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Whilst the Manor House roof at Bede’s Senior School got an upgrade, Anthony Hammond, Head of Ceramics, took the opportunity to climb the scaffolding (with permission and wearing a hard hat) and take a closer look at the decorative ceramic ware and stone carvings. Here, he explains about how he put aside his fear of heights to climb up to the top.

There has been a house on this site since the late 1800’s and was originally called Crossways House (this can be seen on the 1898 ordnance survey map). This house was bought by Horatio Bottomley during his early rise to being extremely wealthy. Over a period of time, he extended the house during the Edwardian period into a large and lavish country mansion that was used primarily to entertain. The building now houses the Headmaster’s Office, Admissions, Marketing, the Music Department and Dining Rooms. This iconic building has some great art work that is normally out of reach. To begin with it does not look that high, when you look up from ground level, but once you have climbed up a few ladders, you get a real sense of how high it really is up there.

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Once on the roof (apart from the amazing view) you get to see the splendour of the carved terracotta clay chimney pots. Overlapping petal banding that frames the symmetrical leaf design demonstrates craftsmanship at its best. There is a sense of grandeur and wealth on show here. There are more than 20 chimneys that adorn the Manor House, with the vast majority of them showing the ornate craftsmanship from the past. On the end of the gables are some stunning terracotta finials. These delicate ornamental forms demonstrate a strong sense of repeat pattern and symmetry. These complement the chimneys a great deal, but one can see that the craftsman looked at geometric shapes too in order to complement the Art Nouveau style on show with these finials.

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On the largest chimney that serves the fireplace in what is now the Old Dining Room, there are four heads adorning the chimney that are sticking their tongues out on a daily basis. From closer inspection they look like they could be the face of a child or sometimes to me they could be a dog or even a monkey. These gargoyle-style stone carvings provide drainage from the top of the chimney or some say that they draw up air to aid the movement of smoke from the fire below. To me, they are a sign of wealth and a way of creating sculptural decoration out of something that needs to be functional.

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I think it is going to be a long time until scaffolding is back on the Manor House in order to replace the tiles on the roof. The old ones lasted a huge amount of time and these new tiles will certainly outlast me. So, as well as the fantastic art work that is on display in the main Reception, remember to look up at the Manor House and take a look at the fantastic ceramic work that adorns it roof. A huge thanks to Phil Pepper for holding me whilst I took the photos at the highest point!

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Learn more about Ceramics at Bede's >

Learn more about the Manor House at Bede's Senior School >