Note on an Old Painting of Southwell Minster, and Archbishop Booth's Chapel.
By Mr. Sydney Race.
Southwell Minster, from a painting by John Mason, about 1822.
EARLY in 1914, the Nottingham Mechanics Institution acquired a picture in oils of Southwell Minster, which showed some unusual features in its architectural details. It was clearly an old painting, and at first sight it appeared to date back to a time before the removal of the spires to the western towers in 1801. A close inspection, however, revealed a date on it which is either 1813 or 18x8, and some interesting considerations then arose. If the artist had reproduced the spires of two decades previous in the picture, what did his re-construction of the appearance of the south-west corner of the nave represent? Up to 1784, there had stood on this spot Booth's chapel, or some building which had taken its place in the late years of the 17th century, and when the chapel was destroyed, the westernmost portion of the south aisle wall was rebuilt, probably in a somewhat rude fashion. This portion of the wall is represented in the painting as it appeared in the artist's time, but the high embattled west wall, pierced with a window, is puzzling. As the south-west tower is in alignment with the aisle, no window in the position shown in the picture would light the interior of the nave or aisle. Weather mouldings on the south side of the tower do, however, prove that a wall of the height and character of that shown in the picture existed there at some time, and there is a strong likelihood that it formed part of the fabric of the chapel. It seems probable from this that the artist was attempting to reproduce some of the details of the chapel in his picture.
Enquiries which were made in Southwell have disclosed the history of the picture, the original home of which appears to have been the "Saracen's Head" in that town. The artist was Mr. John Mason, who was born in 1794, and therefore had some recollection of the old spires, in whose removal he had been allowed, as a small boy, to assist; and no doubt he had received a description of Booth's chapel from inhabitants of Southwell who remembered it in the years before his birth. It is clear that the artist in endeavouring to make use of his knowledge thus acquired of the destroyed chapel has gone astray in his draughtsmanship, but he has at any rate thrown some light on the appearance of the old building. Three other pictures1 painted by Mr. Mason within a few years of one another and all reproducing the same curious architectural details with the figure of the gardener in the foreground, have been traced. The great interest of Mr. Mason's pictures lies in the fact that, so far as can be ascertained, no views are in existence of the south side of the Minster while Booth's chapel was standing, or any others which show the appearance of the aisle wall after the demolition of the chapel. Mr. Mason, without doubt, accurately reproduces the appearance of the aisle wall in his time, and it is difficult to understand why he repeated the other details in all his pictures unless he was reproducing what he knew to have formerly existed.
The information which exists relating to Booth's chapel is singularly meagre. Mr. A. Hamilton Thompson discussed the subject at some length in the Society's Transactions, vol. XV., and came to the conclusion that Archbishop William Booth (or Bothe) who died in 1464, repaired an old chapel which stood on this site, and that the building of a new chapel was begun by this archbishop's brother and successor, Lawrence Booth, the work being completed after the latter's death in 1480. No actual references to the older chapel have, however, yet been discovered, but of the building which took its place, Thoroton writes:—
"Archbishops Bothes ... or one of them, builded or caused to be builded a chapel joyning to the south-wall of the church, at the west end, called Bothes chapel, which by negligence in the late wars, and since, is now utterly ruined, as is also a very fair marble tomb in it, whereunder 'tis like one of them lies buried."
Unfortunately no view exists of Booth's chapel as it stood before the Civil War, or description which would enable us to re-construct its appearance, but Thoroton reproduces Hollar's engraving of the Minster, made in 1672 for Dugdale's Monasticon, showing a building projecting well into the churchyard on the south side, which must be taken to be the chapel, though there is nothing ruinous in its appearance. Perhaps the actual composition of Thoroton's description had preceded the making of the engraving, and when Hollar saw the building, a certain amount of re-construction had already been carried out. Obviously no chapel erected during the Perpendicular period would have the characteristics of the building shown in the engraving, with its west wall pierced high up by a plain oval window. In the drawing2 of the Minster, undated but made in the 18th century, which was formerly in the possession of Mr. Ewan Christian the same building is shown, but the details visible are even scantier.
Mr. Christian's conjectural plan of the chapel (part of his plan of the Minster) is reproduced on the opposite page.
The plan brings the chapel buildings almost flush with the west front of the Minster as in the Mason picture, and for this there is corroboration in the weather mouldings on the tower, but according to the Hollar engraving, and the reputed Turner drawing, the Chapel was set further back. Mr. Christian probably received some first hand information respecting the foundation lines of the chapel from Gregory, the old mason who was working on the building at the time the south wall fell down in 1847, but as the ground is now covered with graves it is not likely that his evidence will ever be checked.3
In the paper which he contributed to the Journal of the British Archaeological Association, for January, 1853, the Rev. J. F. Dimock, the best informed of the mid-nineteenth century writers on the Minster, says that after the destruction of the chapel and until the restoration of 1847, the westernmost bay of the south aisle
" had a plain round-headed doorway, with single jamb shafts, coeval with the Norman wall, and above it a window similar to that in the opposite bay, but of smaller dimensions. The whole bay was in a state of great dilapidation, and was restored according to the opposite bay. The place of the doorway may still be seen on the inside. In the next bay was the Early English arch into the chapel of St. John Baptist."
The new stonework under the westernmost window still indicates the position of the Norman doorway to which Mr. Dimock refers, and in the next bay to the east a stretch of some fifteen feet of new wall shows where the opening into the chapel has been. If Mr. Dimock has correctly described the arch-opening, it is good evidence of the existence of an earlier chapel than the Booth building.
(1) The picture which is reproduced to accompany these notes is the one in the possession of Mr. J. C. Holmes of Gedling. It is signed and dated "J. Mason, 1818," and is practically a replica of the Mechanics' Institution picture. Of the other two pictures mentioned in the text, one belongs to Mr. H. F. Summers of Southwell, and the other is in the possession of Miss Mason, who lives in her father's house at Westhorpe, Southwell. It bears the name of her mother's brother, T. Sandaver, and is dated 1823, but it is clear that as a whole it was painted by Mr. Mason. A fifth picture, slightly different in its details and smaller than the others, which are about 36in, by 24in., is also known.
(2) A fac-simile of this drawing and of Mr. Christian's plan of the Minster will be found in "The Builder" for July 2nd, 1892. The drawing is there attributed to Turner, but this must be a mistake as this artist was only nine years old when Booth's chapel was destroyed.
(3) A conjectural ground plan of the Minster by Mr. C. Hodgson Fowler, on which Booth's Chapel appears, was reproduced in "The Architect " for June 23rd, 1877. Mr. Fowler, following the description given by the Rev. J. F. Dimock, shows the openings into the Minster yard and the Chapel proper, which occupies much the same position as shown in Mr. Christian's plan, but he omits the extension to the west, which probably formed the library. The latter may have been a late 17th century addition, and if so, this would satisfactorily account for the difference in detail between the Hollar engraving and Mr. Mason's picture. There is no evidence yet available as to the date when the Chapel came into use as the Grammar School.