NOTRE-DAME OF PARIS: WHAT NOW?

Introduction

Dear readers,

          April 15th, 2019. It is 7 p.m. when the firemen first arrived at the scene. Notre-Dame of Paris is burning. Immediately, they started taking action to put off the fire. Outside, a powerless crowd gathered watching the flames devouring the secular cathedral bits by bits. All over the world, channel news were relaying the unfolding event non-stop. It seemed like the world had stopped. At 7.50 p.m., Viollet-le-Duc’s lead spire collapsed. Shock and terror. After a 15-hour battle, the 600 firefighters were able to contain the fire and, finally, extinguish it. The cathedral is terribly slashed but still standing. Two tiers of the roof disappeared in the fire. The 12th century (apse) and 13th century (nave) wood frame is irremediably gone. Part of the vaults are seriously damaged. Still standing, yes, but so fragile. At any point, the whole edifice, whose internal structure has been compromised during the catastrophe, can collapse.

          Straight away, the first questions arose. What happened? Was it a terrorist attack? An accident? A crime? Who is responsible? What will happen to the cathedral? Will it be rebuilt? Almost 7 months after the fire, let us answer these questions.

Preliminary reports: the possible causes.

          On June 26th, 2019, Paris High Court filled a lawsuit against persons unknown (plainte contre X) regarding the fire at Notre-Dame of Paris.

          According to the first reports – bear in mind that the investigations will take several years – the police’s preliminary conclusions established the fire was not of criminal nature and not linked to terrorism. So, what did cause the fire to start? Four points have been raised by the investigators.

          The most plausible cause of the fire at Notre-Dame is a default in the electric system. An electric panel near the starting point of the fire had to be turned off every night. Unfortunately, the breakers were not correctly assembled and, on April 15th, this electric panel stayed under voltage. It has been reported that this electrical panel was set up without the consent of the manager in charge on the spire’s restoration work.

          A second cause of the fire may be a problem with the actuating device for the bells. It was set near the start of the fire and it was used twelve minutes before the start of the inferno.

          During the investigation, the police found out that there was only one security guard instead of two (cutbacks). This person was inexperienced and started working after only a two-day training. The security guard had done two consecutive shifts that day, clocking in at 7.30 a.m. and was supposed to clock out at 11 p.m. on April 15th. Due to his lack of experience and the exhaustion of working two shifts in a row, the security guard was not able to recognise the alarm’s signal – which may also have had a malfunction. This error is crucial in the development of the event. Indeed, the fire broke out at 6.18 p.m. The call to the firefighters was made at 6.48 p.m., the first teams arriving at Notre-Dame about 8-10 minutes later. By the time of their arrival, the fire had spread and there was no hope to save the wood framework anymore.

          Finally, the fourth and less plausible cause brought forward in the preliminary reports is that whilst inspecting the building, the police found nine cigarette butts on the scene. After the DNA tests, five out of nine of these cigarette butts belonged to Europe Echafaudage’s employees. It was strictly forbidden to smoke on site (before the fire on April 15th, the 19th century cathedral’s spire was undergoing some restoration work).

          It is important to stress again the fact these causes highlighted above are the first conclusions of the preliminary report. The investigations are still undergoing.

The reconstruction

          On April 16th, 2019, the French president Emmanuel Macron declared his intention for the cathedral to be rebuilt in five years. As of now, this promise seems impossible to be fulfilled. Different factors are to be considered.

          First, the fact that the fire damaged the internal structure of the building. The cathedral was still on the verge of collapse and it took several weeks for the teams working on the site to secure it. Also, as said previously, the spire was undergoing some restoration work. To that end, scaffoldings were installed. In the aftermath of the fire, the scaffolding was still standing on top of the cathedral, its weight putting pressure on the whole structure. The fall of the scaffolding could possibly lead to the collapse of the three vaults below. Plus, the metal had fused during the catastrophe, causing further technical issues to the teams working on consolidating and securing the edifice. The dismantling should start in this month and end around March-April 2020.

          Secondly, the work on Notre-Dame had to be stopped between July 25th and August 19th, 2019, the staff’s safety being compromised. During the fire, the 19th century spire burnt and collapsed. It was made of a wooden frame roofed with lead plates weighting 250 tonnes. When it combusted, the lead melted and partly evaporated, contaminating a large area. This issue had to be resolved so that the staff could work without any risk of lead contamination.

          Furthermore, there is the question of the reconstruction: should it be rebuilt as it was before the disaster or should it be rebuilt with a contemporary twist? This question is still unanswered at the present moment. What is sure though is that money should not be a concern. Six months after the tragedy, 922 million euros were raised for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame.

          Finally, what about the reopening of the cathedral? According to some sources, Notre-Dame may partially be reopened to the public in 2024, even if the reconstruction is not completely achieved. The visitors will have access to the first three to four rows of the nave once the safety procedure is done. This is subject to confirmation and may change in the years to come.

Final words

          As a conclusion, allow me to make a comparison with another tragedy which happened at the same date, 107 years ago. On the night of April 15th, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank in the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Out of the 2,224 estimated passengers and crew members, over 1,500 souls perished. Numerous explanations have been given throughout the years in regard to the causes of the Titanic’s sinking, mostly technical dysfunctions and human errors. As terrible and devasting as it was, the aftermath of the tragedy allowed ocean liners designers and builders to reflect on the essential necessities cruising ships must always have onboard (enough lifeboats for instance) to ensure the safety of its passengers and crews.

Why is this relevant to this article on Notre-Dame you ask? On the evening of 15th April 2019, tragedy stroke one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, leaving her scarred for the rest of its existence. One point I have noticed is that the day after the catastrophe, newspapers reported how cultural organisations worldwide started to inspect their museums and heritage sites’ security systems and safety procedures to make sure what happened at Notre-Dame will never happen again. I believe it is in its greatest tragedies that humanity finds its greatest strength. Let us hope that a lesson was learnt and that every necessary measure will be taken to protect our heritage throughout the world.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section. Have a great day!

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Instagram: @heritageconnect

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LYME PARK, CHESHIRE: THE COUNTRY SEAT OF THE LEGHS OF LYME.

Introduction

Dear readers,

          As some of you may know, Lyme Park’s gardens were left devastated following a harsh storm and a flood last month. It truly broke my heart when I heard the news. This place is such a special place to me as it is the first stately home I visited and worked at when I arrived in England. Most of you might remember the place being used to picture Pemberley, Mr Darcy’s house in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Who does not remember Colin Firth’s dive in the pond?

          Lyme Park has such a long and rich history. Let us discover it…

Lyme Hall / Park: a history.

          Today, Lyme is situated in the town of Disley, a parish south of Stockport, about 15 miles from Manchester. Lyme borders the counties of Cheshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire, surrounded by the forests of the Peak District and Macclesfield. Its geographical situation, at the limits of these three counties, may explain the etymology of its name. It may refer to the French word limites which means “limits”,  “borders”.

          The parish town of Lyme Handley, on which lands the house was built, was given by King Richard II to Sir Piers (or Peter) Legh, the founder of the Leghs of Lyme dynasty, in the late 14th century. The Leghs of Lyme became the most important gentry family of Cheshire. Via several marriages to wealthy heiresses, most of Lancashire and Cheshire was owned by the family. In the 15th century, a house was built but unfortunately nothing of it remains today. One of the earliest feature from this time is a building set in the park and called the “Lyme Cage”.

The Cage, Lyme Park, Cheshire.

This now Grade II listed building was commissioned by Sir Piers Legh, fifth of the name, in 1467. First, the Cage was used as a hunting tower from where the ladies could follow the hunts on the estate. It was then used as prison for poachers waiting to be transferred to Chester for their trials (the forest around the house belonged to the king). This quadrangular building with four corner towers was largely altered by Italian architect Giacomo Leoni in 1726.

          The present house was built by an unknown, or at least uncertain, architect for Sir Piers Legh VII (c. 1513-1590). Some art historians have attributed the construction of Lyme Park to John of Padua, the obscure and possible architect of the first Somerset House in London and Longleat House in Wiltshire, amongst other buildings. The avant-corps (projecting facade) on the North front is said to be one of his surviving realisations.

The North front, Lyme Park, Cheshire.
Copyright: Heritage Connect.

Following the precepts of Classical architecture, the columns on this part of the building are arranged in a specific way: Doric (bottom), Ionic (middle) and Corinthian (top). In architecture, it is called the Classical orders or architectural orders, elements coming from Ancient Greece and Rome. The windows were mullioned originally. On the pediment (top), a statue of Roman goddess Minerva was added. In early paintings of the North facade, in place of the statue there was a bell-cote. This architectural element was taken off, replaced by the statue and placed in the gardens by Lewis Wyatt in 1810.

British (English) School; View of Lyme Hall from the North; National Trust, Lyme Park.
Copyright: Art Uk.
The Lantern (bell-cote), Lyme Park, Cheshire.

          In the 1720s, Giacomo Leoni was commissioned by Sir Piers Legh XII to remodel the house. Influenced by the works of Palladio, Leoni transformed the interior courtyard in the Italian style. He tried to remedy the symmetry problem by adding arches. His most famous realisation is probably the South front.

The South front, Lyme Park, Cheshire.

He built the Ionic portico, in the style of antique buildings. The balcony on the first floor rests on rusticated arches at the bottom. The addition of this element gives movement, dynamism to the facade. Leoni’s portico has become the most recognisable architectural landmark of Lyme Park.

          In the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, the exterior was left practically unchanged (I will write a separate article on the interiors). In 1946, Lord Newton (heir of the Leghs of Lyme) gave the house and estate to the National Trust. A year later, it was given to Stockport Corporation, before going back to the custody and care of the National Trust in 1994.

Links

@nt_lymepark (Instagram)

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme (website).

Next week

  • Archeology: The Neolithic burial sites of Brittany (France).

CHATSWORTH HOUSE: A PALACE IN THE PEAK DISTRICT.

Introduction

Dear readers,

          When I was thinking about what the topic of my first ever blog post should be, the idea that immediately jumped to my mind was: CHATSWORTH HOUSE. To some, literature fans and movie goers, Chatsworth symbolises the home of the ever so dashing Mr Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, Pemberley, wonderfully portrayed (house and character) in the 2005 film version of said novel. To others, it is this magnificent palace nested in the heart of Derbyshire, surrounded by opulent hills of the greenest green colour and whose parkland is inhabited by herds of sheep and deer. A palace with a rich history and one of the best artistic collections in England. To me, it is both…and so much more. Chatsworth is the place where I developed my skills as an art historian and researcher. It is the place where my passion for decorative arts and Regency furniture grew and where my desire to, one day, become a curator strengthened. A place where I did not only grow professionally but also personally. For all these reasons, I wanted to share this special place with you, dear readers, to share my love and my knowledge of this beautiful estate.

Chatsworth: from an Elizabethan palace to a French château (16th-17th centuries).

In medieval times, the Chatsworth estate was owned by William Peverel, a close friend to William the Conqueror. The estate and lands were bought by Sir William Cavendish in 1549, on the advice of his wife, Elizabeth “Bess” who was born in Derbyshire. She knew the value of these lands. There is nothing left of the Elizabethan Chatsworth, apart from the Hunting Tower and Queen Mary’s Bower (tradition says it was used by Mary, Queen of Scots when she was held prisoner at Chatsworth in the 1570s). The only testament of the Elizabethan house is on a needlework panel weaved in 1590-1600. It depicts the West front of Chatsworth with its battlements, corner towers and glass windows. Beyond the entrance, one can see a fountain in an inner courtyard (for more information on this specific piece, go have a read at my Instagram post on this subject).

Figure 1: Sir William Cavendish.     
Figure 2: Elizabeth Cavendish also known as Bess of Hardwick.

During the English Civil War (1642-51), Chatsworth was consecutively taken over and occupied by the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. Nothing much was done to the house and estate until the 1680s when the 4th Earl, then 1st Duke of Devonshire (1694) decided to transform the old home of his ancestors into a French Baroque château. He went on a Continental Grand Tour in the late 1650s and accompanied Ralph Montagu (later 1st Duke of Montagu) on a State visit to King Louis XIV of France in 1669. His stays in France certainly nurtured his tastes, and, at his father’s death in 1684, he decided to redesign Chatsworth. To do so, he hired William Talman who remodelled the South and East wings. Inside, he created an enfilade, a series of state rooms typical of French palaces and stately homes. The 1st Duke employed many great artists and craftsmen to furnish and decorate his interiors: Antonio Verrio, Louis Laguerre, Jean Tijou, etc. The 1st Duke was one of the first to buy furniture made by French ébénistes (cabinetmakers) like André-Charles Boulle. After many disagreements with Talman, the 1st Duke fired him and gave the remodelling of the North front to architect John Archer. Regarding the West facade, it seems like the connoisseur duke designed it himself, inspired by the Château de Marly, Louis XIV’s country retreat near Paris designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart (demolished in the early 19th century).

Figure 3: The West wing (from Colen Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus).

18th century Chatsworth: The Age of garden landscape.

               No major changes were made to this architecture of the house during this time. In the gardens and park, that was another story.

          Under the 3rd Duke, the gardens and parterres in the French style created by his grandfather were altered and more trees were planted. A drastic transformation was operated by the 4th Duke in the mid-18th century. By this time, garden landscaping was in favour of more natural, wild and seemingly unkept gardens, inspired by French landscape paintings. It was the Age of the Picturesque style. To make his picturesque gardens come to life, the 4th Duke ensured famous landscape designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown with this task. The latter got rid of most of all the terraces and parterres (the Ring Pond still survives today) and created a scheme of tree planting in the gardens as well as on the rest of the estate, especially the park. The gardens one visits today have not been much changed since Capabilty Brown’s transformations.

The 4th Duke also changed the road access to the house from East to Southwest, thus allowing the visitors to have a better view of the West facade. It is still today the main road access to the estate and anyone who has visited Chatsworth will, perhaps, agree with me: what a brilliant idea!

Architect James Paine built a new bridge crossing the river Derwent, as well as a new Northwest road and new stable blocks on the Northeast side.

Figure 4: The stable blocks at Chatsworth.

In the 5th Duke’s time, the Grotto house was built in the gardens for his wife Lady Georgiana Cavendish. Nevertheless, the Grotto was much altered by their son, the 6th Duke, in the 19th century.

19th century Chatsworth: final transformations and desertion.

               When William Spencer Cavendish became the 6th Duke of Devonshire in 1811, he became one of the wealthiest gentleman in the kingdom. This money, he wanted to spend it. And spend it he did. In the 1820s, he hired architect Jeffry Wyatt to enlarge the main building. An avid collector, the 6th Duke needed a space to house his large collection of books and sculptures. To that effect, the 1st Duke’s Gallery was turned into a library and Jeffry Wyatt added the North wing to create a Sculpture Gallery, Orangery, Ballroom and Theatre.

Figure 5: The North wing on the left and the main house on the right with the West front facing.

          Sir Jeffry Wyattville (as the architect was known after his ennoblement) came back in the 1830s to improve some of the State Rooms in preparation for the visit of Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) in 1832.

          Finally, John Crace added a final touch to the interior decoration by redecorating the Lower Library.

          In the gardens, one of the 6th Duke’s close friend, Joseph Paxton, created a greenhouse entirely made of iron and glass, prefiguration of the famous Crystal Palace built by the same man for the Great Exhibition of 1851. In 1844, Paxton also created the Emperor Fountain on the South lawn to celebrate the visit of Czar Nicholas I who, unfortunately, never came.

          After the death of the 6th Duke who died a bachelor and thus without male heir, the title and estates were passed on to his cousin, William Cavendish. In 1829, he had married Lady Blanche Howard, a niece of the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Unfortunately for the 7th Duke, he was plagued by the debts of his predecessors. This financial situation and the fact the 7th Duke lived at Holker Hall rather than Chatsworth left the stately home as almost a ghost house until the early 1890s. Chatsworth found a second breath when the 8th Duke made judicious money investments during the Edwardian era. Parties were organised there during the shooting season.

Chastworth and the 20th century: avant-garde and modernity.

          In 1908, the 8th Duke died without issue and was succeeded by his nephew, Victor Cavendish. The 9th Duke came back to Chatsworth, but the house needed a lot of maintenance. Duchess Evelyn was an avant-garde curator. She maintained the estate and the household after her husband suffered a stroke in 1925.

          During WWII, Chatsworth collections were stored in safe places and the house transformed into a girls’ school (which protected the building from possible damages by being requisitioned for army uses). Lord Hartington, heir of the 10th Duke married Kathleen Kennedy, sister of future U.S. president John Fitzgerald Kennedy in June 1944. He was killed in action three months later (Kathleen herself died in a plane crash in 1948). The 10th Duke’ second son, Andrew became the heir apparent. In April 1941, he married Deborah Freeman-Mitford, one of the famous Mitford sisters. He succeeded his father to the dukedom in 1950. With the payment of the death duties following his father’s passing, the 11th Duke had to sold lands and estates. Hardwick Hall was transferred into the care of the National Trust as well as part of the collections. The private rooms of Chatsworth were modernised to welcome the Duke and his family, which happened by 1959. The Chatsworth estate became self-sufficient after the sales of the 1970s and 1980s and thanks to the visits and tours of the house and gardens. The collections grew – the 11th Duke added contemporary paintings, such as Lucian Freud’s for example. The Duchess transformed the Orangery and Stable blocks into restaurants and souvenir shops to accommodate the visitors.

Conclusion

               Chatsworth’s vibrant history made it what it is today: a place of knowledge where one goes back in time every time one steps into a new room. The architecture and historic interiors are amazingly well-preserved and taken care of by teams of qualified and passionate architects, curators and conservators. The collections are breathtakingly majestic, one of the best in the country. There is always something to discover at Chatsworth and their cultural program certainly shows it (chatsworth.org/events/).

          Thank you for reading this article, dear readers. I hope you enjoyed it? If you desire to follow me on Instagram, the link is on my home page.

Links to Chatsworth social media:

  • www.chatsworth.org/ (website)
  • @chatsworthofficial (Instagram)
  • @chatsworthhouse (Twitter)
  • @chatsworthhouse (Facebook)

Next week topic:

Lyme Park, Cheshire.

    

Images copyrights to respective owners.

                                                                      

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