Soon after masons had learned how to make ribbed vaults they discovered that it was possible to build arches that were pointed instead of semi-circular. With pointed arches they could put ribbed vaults over areas that were wider one way than another, if they wished, because they could make each arch as wide or as narrow, as high or as low as was necessary.
Pointed arches were used for the first time towards the middle of the 12th century. Gradually they replaced round ones and by the end of the century semi-circular arches had been abandoned altogether. The pointed arch is the feature by which we most easily recognize the style of architecture which we call `Gothic'.
The walls on which heavy barrel vaults rested had to be very thick along their whole length in order to support the great weight of the roof. Rib vaults were much lighter as the spaces between the ribs were mere screens of stone, so builders soon realized that walls need be thick only at the points where the ribs rested. At those paints, therefore, they added buttresses to the walls on the outside to strengthen them, and left the rest of the wall quite thin. The many buttresses are another of the features by which we recognize Gothic buildings.
If a Gothic church has a nave and aisles there are `flying' buttresses built out like little bridges over the aisles, to carry the weight of the lofty nave roof to the outside walls and so to the ground.
Norman Architecture. (Top left) Ribbed vaulting with pointed arches (Top Right) A flying buttress (Bottom) Aisle of Gothic church with ribbed vaulting
On the top of each buttress or section of buttress there is a pinnacle, to weigh it down and keep it steady. The edges of pinnacles and spires are decorated with knobs of carved stone ornament called crockets, which vary in design according to when the church was built.
In Britain buildings were erected in the Gothic style for about three hundred and fifty years. But details changed a great deal during that time. A building that was erected early in the 13th century, for instance, is very different from one built, say, towards the end of the 15th century, though both are Gothic. For convenience, therefore, we say that, roughly speaking, 13th-century buildings are `Early English', 14thcentury buildings are `Decorated' and 15th-century buildings are `Perpendicular' in style. Of course, none of these names were used by the original builders, and neither style was confined completely to one century. They overlapped each other, and there was no sharp break between Norman and Gothic, or between the different kinds of Gothic.
In buildings that were erected late in the 12th and early in the 13th centuries the pointed windows are narrow and tall, like lances, so we call them `lancet' windows. Often two, three, five (as in York Minster) or even seven lancet windows are grouped together. We then call each window a `light'.
Sometimes two or more lancet windows are close to each other with a single pointed arch over them. The enclosing arch projects a few inches from the surface of the wall, and we call it a 'hood-mould' or 'drip-stone'.
Quite early, builders began to pierce the area of stone between the hood-mould and the tops of a pair of lancets with a plain circle or oval. Then they began to leave pieces of masonry, called `cusps', on the inside of these openings with points towards the centre, which formed the circles or ovals into shapes sometimes like three-, four- or five-leaved shamrocks or flowers-trefoils, quatrefoils or cinquefoils as we call them. Often there are cusps at the top of each light, too.
We call this simple kind of decoration in the upper part of Gothic windows `plate tracery'. After a time 13th-century masons began to make more elaborate tracery by arranging bars of masonry into geometrical patterns. We call this 'bar-tracery'.
The columns which support the nave arches in 13th-century churches are long and slender. Often a number of slim detached shafts of purbeck marble are grouped around the main shaft. Sometimes there is carved foliage around the capitals.
(Top left) Lancet window (Top right) Bar tracery (Middle) Plate tracery (Bottom left) Capital with carved foliage (Bottom right) Column with detached shafts
(Top left) Crocket (Top middle) Dog tooth ornament (Top right) Spire, Salisbury Cathedral (Middle left) Early Gothic mouldings (Bottom) Carnarvon Castle
It rises from the neck of the capital as if it is growing, and curves over boldly at the top. The crockets which decorate the sloping edges of spires and pinnacles are similar.
The grooves and projections which encircle arches and the bases and capitals of columns when there is no carved foliage are called `mouldings'. Early English mouldings are very deeply cut, so that you can put your hand in and under them. Some of the hollow mouldings-the grooves-are filled with rows of small pyramids, each made up of four sections. We call this 'dog-tooth' ornament.
Salisbury Cathedral, with its lovely spire, is our most perfect Early English building, but there is Early English work to be seen in a great many other places-York, Lincoln, Wells, Rochester, Ely and Worcester Cathedrals, for instance, and Westminster Abbey.
Castles built in the 13th century are more elaborate than the earlier ones. Strong towers and gatehouses project from the encircling walls. The bailey is sometimes divided up into outer and inner courts, or wards, inside which you can see the ruins, or at least the foundations, of large halls, separate kitchens, living- and storerooms. Stokesay Castle, Shropshire, and Carnarvon and Conway Castles are good examples.