• 30 October 2014
  • 3:30 – 4:00 pm
  • British Museum

Despite its size, the importance of its patron and its innovative features, much greater attention has been lavished on the Beauchamp Chapel of St Mary's, Warwick than on the remainder of the collegiate church to which the chapel was but a later addition. The paper will examine the circumstances surrounding what amounted to a re-founding of the college in 1367 when it was made responsible by the bishop of Worcester for five parishes in Warwick whose churches were in a 'ruinous' condition. It will use the drawings and engravings of St Mary's before the west end was destroyed by fire in 1694, together with guild records, to investigate the chronology of the post-1367 building programme and the possibility that the west end preceded construction of the east. The prime focus of the paper will be an exploration of the many innovative elements of the building: the elevations of the chancel; the flying ribs of its vault; the intricacies of the Oratory chapel; the polygonal chapter house; and the east front.

The paper will argue that the way in which these innovations are perceived and assessed depends on the narrative against which they might be evaluated: one that emphasises the pre-eminence of London-oriented masons following the lead of St Stephen's, Westminster; or one that emerges from the evidence of the late-14th-century collegiate churches. The divergent conclusions arising from the application of these narratives - simple fashion statement versus risk-taking innovation - will be used to discuss the nature of innovation in 14th century collegiate architecture, the continuing eclecticism of major collegiate building campaigns, and the crucial importance to changes in style of when and by whom innovations are adopted. Examining this further, the paper will address the relative significance, on the one hand, of the nature of the innovation and, on the other, of the characteristics of those taking on new ideas (whether patrons or architects).