Me, Guildford Cathedral, kneelers and … a Hovercraft?

Seeing as I started my placement last Thursday, I’m a bit late with this first blog post, but all I would’ve had to talk about was how I have learnt the hard way why people who commute get grumpy. Nevertheless, any chance I get to wear a blazer and brogues I will grasp with both hands and now that I’m not driving a Corsa which is as old as I am, I genuinely feel like I’m ‘growing up’ a little bit.

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Guildford Cathedral.

I visited Guildford Cathedral earlier this year with my supervisor for this project – the man, the myth, the legend – Professor David Gilbert. The initial thought was that my project could centre around the Buy a Brick Campaign of the Cathedral. For those that don’t know, construction of the Cathedral in the 20th century was halted following the start of the Second World War and in the 1950’s, with limited funds, the Cathedral was completed by the donations of the community and others beyond the posh hills of Surrey. In the meeting however, the People’s Cathedral Project had already begun a study into the oral histories of these brick givers and it was hard to see, apart from a bit of analysis and interpretation, what my placement would actually bring to the Project.

But nil desperandum, kneelers!

‘…What?’

Yeah I know, first impressions probably aren’t exhilarating, but the images on these little horsehair-filled pillows of prayer are a lot more interesting than you may think. Trust me, after agreeing to do a study on them, I had my moments of mild skepticism – and dismay – when I discovered that there were 1460 of these unorganized cushions of confession. Plus, how was I going to validly analyse ALL of the collection without going through, finding and documenting ALL of them?

So. Many. kneelers.

So many kneelers, and the worst part is that’s only a few of them.

But nil desperandum (again), Jo Gray!

‘…Who?’

It was as if she had foreseen this issue – having done the documentation for me! Unfortunately, she is no longer with us, but it is safe to say that her legacy (that without a doubt took up the majority of her retirement) is extremely appreciated. She had, by hand and with film photography (should probably mention that this was done a long time ago) –  grouped the kneelers by content with the initials and dates. Unfortunately, I only discovered this part of the Cathedral’s archive before I suggested to the Project team that an online interactive database would be a good idea.

Oh.

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Forever thankful for Jo Gray and her scrapbook.

Anyway, over the last two days I have been going through the catalogues and scrapbooks that Jo Gray had left behind. Each kneeler is unique and intriguing for the project in its own way; having some socio-historical, cultural or geographical significance. From displaying Sputnik (the world’s first successful satellite launched by Russia) to depicting Calder Hall (the world’s first nuclear power plant in Sellafield, Cumbria), the imagery is not confined to the religiosity of the Cathedral, nor to the area of Guildford and Surrey. These are only two examples, but there are so many intriguing and quite frankly peculiar and unusual designs – both profane and sacred. None of them are impartial nor impersonal; each with some form of reasoning behind their creation. What makes the collection so renowned is that EVERY SINGLE ONE is different- the issue that I’m going to have is deciding which ones to study in depth. One even displays the first ever Hovercraft – the SR-N1 (designed by Sir Christopher Cockrell and built by Saunders-Roe). Some of you probably don’t know what a hovercraft is and I’m sure you probably don’t particularly care either, but as a hovercraft racer (I know, could I get any weirder), this is especially fascinating for me – so I’m going to take this moment to do a bit of promotion – come watch the World Hovercraft Championships in July, it’s in England!

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The SR-N1. I would put a picture up of the kneeler, but the truth is I don’t know where it is yet.

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Formula 50 at The European Championships, May 2015. (I’m the green and orange one).

With such a welcoming, helpful and lovely team at the Cathedral (who make some cracking tea, thanks Louise) and with such an interesting project, I look forward to the coming summer; despite the congestion on the A31.

For more information…

 

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