Monthly Archives: April 2016

My Metaphoric London Bridge

A tangential slightly off-topic entry this go.

On part of the hows and whys on the road of life experiences and how a long ago project, (though I then had no sense of this connection and what would in time unfold) served quite literally as the very bridge on my career path crossing the void from Timberframing to Bridgewrighting.

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A conjectural drawing by C. Walter Hodges – CC BY-SA Liscense 4.0 – via Wikimedia Commons – I had the great fortune to meet Mr. Hodges as he attended a festival held by the North Carolina effort – He was at that moment happily watching two efforts to replicate The Globe play out on two different continents

What I then saw and still see as an opportunity not to be missed, for the promise it held in sharing a then little practiced (at least on this continent) form of timber layout, was accepting a position on a crew assembled to replicate The Globe Playhouse in North Carolina and the opportunity it afforded to work with its chosen Brit Master Carpenter, Paul Russel.

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Paul Russell explaining the nuances of Plumb Line Scribe in the Cruck Framing Workshop we came to know each other through – A life’s work mentor I will forever be grateful to

The Globe itself was borne of a bit of turnabout is fair play in a story of both cunning and cooperation, One worthy of retelling here, particularly in that it drives home the potential portability of timber framed constructions.

The predecessor of the Playhouse was built in 1576 by James Burbage on leased land. Burbage died twenty one years later in the closing months of the lease. The lease specified the lessee could remove any construction built upon the leased land should the landholder refuse to re-let their land. As an underhanded attempt to steal their building, the landholder simply repeatedly put off renewing the lease until it expired while technically never refusing to do so and then intimated that full possession of The Theatre then fell to him. Burbage’s sons and five fellow members of The Lord Chamberlain’s Company, this number including William Shakespeare, formed a “syndicate” a jointly held company to build and operate a new theatre. To do so they would first retrieve their rightful property, taking advantage of their former landlords holiday absence from the city, they would with their chosen “cheefe carpenter” Peter Street begin dismantling it on the evening of 28 December 1598. They would transport the dismantled frame over the frozen Thames to a newly leased plot of land in the “liberty” of the Clink. They then revamped the frame and the Playhouse and reopened it in the Summer of 1599 as The Globe. Their former landlord petitioned the court for damages, his pleas falling on deaf ears. The syndicate would go onto cooperatively run their playhouse for years to come. It like its predecessor would host the inaugural run of many of times most celebrated plays penned by one of its renowned co-owners.

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One facet of the of the efforts eighteen sides – Note the specifically chosen naturally cranked Plate – This Plate held a crank at either end all the others to follow would have had but one

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This replication was to have in time filled this entire area

As a joiner of wood and longtime admirer of this fellow Will, our languages greatest “joyner of words” I am ever disappointed that there are still those doubters that work to deny Will his works and insist they must have been penned by a learned, well traveled man of a far higher social status. I would suggest genius and natural ability does not know any social status and turn their very argument on its head in suggesting that only someone who straddled both worlds could hold his understanding of trades and tradesman and carpentry and joinery, and I think it plausible some of that understanding came from the part he played in the “theft” of The Theatre and the work he engaged in in helping morph it into The Globe in the late Winter and warming Spring of 1599.

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The frame was to have been embellished with the type of carvings typical to the Elizabethan era

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Naturally cranked Samson Plates were to have topped the Posts at the vertices supporting the timbers carrying the inner galleries

I have time and time again here on the pages of The Bridgewright Blog alluded to how scribe was and is for reason how timber bridge trusses were and should be laid out. The Plumb Line Scribe I came to fully understand on this months long failed attempt (full funding failed to materialize) to replicate The Globe, is the most versatile, efficient and accurate form of Scribe timber layout I have learned to date. I continue to this day to use it and its advantages and to share it with fellow framers, most recently and currently I am teaching this system of timber layout to a National Park Service – Historic Architecture Conservation & Engineering – (NPS – HACE) – Construction Conservation & Training – Preservation Carpentry crew as we work to replicate one of the timber sluiceways at the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site.

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The efforts flag held the Shakespeare Coat of Arms – In the Globes’ time the raising of the flag signaled to those out of earshot that a play was about to begin – With this play over we lowered the flag to half-staff and returned to the greater world in search of future productions

I would some months after helping raise then lower the Shakespeare Flag to half-staff, return to my home State of New Hampshire with an old, somewhat simple, though very powerful tool in my kit, and somehow found myself that very Autumn, recognized in the pit in a large group of groundlings by The Globes former engineer and he would call me over the fence.

Though as I recall, that is a tale,  I have already told –

 
                           All the world’s a stage, 
                 And all the men and women merely players; 
                 They have their exits and their entrances, 
                And one man in his time plays many parts... 
                   
                     As You Like It - Act II Scene VII

Remarkable

 

Typically I work to vary my entries, to switch up themes from go to go, so as not to bore the readership or disappoint anyone, including myself.

However somehow, just like déjà vu all over again, just as happened last month, another historic wooden through truss, this time rehabbed not a decade ago, but literally at the dawn of this one, has been removed from service.

My continuing ire about this oddly continuing story, is not so much about how this came to pass. (from my perspective, this is less than surprising) It is more about how it might be possible, absolutely no one is asking why or pointing out the absurdity of it all.

Part of my incentive in writing this web-log, and likewise, part of why I engage with wooden bridge enthusiasts through “social media” is both to lend others a view to their interest from my inside perspective, and to also lick a finger and test the winds. This to try to understand what it is aficionados of this aspect of our built transportation heritage bring to our table.

Remarkably, what I seldom see in this community is anyone asking why. And the why in why is it joined wooden through truss rehabilitation’s are sometimes awarded to the wholly unqualified is a beyond big why.

Likewise the design of such rehabs executed by firms with zero background in such structures is equally absurd. Yet seldom, if ever, does anyone ask why in either circumstance.

I see contracting a construction firm that specializes in building concrete deck bridges, (simply because they know how to bid public works projects and are silly enough to think they’ll be able to work it out as they go along) to rebuild a joined timber truss as akin to dropping off a car in need of a transmission rebuild at an appliance repair shop.

I’ll not be apologetic about pointing out how patently absurd it is to point a crew of concrete form carpenters at something as complex as a joined timber truss. Wholly different trades, different tooling, different skill sets and a far differing knowledge base.

The only thing about this sad reality that is remarkable is the wonder in how it is possible this both continues to happen and how it is possible next to nobody is asking why?

 

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Bridgewrighting is advanced carpentry requiring precise high tolerance fits to avoid crush of wood grain under load and distortions to intended geometry in truss-work

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This specialist branch of carpentry requires specialty power tooling and the skilled use of hand tooling once standard in the common era of wooden through truss construction though now little used

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A Trait de Jupiter / Bolt ‘o Lightning multiple abutment Bottom Chord tension splice executed by the author – The need for precise uncompromising fit in such circumstance being obvious.